We observed above that emerging adults today want romance, but I’d like to suggest that the word romance is not the right word because it doesn’t go far enough. What emering adults want, so it seems to me, is the fidelity inherent in a loving, faithful, intimate relationship. What they want is someone to be with for a lifetime. In fact, our culture confuses romance with love. Which leads me to one more fundamental idea about love and marriage and sex. Along about the medieval age love morphed its way into the Platonic, courtly romantic ideal where love became intoxication with the intoxicating feelings of loving another person.
Some married men and married women then had two kinds of relationships: one with a husband or wife and one with a lover (with whom they might never physically consumate their relationship.) Instead, they tantalized and titillated themselves with the emotional surges connected to falling in love. Often they would put obstacles in their own paths in order to intensify their feelings, equating those romantic feelings with love itself. What mattered was the burning fire of feelings instead of the joy of the beloved.
This romantic theory of love, which finds its way into Hollywood and novels, distorts the rugged choice of settling into fidelity. This romantic theory of love puts emotions and feelings and (my) personal happiness at the center of what love is. In other words, romantic love more often than not uses another person to fulfill one’s own desires and passions.
Jesus’ world is against this romantic theory of relationships. What flows directly from Jesus’ kingdom dream is a rugged and settled commitment to the other person rather than to my own swarming feelings and to my own happiness. Instead of loving love, as in courtly love, the kingdom lover loves the other and lives his or her life for the other—the way the lovers in the Song of Solomon take delight in the other. (Notice how often in the poetry from Song of Solomon the lovers speak of the other. )
Instead of loving the absence of the other, as is the case with romantic love, because it generates emotional yearning for the other, kingdom lovers delight in the daily, routine presence of one another, whether the emotions of romance are present or not. Eating together, walking together, sitting together, praying together, sleeping together, and living a life together is the way we settle into fidelity. There is only one guarantee of sustaining marriage in a kingdom way: the promise to stay married trumping emotional happiness. Why? Because the lover believes the other’s good is the chief concern. One of the world’s experts on the societal history of love is the French scholar Denis de Rougemont, who makes this profound observation from the perspective of a man (whom a woman loves in return): “To choose a woman for a wife is to say to Miss So-and-So: ‘I want to live with you just as you are.’ For this really means: ‘It is you I choose to share my life with me, and that [sharing of life] is the only evidence there can be that I love you.'”
As I write this paragraph, Kris and I have been married for thirty-six years. Recently my class was talking about wedding vows, and the subject of whether or not to use standard vows or to write your own vows came up. Which led us to read a traditional wedding vow:
“To have and to behold,
from this day on,
for better or for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish;
until death do us part.”
As we were reading the vow and the students were discussing with one another what their views were, this came to my mind: Yes, that’s our story, that’s our vow, that’s what Kris and I have lived. Ups and downs, good days and bad days, months when we hoped we’d have enough money and months when we were relaxed. As I pondered these words and students were talking about whether they’d use traditional vows or write their own, I thought about what marriage was. In my view, only one expression can sum up the real story of marriage:
I will be with you.
Underneath the dopamine and beyond the neurochemicals is the commitment I made to Kris and that she made to me, and it is the commitment that has sustained us: it is the commitment to be with one another until the end. We now have a story to tell of our One. Life with one another.
The great Danish philosopher Soren Kirkegaard never married, but while engaged he contemplated marriage in ways that few can surpass: “What I am through her she is through me, and neither of us is anything by oneself, but we are what we are in union.” Kirkegaard unlocks one of the doors to love: If we are humans through other humans, we are lovers through loving the one we love and through receiving the love of the one who loves us. “I.love.you” will become our words when the you is what I most care about.
I contend that the kingdom dream of Jesus reshapes what love is, what intimacy is, what marriage is, and what sex is, because Jesus’ vision of the kingdom transforms the meaning of love.