Published Elsewhere sexuality

The Labor of Love

I’m skeptical of the “romantic model” for friendship, because I’m skeptical of this model for any relationship.

This piece was originally published at Spiritual Friendship on July 6, 2014.

Imagine a man who quits his job and moves across the country for the woman he loves. This act is either incredibly beautiful or incredibly stupid. One critical fact makes the difference: how she responds.

“Love at first sight” only works for those who have not learned the labors of love. For how can one love another when he does not yet know how to love the other? The greatest love is less like a disembodied hook-up and more like one striking image from John Green’s The Fault in our Stars (the tragically funny book, which I saw as a movie and laughed when I wasn’t supposed to—sorry, fellow movie-goers!). The protagonist reflects, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

A love which is truly for the other is a slow love, because it is a patient love. It does not demand that the beloved immediately open himself until he is ready. And it is a love that constantly adjusts itself as more of the other is revealed. It constantly adjusts its giving according to the beloved’s need. And if the beloved is not prepared to receive love, it will not thrust itself upon the beloved.

You can only “love at first sight” if you’re in love with an idea. Loving a person requires something more. Each person requires a particular love. So if you’re going to love a particular person, you’ll have to learn who that person is, what that person needs, and how you can fit into that. And as the person grows, so will the way you fit into that person’s life. Love is a lifetime work.

This is one reason why I find the contemporary “romantic model” unhelpful in developing intimate relationships. The contemporary “romantic model” is self-oriented, grounding itself in a distorted form of self-gift, a form of “self-gift” that loses its façade when the relationship breaks down. It is a flame on a short fuse. This is one reason why I don’t suggest that gay Christians seek to “sublimate” their desires by simply pursuing same-sex romantic relationships. A boyfriend is someone who can be broken up with, but as St. Jerome teaches, “A friendship that can end was never true.”

This is not to say that friendship should be without affection. It is to say that we ought to be wary in looking to contemporary romance culture for ways of modeling affection. I’m skeptical of the “romantic model” for friendship, because I’m skeptical of this model for any relationship. If more marriages today end in divorce than succeed, why would gay Christians model their friendships off of the relationships preceding these marriages? Something else is needed. I’d recommend this book.

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