By Tyler McKenzie
Today my wife, Lindsay, and I celebrate our five-year anniversary. Five years ago we tied the knot and took the plunge. Five years ago the cutest girl in Indiana was taken off the market! Five years ago we launched the beginning of the rest of our lives. Five years ago . . .
And after five years, there’s no more hiding behind the dinner-and-a-movie façade of dating life. I can’t buy enough flowers to conceal it. I can’t open enough doors. I can’t say enough “I love yous.” She knows (and painfully, so do I) that she married the “wrong person.”
Allow me to humbly explain. For quite some time now, there has been a myth floating around our idealistic society. A myth that claims that marital union will be durable and satisfying only when you find your “smoking-hot, high-class, love-at-first-sight, sexually compatible, accept-me-as-I-am-and-never-try-to-change-me, Titanic, Notebook, Sweet Home Alabama, Twilight-esque, soul mate.”
It’s a terribly self-centered myth, and by definition (at least God’s definition) self-centeredness has no place in marriage. It’s unrealistic, discounting the defective world we live in and our high propensity to mess stuff up as sinful beings. Yet it has infected every avenue and outlet of popular culture. It represents a cultural narrative that puts a salvific burden on romantic love it simply cannot bear. One pastor called it “The Myth of Romantic Completeness,” and it’s everywhere.
Don’t believe me? Look at the dehumanizing pressures the unmarried suffer from in our society. Even the church (often especially the church) makes singles feel incomplete, as if they are in a holding pattern in life stalled for takeoff until they find “the one.” Do you see? It’s “The Myth of Romantic Completeness” at work.
Look at the messaging the film and music industry communicate about romance. Look at the empirical evidence pointing to an increase in marriage age and decrease in marriage rate. People just won’t commit even though they want to find love. Why? Because they are suspect of everyone’s suitability to provide them the eternal bliss romance is supposed to deliver. Research studies suggest this is a primary factor that holds people back from marital commitment—they just haven’t found their “soul mate.”
Much more could be said about where this way of thinking came from and what drives it, but let’s just leave it at this—singles today (and most married couples too) are looking for super-spouses who simply don’t exist. People hope and expect far too much from romance, but then again, we are people. And I’ve found people are quite good at ruining good things by turning them into ultimate things.
That’s why I know beyond doubt, at least by society’s standards, Lindsay married the wrong person. I’ll never be as smart as a New York Times Best Seller. I’ll never make a six-digit paycheck. I’ll never electrify the bedroom in the way our pornographic media culture broadcasts as the norm. I’ll never understand her quite as well as we both wish I would.
I’ll continue to make mistakes. I’ll get angry over silly disputes. I’ll forget to do the dishes and make the coffee before bed. I’ll secretly and selfishly send the kid to her when his diaper needs changing. I’ll raise my voice when I shouldn’t. I’ll let pride get the best of me. And I’ll probably think of myself far more often than I should. . . . (Are you drowning in my self-pity yet?)
Look, I’m not an astrophysicist. I’m not an MLB All-Star. I’m not a billionaire. I’m just Tyler, and Tyler does not meet the standards of the Real Housewives of Louisville.
So what then is the solution? Well here are a handful that seem popular:
1. Every time your significant other falls short, find another. On to the next one, because it just wasn’t meant to be. Settle only for perfect people because there is no room for grace when it comes to romance. Perfect people deserve perfect people! Or remarry again. And again. And then again. Sooner or later you’re bound to find Mr. or Mrs. Right, right?
Of course, there will be emotional damage that comes with engaging sexually with several partners. There will be financial fallout from dividing your wealth over and over. Your children may grow up with a distorted view of parenting and an approach to marriage that fails. But it all may be worth it if your soul mate is out there.
2. Try it before you buy it. Test drive it. See if the chemistry is there and the sparks fly. Cohabitate. Allow someone else into your life at a degree of vulnerability that only God and your spouse should ever experience. Give them this priceless delicate gift without asking them to commit to you past tomorrow morning.
Who knows, you may find your soul mate this way. Let’s just hope they agree. And it’s worth noting, those who implement this strategy increase their chances of divorce dramatically if they one day do marry.
3. Avoid it all. Because who needs marriage? It’s an institution of the past. Focus on you, your career, and your happiness! Feed your appetite for sex when it’s hungry because that’s all it is, an appetite. Right? No strings attached! No vulnerability required.
Guard the deepest parts of your heart from everyone. Lock your heart up in an ironclad dungeon where no one can reach it, and allow it to grow motionless, unbreakable, and impenetrable.
4. Or . . . realize that love takes hard work. And that as long as you limit the field to human beings, you’ll never marry the “right person.” Because there are no “right people.” Sin’s presence in the world guarantees it. There are only wrong people who pretend to be right and wrong people who are becoming right, through Jesus.
Fact: growing relationships require grace. That’s why I like the biblical image of marriage. The fairy-tale image of two soul mates finding apocalyptic love at last is just that, a fairy tale. But the biblical image of marriage provides something so much more durable, cross-shaped, and beautifully realistic.
It paints a portrait of two sinners, committing to the task of one another, for the sake of one another. It’s two imperfect people committing to the sanctifying work of expressing Jesus’ self-sacrificial love to each other, for life, so that they might see him or her become the person God has always intended them to be, knowing full well that neither of them has yet to reach this goal.
When you both commit to this, not only will you experience the perks of marital intimacy like you never could imagine, but you both will change. Few things mature a person like marriage. You both will become more forgiving, more sensitive, more loving, and more truthful, together.
Even if just one of you commits to this, I think you’ll be surprised how much still you both will change. Your forgiveness, your sensitivity, your love, and your truthfulness may evoke reciprocity from your spouse. And what could be more satisfying than that?
Not much. Trust me. I know. I’ve been married five years now to a woman who has relentlessly committed to this task with me. And because of that, I’m a better human. And so is she.
Tyler McKenzie is the husband of Lindsay, father of Palmer, and lead pastor of Northeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. This article is adapted from a blog entry posted June 4, 2013.