The cover of “O” magazine recently featured an article titled, “Real Love: Are You With Your Soul Mate?” According to the article, 69% of us believe that everyone has a soul mate. What this term means is a little vague, but the word seems to imply the one with whom we have found a unique and passionate love, even to the point of being our other half. Interesting that the very word “soul mate” implies a spiritual connection. It refers to someone who complements us down to our very souls. It implies that there is someone out there who completes us.
Remember Tom Cruse’s heart wrenching speech from the movie Jerry Maguire? It ended with the line of all lines: “You… complete me.” And all the women swoon as one. As lame as you may think it is, there is something in us that longs for completion, and this is not a bad thing. It represents our desire for wholeness, and mirrors in the best sense our need for unconditional love. We may know in our heads that God love us like that, but we’d prefer someone with skin on, thank you. Someone we can snuggle with on a cold night. We want to believe there is someone out there who will love us unconditionally, know what we need without being told, and fill in our missing pieces. Someone trustworthy, faithful and passionate. Someone who will always be there for us, no matter what, and who will love us despite ourselves. It’s a lot of pressure, even for a soul mate.
Romantic love will only take us so far. Somewhere along the way, our soul mate may begin to feel more like a cellmate. Those cute little habits we once found endearing now may drive us crazy. Whereas once we couldn’t wait to get off work and talk with our beloved, now conversation doesn’t come easily. We may even keep a mental list the ways we’ve been hurt and disappointed. Romance seems a distant memory, and we settle for something less than happiness.
This is so not what we expect out of love. We expect love to make us happy, to make us feel good. Ecstatic even. We expect the romance and passion to continue. We’re unaware of how much our attitudes influence our relationships and ultimately, whether we’re in it for a lifetime or until the “love” wears thin.
Why does our Western culture put so much emphasis on romantic love? It isn’t just “love” we speak of, it’s being “in love,” and the euphoric feelings that go with it. Psychologist Robert Johnson writes, “ When we are ‘in love,’ we believe we have found the ultimate meaning of life, revealed in another human being. We feel we are finally completed, that we have found the missing parts of ourselves.” He says it comes with an unconscious demand that our loved one will continue to provide for us this ecstasy, our cultural drug of choice. In an altered state, we’re not in control, yet we’re kept in a state of euphoria. Johnson says romantic love “is, by definition, out of control. It is out of control because that is what we secretly and unconsciously want from it – to be ecstatic, lifted out of the sterile confines of our tight little ego worlds.” The very words we use to convey our emotional state are very telling. We talk about “falling” in love, being “swept off our feet,” being “carried away.” It’s something that happens to us effortlessly, and we both idealize the other and get caught up in the feeling of being worshipped. We idealize romantic love because it’s the closest we have to worship. For many of us, it’s the only transcendent, or “other world” experience we’ve ever known.
Romance, however intoxicating it may be in the short term, is based on an illusion. It has its basis in feelings and emotions, which are fleeting and untrustworthy. It depends on low lighting and a certain mood. It thrives on the new, not the stable and familiar. Frequently it’s the person or thing just out of reach, just near enough that we can worship it from afar. Too close and we see the flaws and the illusion is shattered. Disillusionment follows, and eventually we decide we must not be in love anymore.
Oswald Chambers wrote, “The refusal to be disillusioned is the cause of much of the suffering in human life. It works in this way – if we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection and every rectitude, and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding of a human being that which he or she cannot give.”
Disillusionment may sometimes be a necessary step if we are to love the real person underneath – the one with flaws, shortcomings, and motives at least as mixed as our own. Yet it’s not a disillusionment that leads to despair. It’s essential, if love is ever to become real. Or if it’s ever to resemble the way God loves, accepting all parts of us fully, without condition. If we’ve had even a glimpse of being loved like this, it’s enough to inspire us not only to want it for ourselves but to love in the same way.
Since it’s Valentines week, I’ll close with the most defining passage on real love I know, from 1 Corinthians 13.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.