Thursday Miscellany (Love and Marriage Edition)
A few assorted scraps and fragments related to love and marriage for a Thursday morning…
My wife dragged me off to see… My wife and I went on a lovely date the other night to see the Oscar-winning film, The Shape of Water. I was underwhelmed. But then, I usually expect to be underwhelmed by films that the Academy pants after. It wasn’t terrible, just, well, as my kids would say, meh. I don’t seem to be constitutionally wired to appreciate a love story between a woman and a fish.
(Lest I be unjustly be accused of being a literalistic clod, yes, I know it’s symbolic… Still. Meh.)
But there was a line delivered by a character named Zelda (played by Octavia Spencer) that was almost grimly worth the price of admission. Zelda works as a cleaner at the research facility that houses the aforementioned fish-man and comes home after long hard days to a lazy ingrate of a husband that expects to be waited on hand and foot. In talking about these matters to her friend and co-worker Elisa, Zelda wrily quips, “It takes a lot of lying to keep a marriage going.”
Judging by the reaction to this line by those present in the theatre, it was a line that, shall we say, resonated?
Last year, The New York Times published a piece last week called “Try These ‘Love Hacks’ to Fix Your Marriage.” What’s a “love hack,” you might be wondering? Psychologist Eli Finkel helpfully explains:
A love hack, as Dr. Finkel defines it, is a proven technique that takes little time or effort and doesn’t even require cooperation from your partner. “It’s a quick-and-dirty option that can take just a few minutes a month,” he says. “It’s not going to give you a great marriage, but it can certainly improve things. After all, simply allowing the relationship to slip off the priority list will probably yield stagnation, or worse.”
A “quick and dirty” option that doesn’t take much time and promises to preserve a kind of uninspiring status quo. Sounds, um, idyllic?
Among the “love hacks” recommended were these:
- Hold hands even when you don’t want to.
- Get excited about things that your partner talks about. This one works better, evidently, if you “put some enthusiasm into your voice and your reactions.” Researchers call this a “capitalization attempt.”
Hmm. So “love hacks” evidently involve some version or other of pretending to be more affectionate/interested/enthusiastic than you in fact are. Right. Got it.
Armed with these “proven techniques,” the possibilities for marital stagnation and mediocrity have begun to feel virtually limitless. Next step— cordiality!
As we were brushing our teeth this morning, my wife was talking about a conversation she had with a friend last night. They were talking about loneliness, about how many women in their orbit seem to be lonely, even in their marriages. My wife said something to the effect of, “I don’t feel lonely. I actually like my husband. I like talking to him, spending time with him…”
My chest, naturally, began to swell. Yes, all husbands should clearly aspire to be more like me…
And then I thought back to Zelda in The Shape of Water, about the lying it takes to keep a marriage going.
I remembered that my wife had chuckled along with everyone else in the theatre to that same line.
I cast a suspicious glance her way in the mirror…
In two days, I’ll be officiating at a wedding. I don’t have my sermon all ironed out yet, but when it comes to love and marriage, I’ve often found myself referring to something that a young couple told me prior to their wedding a few years ago. It struck me then (and strikes me still) as one of the loftiest goals a marriage could aspire to:
[W]e have a long way to go in learning how to love as Jesus loves us, but we are eager to learn and desiring to model Christ-like love not only to one another—but to friends and strangers too—hopeful that Jesus will love the world a little better through our union.
Modeling Christ-like love to your spouse is hard. It goes a little beyond lying and “love-hacking” your way to bare survival. It relentlessly seeks the good of the other ahead of your own (which, I have noticed, is not always easy or convenient). And understanding that marriage is about more than meeting the needs—romantic, emotional, whatever—of two individuals, but is meant to extend blessing outwards, is meant to be one of the ways in which Christ can love the world better? Well, that’s about as countercultural (and beautiful) as you can get!
Don’t get me wrong, there are seasons of a marriage where survival is a significant accomplishment. I don’t mean to disparage any efforts that we make to hang on and stay together, particularly in a cultural context where relationships are so eminently self-centered and easily discarded.
But we should always be aiming higher, right? Call it something like a “capitalization attempt.”