We’re continuing our conversation on qualities of American culture that just might be feeding the loneliness epidemic. And this one may come as a bit of a surprise since so many people pursue this as a means to remedy their loneliness.
Our culture is infatuated with romantic relationships. We can thank Hollywood, television shows, and our favorite novels for a large part of that. They depict these types of relationships to be the most amazing thing anyone could possibly have with another person, jam-packed with completely unrealistic expectations for how these relationships actually work. Since we’re spending more and more time consuming these stories, our perceptions of relationships will gradually conform to how they’re presented if we’re not grounded in other representations of romance.
But who could blame us? These relationships make us feel good. Having your skin lightly touched by the one you like; hearing how much she appreciates you; swooning from how he runs his fingers through your hair; the rush you get when you kiss each other; the awe-struck wonder you feel when you see her in that dress; the assurance that you never have to be alone again when you spend every waking moment together.
Romance is great, love is great, marriage is great, and sex is greeeeeaaaaaaat.
But all in proportion.
We have this tendency in our culture to put all our eggs in one basket. Be all in or all out. Get as much out of the things that make you feel good as you possibly can (it’s that consumerism kicking back in). We’re all too familiar of the times when our best friend gets into a romantic relationship, and seemingly falls off the face of the earth because of it. Their infatuation with their new “boo” silently communicates you’re no longer as important to them. And that cuts deep.
Or maybe you resonate with how the majority of my dating history went, where if the person you’re interested in doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you, they say, “I’m sorry, I just want to be friends.” That’s called entering the dreaded “Friend Zone.” The Friend Zone is bemoaned and degraded, as if it’s a significant downgrade to just be friends instead of romantically engaged. The Friend Zone doesn’t equal a friend gained, but a romance lost. Simply recognizing the negative connotation surrounding the Friend Zone reveals how much more we value romance over friendships.
Or even just think about weddings as a whole. We throw these big parties for people who want to spend the rest of their lives together and exchange vows with one another as if that other person is the only person that you can fully commit yourself to loving and being loved by for the rest of your life. The irony is that the majority of the vows exchanged really articulate what a good, full, significant, committed friendship can look like. The friendship between the bride and groom gets an entire day devoted to it, but the friendship between the bride and maid of honor or the groom and the best man get a head nod at best. But both of those friendships played just as large of a role in the bride and groom’s lives. Wedding days aren’t just celebrations for the newfound marriage between the bride and groom. They are also funerals for the depth of friendships they once had with everyone else. Those friendships will never be the same again. And that’s just the reality of what happens in marriage.
People claim that all you need are these emotionally charged romantic relationships to meet all of one’s social and emotional needs. But when the honeymoon stage fades away, they become overwhelmingly busy, increasingly exhausted, and painfully alone… And then, because we’re consumers, if the marriage doesn’t meet the couple’s expectations, they can always abandon it with no harm, no foul. It’s a product to be returned.
This is so contrary to how the vast majority of history compared marriage to friendships. Stephanie Coontz says, “Through most of history, it was considered dangerously antisocial to be too emotionally attached to one’s spouse, because that diluted loyalties to family, neighbours, and society at large. Until the mid-19th-century, the word “love” was used more frequently to describe “feelings for neighbours, relatives and fellow church members than spouses.” She goes on to say that it was common practice for couples to bring their friends and families with them on their honeymoon.
While I don’t think we should recover the practice of bring our buddies with us on our honeymoons, the principle stands the same. Instead of prioritizing marriage over friendship, we prioritize marriage at the expense of friendship.
If you’re married, your spouse absolutely should be the most important relationship in your life, but not the only relationship in your life.
There will be times you need to get together with your girlfriends and talk about girl stuff. There will be times when you need to get together with your bros over breakfast. There will be times when you should find a babysitter so you can be free to be an adult for an evening. Wesley Hill, author of his book Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, laments how so many people find that marriage does not meet all one’s relationship needs. We’re designed for community, not a single relationship with one person only.
The irony in all this is the over-infatuation of marriage is particularly a Christian and Church issue. However, it’s only one end of the spectrum, as marriage is becoming less and less popular in secular culture to the point where friendship is being valued at the expense of marriage.
More on that next week.