Can relationships succeed independently from the efforts of the people involved?

A few days ago, I blogged about the soul mate / fairy tale view of marriage, which I think is the dominant view of marriage among young people today. This view of marriage basically says that there is a person in the world out there who will match up so perfectly with each one of us that we will have to expend no effort and perform no actions and take responsibility for nothing in order for the relationship to work.

I’ve decided to link to this recent article by Matt Walsh which is on that same topic.

He writes:

The disease is the fanciful, unrealistic, fictionalized perceptions that both males and females harbor about marriage.

For example, think of the glamorization of the “mysterious” and “damaged” guy from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Hollywood makes him seem alluring and sexy, but forgets to mention that most of the time, in the real world, that dude probably has herpes, a coke habit, and a criminal record.

Still, that bit of propaganda is nothing compared to the underlying misconception that so many of us carry around consciously or subconsciously, because we’ve seen it on TV and in the movies, and read it in books a million times since childhood: namely, that there is just one person out there for us. Our soul mate. Our Mr. or Mrs. Right. The person we are “meant to be with.”

Matt thinks this view of relationships is not realistic:

I didn’t marry my wife because she’s The One, she’s The One because I married her. Until we were married, she was one, I was one, and we were both one of many. I didn’t marry The One, I married this one, and the two of us became one. I didn’t marry her because I was “meant to be with her,” I married her because that was my choice, and it was her choice, and the Sacrament of marriage is that choice. I married her because I love her — I chose to love her — and I chose to live the rest of my life in service to her. We were not following a script, we chose to write our own, and it’s a story that contains more love and happiness than any romantic fable ever conjured up by Hollywood.

Indeed, marriage is a decision, not the inevitable result of unseen forces outside of our control. When we got married, the pastor asked us if we had “come here freely.” If I had said, “well, not really, you see destiny drew us together,” that would have brought the evening to an abrupt and unpleasant end. Marriage has to be a free choice or it is not a marriage. That’s a beautiful thing, really.

God gave us Free Will. It is His greatest gift to us because without it, nothing is possible. Love is not possible without Will. If we cannot choose to love, then we cannot love. God did not program us like robots to be compatible with only one other machine. He created us as individuals, endowed with the incredible, unprecedented power to choose. And with that choice, we are to go out and find a partner, and make that partner our soul mate.

That’s what we do. We make our spouses into our soul mates by marrying them. We don’t simply recognize that they are soul mates and then just sort of symbolically consecrate that recognition through what would then be an effectively meaningless marriage sacrament. Instead, we find another unique, dynamic, wholly individualized human being, and we make the monumental, supernatural decision to bind ourselves to them for eternity.

It’s a bold and risky move, no matter how you look at it. It’s important to recognize this, not so that you can run away like a petrified little puppy and never tie the knot with anyone, but so that you can go into marriage knowing, at least to some extent, what you’re really doing. This person wasn’t made for you. It wasn’t “designed” to be. There will be some parts of your relationship that are incongruous and conflicting. It won’t all click together like a set of Legos, as you might expect if you think this coupling was fated in the stars.

It’s funny that people get divorced and often cite “irreconcilable differences.” Well what did they think was going to happen? Did they think every difference would be reconcilable? Did they think every bit of contention between them could be perfectly and permanently solved?

Finally, regarding his own marriage:

There were literally millions of things that either of us could have done. An innumerable multitude of possible outcomes, but this was our outcome because we chose it. Not because we were destined or predetermined, not because it was “meant to happen,” but because we chose it. That, to me, is much more romantic than getting pulled along by fate until the two of us inevitably collide and all that was written in our horoscopes passively comes to unavoidable fruition.

We are the protagonists of our love story, not the spectators.

I think that when problems arise between two people who are largely compatible, the right thing to do is to engage and solve the problems. Yes, work isn’t required in pop culture notions of romance, but those things don’t reflect the real world anyway. In the real world, actions to solve a problem count for more than words that avoid the problem. Engineering principles and self-sacrificial attitude are infinitely more useful in a relationship than all the pop culture descriptions of ideal men and ideal women and ideal relationships combined. Why would you believe a bunch of promiscuous, self-centered, materialistic Hollywood people anyway?

3 thoughts on “Can relationships succeed independently from the efforts of the people involved?”

  1. Hmmm, that is a yes and no. I certainly get the point Matt is making. People’s expectations are all out of whack and they go into marriage expecting it to magically make them happy with no effort on their part.

    I wouldn’t toss out the whole idea of soul mates and romance however. A whole lot of us met “the one,” irrationally ran off with him, and have now lived happily ever after. ;)

    I suspect that believing that this is “the one” God gave you, makes a commitment to for better or worse easier.

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  2. This was a good point:

    “We make our spouses into our soul mates by marrying them. We don’t simply recognize that they are soul mates and then just sort of symbolically consecrate that recognition through what would then be an effectively meaningless marriage sacrament.”

    One of the (many) reasons that people aren’t getting married these days is the idea that marriage is “just a piece of paper.” And part of that idea stems from the soul mate ideology. If a person is your soul mate, and it’s all written in the stars or something, then whether you’re married or not is irrelevant. You’ll be with them forever, regardless of any vow. Why would you need a vow in order to stay with your soul mate? It’s destiny, and you’re just a passive pawn.

    So they hook up or shack up because a “piece of paper” doesn’t matter, and when they break up (because they never had any commitment to one another in the first place – just a commitment to their own happiness) it must be that they weren’t soul mates after all – so it’s a good thing they didn’t make it permanent with marriage. And then next time they’re even more wary to get married because last time they thought a person was their soul mate, it turned out not to be, and it wouldn’t be a good idea to bind yourself to someone who turned out not to be your soul mate. So maybe they should just shack up with this one and wait and see if they turn out to be the true soul mate. And the cycle continues, with each repetition making them more wary, more jaded, and less able to be vulnerable, but without them ever questioning the soul mate ideology that led them wrong in the first place.

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    1. It’s such a misunderstanding of the covenant nature of marriage. That’s why I recommend to women I am courting that they read Tim Keller’s book on marriage. Now, I can’t stand that man’s politics or his theistic evolution, etc. but on marriage he is accurate. Marriage is about making a commitment to love someone else REGARDLESS of whether they make you have happy feelings or not. They are going to change anyway! So really, we should be looking for a person who is good at making long-term commitments and achieving long-term goals, not someone who is constantly flipping from one thing to the other in order to feel good.

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