Romantic Love—the Door to Happy Marriage?
MARRIAGE can bring with it ever so many satisfying rewards and much happiness. Generally, single persons, young and not so young, look forward to happiness in marriage. As one of the founding fathers of the United States once expressed it: “The happiness of the domestic fireside is the first favor of heaven.” While it may not be the first favor from heaven, certainly it is one of heaven’s favors, and to the Creator goes our gratitude for making it possible.
But ever so often marriage does not result in such happiness. Especially is this the case with teen-agers. Half of their marriages in the United States end in divorce. Nor does that statistic tell the whole, sad story. If half of them break up legally, how many others end in separation, or are tolerated because separation would only make matters worse? The fact that about half of the teen-age brides are pregnant when they get married further underscores how slight are the chances for happiness for many of them!
That Wonderful Feeling!
Why do so many marriages fail to bring happiness? No doubt in many instances it is because the wedded pair had banked too much on romantic love. In other words, in their coming together the power of sex attraction played the dominating role. No question about it, falling in love or being in love can be a very pleasurable feeling.
However, regarding romantic love one dictionary tells us that it “implies emotion that has little relation to things as they actually are, but is derived more from one’s imagination of what they should be ideally or from one’s conception of them as formed by literature, art, dreams or the like.”
Romantic love, being based on the attraction that members of the opposite sex have for each other, may be said to be a chemical reaction; that is, due to the power of the sex hormones. But genuine happiness involves far more than a chemical reaction.
The Creator implanted in the sexes a strong hunger for each other so that the human race might keep on being fruitful and becoming many. He also counsels man to exercise self-control in regard to it. Romantic love can be the door to happy marriage only if it is kept in its place.—Gen. 1:28.
Among the problems that can arise from romantic love is that it invites frustrations. How so? Because romantic love causes young folks to have unrealistic expectations, such as that of an emotional paradise where their every wish and desire are gratified. It often causes them to think that all their problems resulting from poor judgment, lack of self-control, and so forth, will be solved by being happily married. But more likely than not, marriage will multiply those problems.
Romantic love causes young folks to expect too much. And when they find that they are not realizing their ideal they tend to view their marriage as a failure. However, humans do not have perfect personalities. They cannot exercise perfect judgment, so how can they expect a perfect marriage?
Romantic love, being made to seem so desirable, at times tempts young folks to be dishonest, further leading to frustration. The young woman may resort to ever so many devices, such as saying what she knows he wants to hear instead of what she actually thinks. And, not content with hair dyeing and makeup, she may also resort to extra padding to give her an appealing figure. On the other hand, the young man may be saddled with debt and not let her know, or he may claim to be earning more than he actually is earning.
Youth tends to overlook the fact that romantic love is not necessarily true affection. In fact, it is more likely to be selfish than unselfish, although the individual may not be aware of it himself, for the human “heart is deceitful above all things.” (Jer. 17:9, Revised Standard Version) Romantic love often does not lead to happy marriage; on the other hand, a happy marriage is entirely possible without romantic love. Romantic love might be likened to the dessert of a meal. While one may have a sweet tooth, it would be foolish to order meals just on the basis of the dessert that went with them, or to try to live on desserts alone. Bodily health requires more substantial fare. And so also for emotional well-being in marriage, more is required than romantic love.
The Pitfall of Infatuation
Another reason why romantic love may not necessarily be the door to happy marriage is that it can easily masquerade as sincere affection when it is really infatuation. What is the difference? Infatuation is defined as “strong and unreasoning attachment, especially to something unworthy of attachment.”
Infatuation generally is based on strong physical attraction, to the disregard of other essential factors. For example, King David might be said to have become infatuated with Bath-sheba because, as the record says, “the woman was very good in appearance.” But it was an infatuation, for he did not take into consideration that she belonged to another man, being the wife of Uriah, one of King David’s most able warriors, and that he was causing her to commit adultery. Neither did he take into account the bad consequences that might follow, and which, in this case did, much to David’s great sorrow and regret.—2 Sam. 11:1–12:23.
That romantic love can lead to the pitfall of infatuation the following true-life story well illustrates. The young lady was pretty and popular. She was a dedicated Christian serving in an underdeveloped country, far from her native land. A certain capable and promising young man who was a fellow believer was very much interested in her, but she turned him a deaf ear. Why? Because he apparently lacked glamour. She was waiting for someone to ‘sweep her off her feet,’ as she put it.
One day she met a seemingly gallant native who did sweep her off her feet. He professed interest in her religion but was not a man of Christian principles. One indiscretion led to another, and before long she found herself pregnant by a man who had no intention of marrying her. The scandal resulted in her being excommunicated from her Christian community. Repenting, she was restored in due time to good standing, and today she is married to a mature Christian and is the mother of several children. But what a hard way to learn that romantic love can lead to the pitfall of infatuation and that it of itself is not a certain door to a happy marriage!
Yes, infatuation thinks only of the pleasures of the present or immediate future. It is extremely shortsighted. It has been described as ‘haste to mate,’ and at best is only temporary. True affection is not shortsighted. It takes a long-range view of matters and is willing to deny itself lesser things today so that it might have greater, better things tomorrow.
There is a saying that ‘love is blind.’ But love that is guided by principle is not blind. It has eyes to see qualities and possibilities that others do not see. It is not even blind to faults, otherwise the Scriptures would not say that “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8) To cover them over, love must be aware of them. It is infatuation that is blind. It sees only what it wants to see, and so attributes virtues to one lacking in virtue and unselfishness to one that is selfish.
Another mark of infatuation is that it is prone to ignore the counsel or wishes of others. A person with true affection is willing to listen to others and to profit by their judgment and counsel. Thus statistics tell that where parents approve of a marriage there is a far greater likelihood of happiness in marriage than where they disapprove. The same is true of close friends.
Head as Well as Heart Needed
In countries such as the United States where romantic love plays the dominating role in choice of mates, one out of four marriages ends in divorce. Concerning romantic love, psychologist Dr. J. Brothers once stated: “Romantic love is a fraud. . . . It is a fraud because it is temporary. No one stays in love; not in the romantic sense where you feel electrified when you are near him, and limp and anxious when he’s away . . . The only absolute necessity is basic common sense.”
And writing in a similar vein is Dr. Hines, professor of sociology, in his book, So You’re Thinking of Marriage: “In facing the problem of finding a mate it is quite important that young people minimize as much as they can their romanticism. It is utter nonsense to suppose that somewhere in the world there is the one perfect mate. Any normal man can find, with suitable search, many a person capable of mutual adjustment with him in a happy and satisfying marriage. Young persons should realize that for thousands of years it has been customary for marriages to be arranged by parents or marriage brokers.”
In this regard consider the people of Japan. Of them McCall’s, for November 1966, says: “The Japanese, who do not put much faith in romantic love, think that affection grows after marriage and needn’t exist before then, and that children . . . strengthen the bond between husband and wife. Are the Japanese women happy with their lives? Many are content, for the emotional and cultural satisfactions they enjoy are considerable . . . A Japanese marriage is cooler and less exciting, but it is more likely to endure—whether by necessity or by choice.”
Another report paints a similar picture in regard to Germany: “Romantic ideas are less prevalent in this country than such basic issues as income, compatibility, faithfulness, reliability and responsibility to each other.” There upward of 260 marriage bureaus operate; these account for one out of ten marriages. Many periodicals also carry advertisements of those looking for a mate, a typical one of which reads: “I am 25 years old, 5 feet, 8 inches tall and a professional model. But I do not like Casanovas and I am interested in serious things. My desire in life is to be someone’s loving wife, not a toy. . . . If this is what you want from life, then write to me.”—Newsweek, March 29, 1965.
In contrast is the United States, concerning whose preoccupation with romantic love anthropologist Ralph Linton once stated: “All societies recognize that there are occasional violent attachments between persons of the opposite sex, but our present American culture is the only one which has attempted to capitalize these and make them the basis for marriage.” That the approach and not necessarily the people are at fault can be seen from the results of the Scientific Marriage Foundation. It has been instrumental in bringing about 10,000 marriages, and the divorce rate of these is only 1/10th of 1 percent. Well has one of America’s leading historians observed that for many Americans they would perhaps do “better to concentrate on the deflation of undue expectations, the recovery of discipline and the recognition that romantic love, while the most beautiful of human experiences, is not a divinely guaranteed way of life.”
The Bible’s Position
The Word of God, the Bible, does not condemn romantic love in itself. In fact, it tells us of a most beautiful instance of romantic love, that of 77-year-old Jacob for the beautiful maiden Rachel, “beautiful in form and beautiful of countenance.” He fell in love with her and his love was such that the seven years that he served her father Laban for her ‘in his eyes proved to be like some few days.’—Gen. 29:11-20.
But at the same time God’s Word warns against idolatry, and romantic love can easily result in the idolizing of a creature if it is not controlled. Then again, under the spell of romantic love or physical attraction young persons tend to minimize the more important mental and spiritual qualifications. If a person is serious about his serving his Maker, Jehovah God, then he should make certain that the person he is contemplating to take as his life partner is just as serious about serving Jehovah God. In particular should a Christian not consider for a moment getting emotionally involved with a nonbeliever, however romantic and charming that one might appear to be. Plainly the inspired apostle Paul commands: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers.” Marry “only in the Lord.”—2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Cor. 7:39.
Listening to the Word of God will spare you the disillusionments, the disappointments, the frustrations that so often result from romantic love. It helps us to understand that romantic love is not to be viewed as the supreme bliss for human creatures. More than that, it also shows that marriage is bound to bring with it trials and problems. Tempering youth’s idealism and enthusiasm for marital bliss are the sobering words of the apostle Paul that those who marry “will have tribulation in their flesh.” (1 Cor. 7:28) A keen observer of human nature once said: “Someone is responsible for foisting on our world the fantastic notion that marriage is easy.”
Romantic love can be something beautiful and may be the door to a happy marriage. But unless it is accompanied with reason, self-control and good judgment, it is far more likely to be the door to unhappiness. It might therefore be said that even without romantic love, such qualities as reason, self-control and good judgment are more likely to result in happiness than is romantic love without these substantial virtues. So do not overrate romantic love. It may not be the door to happy marriage, and it certainly is not the only door to happiness in marriage.
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Under the spell of romantic love, young persons tend to minimize the vital mental and spiritual qualifications