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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.”

28 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Johnston #

    I pine for the good old days of romance when sea monsters devoured human flesh to blood curdling screams……fade to black…..

    March 8, 2018
    • Hmm.. this is a reference that eludes me.

      March 9, 2018
      • Paul Johnston #

        So as for what the post was really about, I see your,”one of the best ways in which Christ can love the world” and raise to “the only means by which we can live a trinitarian love on earth.” 🙂

        March 9, 2018
  2. Paul Johnston #

    In keeping with the nature of, “Miscellany”….Hollywood collectively fell on it’s head, thinking that, “The Shape of Water”, “Get Out” and “3 Billboards” were the best films of last year. The first film plays to tired old cliches and typical liberal pretentiousness about as interesting as watching paint dry…nice paint, somewhat amusing paint but spoiler alert! Paint dries.

    “Get Out” A half a story idea about white liberal pretentiousness, ironically, that had me engaged until it seemed to me the movie makers ran out of idea, leading to a second act that disintegrates into stupidity. Too bad but film making 101 might suggest you story board a credible ending before you shoot

    As for, ” 3 Billboards”, divorced from honest story telling the dialogue is great and the acting superb….too bad people can assault high school students, fire bomb buildings and throw a person through a two story window to the ground below without consequence. Bruce Willis should have been there and “Die Hard in Missouri” could have been an optional title.

    Worse still there actually were groundbreaking films made last year. “First they kill our Fathers” a brilliantly unsentimental detailing of the failure of American foreign policy and the vacuum that gave space to the Khmer Rouge, as told through the eyes of it’s 7 year old protagonist, is a must see and “Ghost Story” maybe the most unique take on a love story and all it’s existential implications I have ever seen. Makes Del Torro’s film, “The Shape of Shite” by comparison.

    Like all, Apparatchiks, Hollywood cannot speak to truth, reason or beauty.

    All they got now is propaganda.

    March 9, 2018
    • Could hardly agree more with your assessment of Hollywood and of those three films, Paul. Although I didn’t see Get Out (and don’t plan to). Three Billboards was a funny one—as you say, the acting was terrific and the story compelling, but I always leave those sorts of films thinking that as a follower of Jesus I should be quite a bit more uncomfortable with revenge as a driving motif of the narrative than I often am. I suppose the same could be said of a large number of Hollywood offerings.

      March 9, 2018
  3. Paul Johnston #

    So as for what the post was really about, I see your,”one of the best ways in which Christ can love the world” and raise to “the only means by which we can live a trinitarian love on earth.”

    March 9, 2018
  4. Paul Johnston #

    Haha I so often attach responses to the wrong comment…this one is meant to be attached to, “elusive references”…. It was meant as a joke. 🙂 and yes i will keep my day job.

    March 9, 2018
  5. Paul Johnston #

    Oops attached a wrong response to your, “elusive meaning” response. I meant that as a joke and yes i will keep my day job. 🙂

    March 9, 2018
  6. Paul Johnston #

    HAHAHA clearly I am the victim of Russian-Hollywood hackers!!!

    March 9, 2018
    • Those nasty Russians… 😉

      March 9, 2018
  7. Kevin K #

    Re: loneliness… was speaking with a Chilean friend of mine, a fellow who is perplexed by North American’s obsession with e-mail, when it’s quicker to call (he was speaking to someone who shared in our culture’s particular shyness), and I was reminded of a thought I had a number of months ago.

    Aren’t we all just a bunch of introverts waiting for a good friend to invite themselves over?

    Thanks again for your scattered… er… “miscellaneous” thoughts.

    March 13, 2018
    • Your Chilean friend sounds wise. I regularly find myself in the middle of composing some long email and think, “Wouldn’t it just be easier (and nicer) to call?!”

      March 13, 2018
  8. Paul Johnston #

    So now that I am over my Hollywood movie fetish, 🙂 I am contemplating your thoughts on marriage. Particularly the statement, “modeling Christ like love to your spouse is hard”.

    Is it, I wonder? And if it is, why is it so?

    Is it hard or is it just rare? Is it as easy as being humble to the will of God and then basing my choices accordingly? Or is it as hard as pleasing all the layers of ego and pride that dwell within me? Some prides I know, some I don’t know/acknowledge and most of them seem to bring our marriage harm and a demand for more self centered decision making.

    “The burden is easy, the yoke is light” for a humble man?

    “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” to a man of pride?

    If man was made for humility and cedes his pride to his natural state then his humble actions like nature become reflexive, instinctual. Easy, peasy for a sentient creature.

    If a man is determined to remain proud, at war with his natural state, so to speak, his life becomes endlessly difficult. I

    It takes a lot of wasted effort and leads to a lot of suffering, to always choose to be something you are not.

    March 14, 2018
    • Yes, this all sounds very good and attractive and hopeful in theory. But it’s probably destined to remain a goal we never fully reach this side of eternity, even if we hopefully make progress. I wish it were as simple as being humble to the will of God and then acting accordingly. This stubborn problem of my sinful human nature seems to keep reasserting itself, though. Romans 7 and all that.

      March 15, 2018
  9. Paul Johnston #

    Somebody once said a man’s reach ought to excede his grasp. I like the both the optimism and the realism of that idea.

    I wonder what habitual sin plagued St. Paul. It seemed to own him from time to time. Sometimes I think he likely talked too much and didn’t pray enough. I can relate.😊

    Jesus, the man, prayed all the time. Jesus is far more direct then Paul. More authoritative, more convincing and doesn’t wear you out with words.

    Jesus also stays out of his own head for the most part. He just prays a lot and then just does the will of the Father and nothing of his own accord. He also tells us we can do greater things.

    Stay optimistic.😊

    March 15, 2018
    • Paul Johnston #

      And pray.😊

      March 15, 2018
      • Well said, Paul. I agree with your assessment of Paul and of the primacy of Jesus in our thinking and striving and emulating as Christians. Paul describes me as I am and he does it well. He knows the terrain of sin and struggle and conflict and he maps it out accurately. Jesus calls me to be perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect.

        And yes, we need both realism but, perhaps more importantly optimism. Our reach out to exceed our grasp, as should our prayers.

        March 16, 2018
  10. Paul Johnston #

    Perhaps prayers are the means by which an optimistic but otherwise unrealistic, “reach” is grasped. God bridging the gap between reach and grasp, so to speak.

    I’ve been listening to a lot of Jordan Peterson lately and I hear a wise accounting of how I could be a better person, in his description of the phenomena of archetypal stories and their transcendent impact across time.

    Of course an archetypal story, though reflective of truth is insufficient in of itself to make truth happen. We are creatures of free will and we can deny transcendent truth anytime we like. So much so that we can individually or collectively make the lies the truth anytime we choose.

    This brings me to the simple truth that a true story is only useful to the truth if both the speaker and the listener make their best effort to live this truth. Abstract understandings don’t change anything on the ground unless they are lived. Commitment to doing good means sacrifice and suffering for the sake of the truth. Good thoughts aren’t enough.

    I also like that he reminds me of the obvious reality about how easy it is to twist lies into truth both for the individual and the community and calls it for what it is. Malevolence; pure evil. The true dark side of human existence.

    I think archetypal stories share a lot in common with prayer. My prayer like his stories first need to be articulated truthfully but unless I am prepared to live my prayer it may be about as useless as knowing the truth through archetypal stories and not acting on it.

    Prayer is both comforting and threatening. Comfort in that I know God is present and listening. Threatening in that I know that if God is to answer my prayer I must also live it. I must be prepared to sacrifice and suffer.

    I think we need to reflect more on the responsibilities that prayer calls us into accepting by the very nature of the meaning of, “true prayer”.

    We need to, “reach” more honestly and with more commitment then we do.

    March 17, 2018
    • We need to, “reach” more honestly and with more commitment then we do.

      Yes, we certainly do.

      March 19, 2018
  11. Paul Johnston #

    Any opinions on the, Jordan Peterson, phenomena?

    March 20, 2018
    • Well, I’ve not read or watched enough of him to comment with any authority, but he’s certainly scratching a very real cultural and, in some cases, theological itch, isn’t he? I think his understanding of life as a struggle between order and chaos, the human imperative to align ourselves with order in our speech and action, the possibility of real, objective virtue, the possibility of suffering to purify, etc… these are all welcome and necessary for our cultural moment. I don’t quite go with him in his endless critiquing of the “postmodernists” but I think he has important things to say—things that, unfortunately, our cultural moment seems incapable of hearing due to our reflexive polarizing and retreating into self-serving epithets to describe those who don’t confirm our biases our validate our viewpoints.

      March 20, 2018
  12. Paul Johnston #

    Well said, though I share Dr. Peterson’s contempt of post modernism. A limp wristed and lame orthodoxy of anti orthodoxy that leaves the natural desire of mankind for purpose, value and meaning unfulfilled. Into the void created, comes tyranny of every which kind, as people, starved of necessities, uncritically clamor for whatever tyranny best suits their bias.

    Before there was a Lenin, there had to be a Marx. Before there was a Hitler there had to be Nietzsche.

    March 20, 2018
    • I suppose that, as always, everything depends on what we mean by the words we use.

      For me, “postmodernism” has plenty of odious connotations and effects out there in the world (see any university campus, for example), but it also reminds us that all of our knowledge and stories and ideologies and orthodoxies are contextual and situational and that none of us has unmediated access to reality. And, from a Christian perspective, we would have to add that not only is all of our knowledge contextual, it is also affected by sin and self. We need these reminders—and they should, in fact, be reminders of things that we ought always to have known—that postmodernism, at its best, can provide

      March 20, 2018
  13. I forgot that you weren’t using facebook during Lent and commented there, so I’ll comment here too and just say, I am both humbled and grateful that those words are still ringing around in your head. It’s good to be reminded of them too! Thanks for writing, Ryan.

    March 22, 2018
    • Thanks for this, Ashley. Your and Nathan’s words remain an inspiration—for my own marriage and for those I contribute to in my work! I hope you two are well!

      March 22, 2018
  14. Paul Johnston #

    Understanding words correctly seems more important to me than relativistic understandings that we use the same words differently. This is to say that there is an inherent moral truth or falsehood in the use of any words that seeks to convey existential meaning.

    Deductively speaking the term, “postmodernism” is so riddled with contradiction and false premise it is better to disregard the concept entirely then to advocate on behalf of the meagre and insufficient ways it aligns with truth.

    I say this primarily because it is true of all demonstrably false narratives that the 5% (randomly chosen to defend my argument) of truth inherent in them is used by pathological propagandists to trump the 95% of falsehood within their narrative so as to make the lie, the truth. Lies lived, lead to slavery and death. Truth on the other hand, sets free and leads to eternal life

    For example, our understanding regarding sin and how it compromises truth is better understood through the Christian narrative (100% true; maybe 20% known truth 80% faith truth) then through postmodernism. The Christian understanding is vastly more nuanced and holds us to penultimate accountability and judgement. The difference between life and death. The difference between being that is finite or infinite.

    Postmodernism is only interested in critiquing every worldview to the point that any world view is subjectively contradictory or incomplete. It’s starting point is that there is no objective truth, only subjective interpretation (always prone to human error/sin) thus invalidating all attempts at objective understanding. It is atheistic and Darwinian, to the extent that it is anything at all but mostly it is toxic indifference to human culture that allows for any ideology to prevail, thus emboldening every ideology, on the grounds that none of them are true anyways so it really doesn’t matter which of them wins out.

    It is pretty much a dumbed down version in defense of every tyranny imaginable. At least Marx and Nietzsche and I damn their theories with the faintest of praises you can imagine, require a rigorousness of study such that it takes you many years to act like a murderous thug. Postmodernism is so vacuous that most of it’s adherent’s need only half a semester to reach the necessary levels of contempt that are the required precursor of tyranny. Or maybe it gives pre-existing contempt’s held by people the thinnest of intellectual veils through which to hide their violence.

    I think it best to understand, postmodernism as a clarion call for chaos, under the slogan, “the only truth is that there is no truth, other then what you choose truth to mean”.

    Simply speaking postmodernism is confirmation bias.

    As for your concern about it’s, “odious effects” I share them but see the levels of pollution beyond our university campuses. It is at the heart of modern feminist critique, gender politics, sexual orientation politics, race politics and is a central tenet informing the machinations of the Trudeau regime, in Ottawa.

    Shit is hitting the fan, Ryan. It is time to pray hard, think hard, listen hard and respond in defense of the truth. The period of Christian indifference ( if it ever could be tolerated eschatologically speaking) can no longer be tolerated now.

    March 23, 2018
  15. Paul Johnston #

    So you asked me earlier, here or elsewhere I am not sure, lol to keep you updated on events as they unfolded regarding broader engagements within our society. The, “shoe has dropped” I think…..maybe. 🙂

    Halton Catholic school board trustees, likely in response to the government’s value testing of church summer job programs, is asking charitable organizations it supports to affirm their belief in Catholic pro life teachings as a pre-condition to obtaining funds from catholic school charities, operating in their jurisdiction.

    What is good for the goose being good for the gander I suppose…

    The immediate reaction has been swift, highly critical and expected. I don’t think the court of public opinion will be very kind to us here and the irony of their vicious condemnation of us, while supporting the government’s action isn’t likely to register. That being said I have a sense that for God the more important issue may not be either the concerns of the Halton Catholic board or the government, or the court of public opinion. Probably this scenario will play out in a localized fashion and then dissappear, then again, maybe not. Perhaps God is winnowing within His church, separating wheat from chaff, so to speak.

    If Christian people are called to engage in the public sphere so as to be both living an authentic faith and through that expression of living, evangelizing others, it seems pretty obvious to me that all Christians need to raise their game and that the vast majority of self proclaimed Christians will head for the exits.

    I’m pretty sure that will happen in Roman Catholic circles anyways and however counter intuitive that may seem to the cause, losing what I suspect could be millions and millions of members world wide, I feel this has to happen before we can move forward.

    “First take the log out of our own eyes, and cut away whatever “body” part it is necessary to cut” so to speak.

    March 23, 2018
    • Appreciate this update, Paul. All the best in dealing with the criticisms and ironies and inconsistencies that will no doubt continue to come your way (and which seem to abound these days).

      March 26, 2018

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