I am not an expert on love by any means (I'm almost 37, single, and grow more clueless about women by the day! :-D). But I am getting really tired of western culture's portrayal - at least as represented in the popular media - of love.
Case in point: recently I watched, with some friends, the movie "Love Actually." (Warning: spoilers ahead) Ostensibly a Christmas movie, the film consisted of several inter-connected stories about people dealing with "love" during the holiday season. The premise, as stated at the very beginning of the film, is that the world is filled with love. Well, if the examples in the movie are supposed to be the norm, then I'll pass, thanks.
I admit, there were some enjoyable moments - we can smile at the youthful energy of an 11-year old boy trying to get the "love of his life" to notice him, and the idea of an aging musician who realizes that his friendship with his manager is a more real love than all of his shoddy relationships built on fame and pleasure. But by and large, the films' depictions of "love" are both shallow and unrealistic, and connected to the popular notion that once we find that other person who really makes us happy, we will have found true love. While this is quite appealing, it also is the perpetuation of a dangerous myth. I'll explain why in a minute.
This is not limited to one particular movie; it is - I would suggest - THE most prevalent theme in "romantic love" movies, and has been for some time. And not just movies... the notion exists, throughout our culture, that love is a magical experience where two people each find their missing half, or realize that the other person is "the one" they've been looking for all along. It's an idea that sounds amazing (who doesn't want to find their true love?!), but I think it misses the point of love entirely.
What is the point of love? I think, as cheesy as it may sound, the simplest answer is found in John 3:16: "God so loved... that He gave..." Love is giving to another for the sake of that other. Love is first recognizing the value of the other person, and then responding accordingly. When we really examine this idea, we find that it is completely different, and opposed to, the "movie version" of love.
First, true love always starts with the other. This is really easy to say, and extremely difficult to practice. In romantic love, it is almost inevitable that we will see the other person as somehow appealing to us. This is to be expected, of course, since (like it or not!) a big part of what we call romantic love is, in fact, biological and chemical attraction. Even if we add in psychological factors, "Eros" is still primarily a love based in selfish desires - not necessarily bad, but selfish in the real sense of the word, in that I am thinking about how wonderful the experience will be for myself.
This is no doubt necessary, because if there were no physical or psychological attraction, no one would want to be in love! But, herein also lies the danger of the myth perpetuated by our culture's version of love: It confuses the natural attraction people experience as "true love." Movies like "Love Actually" imply, in the way the stories are told, that the experience of "falling in love" is the same as real love. But that's not true. At best, it is only the first step. And when we mistake the first step for the destination, we will end up going nowhere. This, it seems to me, is precisely the fix much of our society is in, when it comes to love.
True love, as most people will readily admit, requires time, energy, and overcoming challenges. Love develops and grows, and does not reach its apex in 1, 5, or even 50 years. That is, if it is truly love. Too often love stagnates and dissipates with time. The movie had the opportunity to deal with this situation in the story of a wife who is attempting to deal with her husband's infidelity; unfortunately that story never really gets off the ground, it is swept away by the "magic" of happy Christmas love stories. (Or, more likely, the producers didn't want to delve too far into that vignette; after all, this was supposed to be a happy holiday movie!)
If real love is not something that we find, but something that we develop (or, rather, it develops us!), then the way we approach potential romantic situations will have to change drastically. I may be giving the impression that I understand this; in fact, I'm caught up in the "love movie" idea of love as much as anyone else. In fact, I think that the Christian culture may be even more guilty of romanticizing love than the world-at-large. Why? Not only are we greatly influenced by our culture (perhaps more now than ever before?) but we also have the misappropriation of Scripture to deal with.
How does that happen? It happens when Christians take the "one flesh" passages and combine them with a Hollywood-picture of romantic love. We then assume that what God wants is for each of us to find our "true love" so that we can live happily ever after. And, we should do it by the time we're in our mid-twenties so we can make sure to have plenty of time to have lots of babies! After all, we are to "be fruitful and multiply." The problems with such misappropriation of Scripture are numerous, but the most obvious one ought to be that such a view of love is just as stunted as the view represented by the movie - it mistakes the first step for the ending. It sees true love as a magical "coming together" created by God, with everything else as an afterthought.
I admit, I want to find "the one" and fall in love and live happily ever after. But I also want my love to be real. And that may mean having to let go of all my preconceptions about love, especially those that have been given to me by my culture, and that includes the "Christian-ized" versions of those myths. In the end, true love may have nothing to do with whether I find "the one." It may have everything to do with how I give my life to others as an act of service, in the same way Christ gave himself to us, as the hymn says, "emptying himself of all but love..." I pray for the grace to understand what that means, and live accordingly.