Grocery aisles bleed pink and burgundy. Lacy tulle billows throughout the marketplace. It’s February.
Lovers, truffles, and bears. Oh, my.
Romance novelists and greeting card manufacturers squeal with delight through these weeks. Sappy movies flood theaters and television channels. Chiseled jaw heroes ingest special magnets, it seems. No force of fate can keep the slender model from drawing smack against his ore-lined abs. Forgive my cynicism if you enjoy those escapes from reality. Or write them. But many respond to the romance industry with an empty sigh, feeling left out of the most vital part of our emotional being.
Not because writers or filmmakers intend to wound their audiences. I have many talented and noble friends who write lovely material in the romance genre. Romance entertainment deals with romance, not the vast depths of love’s full spectrum. We mistakenly use the terms romance and true love interchangeably. Fortunately, they’re not the same thing.
Romance can and should be a noble part of a long term relationship. In fact, I recommend including thoughtful gestures to demonstrate love to a spouse (or potential spouse). I further urge married folks to continue cherishing one another by practicing the art of fresh acts of kindness. Such consideration increases in importance after sealing this precious union, and must not be allowed to fade with time.
Though healthy for marriages, romantic feelings and activities barely scratch the surface of love’s full story. True love exceeds romance by an infinite quotient. Those who linger outside the romantic realm can take heart. The good news is you have something far deeper and more fulfilling within reach. Despite impressions from the marketplace, the most profound fulfillment isn’t reserved for movie stars or couples. True love is available for everyone.
True love transcends the limits of romance to include family, friendships, and ministry as well as marriage. Those who serve their life-purpose from singleness need not declare themselves alone. We can all love someone who needs connection and compassion. Orphan and mentor bless one another. A struggling mother needs a supportive friend. An elderly man enriches the visitor who listens and cares. These vital connections fill the heart with splendor. Far outshining romantic flickers, the brilliance to illuminate the depths of our souls is agape –the love with which God loves us.
When we see the Creator’s fingerprints on another person, we see them with true love’s eyes. Not overlooking the flaws, or even loving in spite of them, true love adores the person while acknowledging their quirks. The art lover’s view of a sculpture, painting, or craft embraces the hand-frayed nuances as unique attributes adding to the value of the piece. The way Van Gogh’s less-than-realistic brushstrokes re-imagine a sunflower. A family quilt’s tattered corner. Math problems etched into the surface of my dining table since 2008.
I often consider a viewpoint or comment unique to a loved one’s perspective. Though I wouldn’t share their way of seeing the subject, I smile with delight and think, “I love that about him.” I never enjoyed gardening (or being dirty for any reason), but relished the scent of grass in my little boy’s hair when he came in from playing in the yard. When we express gratitude for those God created, we find joy in unexpected details.
Whether or not you receive a heart shaped box of chocolates, understanding the distinction between romance and true love remains vital to your heart’s well being. Remain mindful of romantic myths and replace them with truths.
The romantic myth of attraction as love.
Romantic stories emphasize attraction, a temporary hormonal response. Chemicals trigger floating sensations often mistaken for “falling in love.” Pheromones added to shampoo or cologne can instigate the experience of butterflies in the stomach. In more technical terms, the neurochemical phenylethylamine produces these sensations in response to an environmental trigger (like the pheromones included in a smell, most often). Phenylethlyamine cannot sustain its impact, however. The “falling in love” sensations tend to last three to twelve months at most. Unlike attraction, true love is a commitment supported by actions in spite of the changeable course of feelings.
The romantic myth of destiny’s warranty.
Romance alludes to destiny, as if love is only true if it all works out on its own. Many couples give up when strife occurs, assuming their love was never “meant to be.” Once together, a destined couple must live happily ever after, right? Wrong. True love stories involve working through challenges and hardships. Real relationships (marital, friendship, and family) require effort and sacrifice. Especially when you don’t feel like it.
The romantic myth of beauty as love’s gatekeeper.
The romance entertainment industry implies a physical standard must be met in order to deserve intimacy. Surface matters might attract us to a certain type of person as compatible with our nature, but lasting relationships require a deeper foundation. True love cherishes the soul regardless of its vessel. Love is crafted into each human heart as an integral component of our connection with others. If we don’t include agape, the superficial basis of love will fail with time.
The romantic myth of completion.
Perhaps you remember the famous movie line. I refuse to quote it here because I’m sparing myself a gag response. The truth is, no human being can complete you. If you enter a relationship with brokenness, you bring the side-effects of your baggage into the relationship. When spouses try to complete one another, they instead add new wounds in the course of the relationship. In addition to individual therapy, couples counseling will be necessary. I recommend therapy BEFORE seeking a mate or at least as soon as you recognize your need for healing. Please keep this reality in mind–only God can complete you.
The romantic myths of possession and identity.
Physical intimacy must remain exclusive to the marital relationship. This exclusivity should spring from mutual respect and love, not insecurity. When we wrap our identities in our relationships, we lose our spiritual security. We become critical when the other person doesn’t reflect us as we’d hope. We grow suspicious and fear losing our safety. Secrets run rampant. The demands tighten upon one another like a vise. Fear, not hate, is the opposite of love. When insecurity plagues any relationship (family or marital), it drains the bond of love which makes it life-giving. True love turns to faith as a restorer of peace.[a]
While we can engage with true love in a variety of connections, sometimes we miss it in the relationships most often defined with romance. True love isn’t possessive, suspicious, or critical. It doesn’t weigh good and bad incidents to calculate status. Real love doesn’t seek revenge or enjoy proving superiority. Honesty remains its hallmark, not reserved for rare occasions. You might have heard the attributes of love cited this way, “Love is patient, love is kind . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” [b]
So if we all spring into this world designed for relationships, why do we struggle to implement genuine love? Because we can only give what we have, and human affection falls short of agape perfection. True love can only come from God. He offers it freely, eagerly, and in copious doses to all who will accept it. If we don’t receive love from God, we only have the human level of half-hearted care to offer others. But if we remain open to God’s love and center all our relationships under His waterfall, we’ll enjoy infinite blessings in our connections. No more feeling left out or alone. For us or those we can reach.
So, whether you join the romantic film fest this February or pass on the sap, be sure to opt for true love in all your relationships. Don’t settle for anything less.
[a]”There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
[b] “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).