Recently, I’ve been reading several blog articles dealing with the issue of romance, specifically regarding reading romantic novels and watching romantic movies/television shows. It’s something I’ve felt God dealing with me about for a while now, but I’ve been having a hard time understanding what, exactly, was wrong with watching/reading this type of material. I’m not talking about harlequins, that I can understand. No, these articles were criticizing books like “Gone with the Wind” and “Pride and Prejudice.” Tell me that I shouldn’t be reading Pride and Prejudice because I’m subconsciously comparing Mr. Darcy with my husband, and I‘m skeptical. Tell me that I’m “dissatisfied with real men because they can’t measure up to the guys” from these books and I’ll laugh. In no way have I ever been conscious of comparing my husband to fictional characters in a book (that’s the kicker, isn’t it? It all happens on a subconscious level.)
I have recently come to believe that the problem with romance goes much, much deeper than a comparison between my husband and the main character in a book, however. The problem with romance is that it gives me a false and unattainable ideal of what a relationship between a man and a woman should look like. Rarely do we see a “romantic” movie or read a romance novel that takes us beyond the point of “boy meets girl.” The “boy meets girl” experience is wonderful, and “falling in love” is wonderful. There is nothing wrong with this, it’s an amazing, thrilling ride and it has every right to be. But “falling in love” isn’t sustainable. Eventually, you finish “falling” and move into the “have fallen” and the wild rush of emotions you felt while falling is over. I’m not trying to say that romance isn’t important or attainable inside of a marriage. What I am saying is that the “rush” of falling in love only happens once. This is as it should be.
What we, as a culture, have done with our romantic books, movies, television shows, etc. is take the rush of falling in love and set it up as a standard by which all of our relationships are measured. Watching and reading about two people falling in love makes our souls go “ahhhhhh.” We may recognize (if we’re already married) that we’ve already been through this feeling and that it isn’t going to happen to us again, but the “ahhhhh” of it continues to fill us with longing. The problem, in my opinion, is not that we’re so much at risk of leaving our spouses for the next handsome, sensitive hunk that comes around. The problem is that we’re subconsciously measuring what we have with our husbands to what we once had with them (the feeling of “falling in love”) and finding our relationships lacking.
Now, if someone had told me that a few weeks ago, I would have argued forcefully that I do NOT find my relationship with my husband lacking. But when God began convicting my heart of these things I took a real, honest, hard look at my life and realized that I DO find my relationship lacking – I’ve just learned to “settle” and be content with what I have. Take a moment to read my post entitled “I Didn’t Marry my Soul Mate.” It’s an article that deals with the fact that I have chosen to love and stay with my husband despite the fact that he’s not everything I could ever want in a man. On the surface, this seems like a wonderful thing (and in many ways it is.) But underneath it all, for me, it’s really about how I’ve learned to settle with what I have, rather than what I want. While it’s a good, even Godly thing, to be content with what I have, the problem comes from the fact that I’ve had to “settle” in the first place. What gave me the standard by which my marriage doesn’t measure up? Romanticism! The unsustainable “ahhhh” that I was feeding myself in the books I read, and the movies and the television shows I was watching.
It irritated me when others tried to say that it was wrong for a Christian to read romance novels or watch romance movies because I “knew” that watching those things didn’t have to make a person discontent with their spouse. After all, I’d learned to be perfectly content with my spouse despite watching and reading romance. But it was a contentment that involved (to borrow an analogy from Mrs. P), looking over at the plate next to me, filled with steak and potatoes, and being resigned to my macaroni and cheese because I didn’t have a choice. What gave me the “steak and potatoes” desire in the first place? Feeding myself with an unsustainable ideal of what a relationship between a man and a woman should be.
Almost everyone will go through “falling in love” at least once (and hopefully with their spouse.) But just like jumping out of an airplane, it’s a rush that ends when you get to the ground. There isn’t anything wrong with this – “falling in love” can and should only happen once. But there is a whole world out there to explore once we hit the ground that we’re selling ourselves short on, because we keep looking back at the plane, longing to “fall” again (1).
I was discussing this recently with a friend of ours, telling him that: “I just don’t see what the (negative) consequences are” (of watching romantic movies and reading romantic books.) He turned the statement around, saying: “what if you don’t see what the (positive) consequences are” (of not watching and reading these things.) Might there be positive effects to be had, if I cease feeding myself this false ideal?
I’m about to find out.
(1). It’s interesting to consider this in light of the recent discussions we’ve been having about finding our “soul mates.” How many relationships end because those involved jump out of the plane fully expecting the experience of jumping to go on forever? We assume that the one we’re with isn’t “the one” because we’re no longer experiencing the fall, and up we go, to try jumping out of the plane again (with someone else.) As our friend put it: relationships mature and develop, and falling in love is a part of that development, it’s not the relationship itself.
“If we never stop trying to jump, God can never take us scuba diving.”