American Romantics

In case you’ve lost track, there’s less than a month until February 14.  You might want to get that box of chocolates while supplies last.  By the time Valentines Day is done, we’ll spend more than $14 billion on cards, candy, flowers, and dinner.  The tab for the average American will scan in at $100+.

We are a romantic bunch.  An astonishing seventy-three percent of the U.S. population believes in soul mates—a Romeo for your Juliet, a Guinevere for your Lancelot.  That means we think a person is alive somewhere who will make us happy, be attentive to all our needs, know what we’re thinking telepathically, bend with our moods, impart yin when we’re full of yang, and always provide really, really good sex, when we want it.  Americans rarely see eye to eye on anything at the rate of three to one.  But on this salient bedrock jewel of romantic dreaminess—that a mate exists whose personal key fits our lock—Americans resoundingly agree.  In our culture, Cinderella is a non-fiction work.

Unsurprisingly, Americans also have the world’s highest divorce rates.  Forty percent of our first marriages fail and over sixty percent of our second ones.  I know because I’ve experienced both percentages.  I was someone’s Prince Charming twice, and I’m sure they both now believe they were deluded.  We hook up, hitch up, and break up more than anyone else in the world, and I’ve done my share to help.

In a country where three-quarters of the citizenry believe in soul mates, we shouldn’t be shocked.  I think it’s safe to say that our romanticism and our divorce rates are connected.  Reality sets in as the fantasy fades.  Cinderella farts in her sleep; Prince Charming is three pumps and a squirt.  Feelings change, the sparkly romantic magic dust vanishes, and so does the love.

For Americans, by and large, love is a matter of feelings.  We want to be swept off our feet, and question the reality of love without it.  When we finally wash ashore, divorce often follows, and then we’re free to find another.  It makes us a nation of drama queens and adrenaline addicts.

Over fifty percent of us believe love is something you fall into, like one of those pits camouflaged with grass and sticks.  It’s out of our control, in a kind of involuntary response.  Cupid shoots us with an arrow.  Lightning strikes.  Kismet.  Love happens to us, rather than because of us, which means it also arrives and departs.

During my years in the ministry, I married a lot of people.  Whenever I asked why they wanted to get married, love was almost always the answer.  One or two older couples got married for companionship.  More than a few younger ones got married because a baby was on the way.  But most of them were in love, with soul mates, filled with excitement, sure the future was bright.  It’s the American love map.  I’ve traveled the same roads.

At more weddings than I care to remember the scripture of choice was First Corinthians.  As they stood in Fairy Tale splendor, in rented suits and prom dresses, fulfilling the American romantic dream, they read to the collective crowd a highly unromantic definition of love.  The effect could be jarring.

In his famous passage, Paul never describes love as a feeling.  Love is always an action or an attitude toward others.  Even if obviously not practiced, Christianity is a religion that requires an unemotional form of love.  Nothing else can be meant by the teaching of Jesus to love our enemies.  He isn’t telling us to love someone we like.  He is telling us to do what goes against our emotional natures.  You don’t have to like people, but you do have to love them.

Paul’s words come straight out of that tradition.  Love is patient and kind.  It is never jealous, egotistical, or proud.  Love is polite to others, not self-centered or irritable, and doesn’t remember wrongs.  Love is only happy with the truth, avoids lies, and never gives up.

I can’t imagine a better definition, or words to live by.  What a gift to the world that would be.  Forget the chocolates.  Simply do this.

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About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

3 Responses to “American Romantics”

  1. Love and Gratitude are huge actions people mistake for feelings. It is interesting to note the different translations of the bible. For example, Corinthians 13:13, the NIV says “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” However, the KJV says, “And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

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  1. Being Sure: When is it REALLY love. « Sassy Steph B's Blog - January 25, 2012

    […] American Romantics (21st-century-faith.com) […]

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