One idea which I picked up from Dan Brennan I’ve just recently been thinking about. I recognize that in the romantic myth, and typically in our culture, the thinking is that a person will find one other person to be the object of all their love, and the primary if not sole source of all love received. The sub-text is that everyone else in the world “sucks”—at least by comparison—and therefore they should all be ignored insomuch as is possible. However Brennan suggests another paradigm of love. This love is a love so full and mature that they have the freedom to share their love to others. Instead of all the love being absorbed into the one relationship, the relationship makes each person’s love stronger. The latter pair are more able to love others because of the love shared between them.
I believe this is certainly more like God’s love than is the romantic myth. God didn’t hoard the love among the trinity. Instead he opened himself up and shared his love. This didn’t compromise the relationships of the trinity. Rather it was precisely because of the strength of love within the trinity which allowed God to share his love.
The love I am speaking of here isn’t the “being in love” type. I’m not suggesting having an open marriage for instance. Whether the love be that of a friendship or “romance”, in either case there is beauty in the type of love which is free to be shared with others.
One issue which always comes up is that of relationships between men and women. It seems that most people have difficulty comprehending how a person could love someone of the opposite sex, especially while in a “romantic” relationship with someone else. For example, a woman says that she would be torn up if her boyfriend went out with another woman—not as a date but because of a friendship. I’ve been in love before, though I can’t say I’ve exactly been in that situation, and it’s difficult to remember exactly what I felt. But I’m not advocating cheating nor compromise nor doing something which would harm or weaken the exclusive relationship. Really, what I’m talking about does require a certain amount of maturity.
The problem is that in our culture, so many things have been infused with romantic meaning. Since we don’t have arranged marriages nor other clear courting rituals, the path to marriage and romance seems quite murky. It’s now based on feelings and desire, the expressions of which are very similar to expressions and friendship.
But I believe these things are only what we make them to be. In other words, if we think a hug is only or even primarily an expression of “romantic” love, then we will be uncomfortable with hugging anyone outside of that type of relationship. Beyond that, we will additionally be uncomfortable with other people hugging out side of this context, especially if it is our significant other. However, my argument is that many things which we only associate with exclusive “romantic” relationships aren’t inherently only for those types of relationships. Returning to the previous example, if we don’t think of hugging as only for “romance”, then we’re free to hug others as and expression of love (not “romance”) and free to allow those we love to hug others as well.
For another example, a female friend of mine recently commented about a sermon she had listened to which (I believe) talked about exclusive dating/marriage relationships. She really liked how the pastor had told men to tell their wives/girlfriends that they were beautiful on a regular basis. Do we attach “romance” with that statement? Granted, in our culture, often this is the type of way which “romantic” interest is expressed, and that fact makes things confusing. However, does it mean that it can only be expressed in a “romantic” context? What if this person isn’t married or dating? Can she never hear that she is beautiful? Or can only other women or her family tell her? How might that affect her self esteem? Another problem is that, especially in conservative evangelicalism, we generally expect that everyone will get married before they’re 30. So when these questions come up, the thought is “just wait until you’re married—it won’t be that long.” But is that true? What if she never marries? Will she never be able to hear man tell her she is beautiful (at least not in a context where she can accept it, due to her fear that it means the guy might “like” her)?
One thing I’ve identified as a key in this subject is openness. Confusion and fear regarding what someone else might being thinking and/or feeling are a couple of big obstacles. I feel that it’s perfectly appropriate to ask someone if uncertain what they’re trying to communicate: friendship or “romantic” interest. For girls specifically, I feel like it’s the guy’s responsibility to tell you if he’s interested in you. If he doesn’t, it’s not your problem or concern. Now if you’re getting closer and wonder if he might be interested in you and misinterpreting your friendliness toward him, then once again I think it’s quite appropriate to be straight forward and discuss the issue. At the least, you can tell him that you are not interested and that you are not going to become interested (hey, sometimes these things take a minute to sink in).
I’ve mentioned before the idea of love languages in this context. We all need to feel love, and love languages are the way we both feel and express love. I don’t believe the love languages change in different relationships, though their expression does. For instance, if gifts is one of our primary love languages, we will use that to express our love to our family, our friends, and our significant other. We will probably give different gifts to our girlfriend than we do to our mom, but in either case it’s still an expression of love through giving gifts.
The problem lies in if we associate love languages only with “romantic love”. In this case, it would mean that we could only experience true love in a “romantic” relationship. Unfortunately, this is often how our culture behaves, and to a significant extent, what I feel I am experiencing. I wrote a while ago that I thought the ideas Brennan were sharing were great news. This was precisely about the idea that one could experience love without having to wait and hope solely in marriage. Unfortunately, while I believe the theory is sound, it doesn’t do any practical good if no one is on-board with the idea. In other words, though in theory I should be able to be loved outside of a “romantic” relationship, I won’t feel loved if no one is expressing love in that way.