As Valentine’s Day approaches, we find ourselves in a season of American life with competing paradigms of romantic love.
From films, music and even the card aisle of your local pharmacy, February is always a month dedicated to the exploration of one of our most mysterious of virtues. In the spirit of exploration, I want to present two tales, which represent two vastly different views of love in the modern world. Both include sacrifice, pain and hardship. Both include love lost and love found. But only one of them presents a love worth pursuing.
The first story appeared in the New York Times, in which Rosemary Counter confesses to drinking cheap wine with her college roommates while scouring the “missed connections” section of Craigslist, poking fun at “the desperate souls who loitered there.” Ads that gushed forth with sentences like, “You were behind me at Starbucks. I wish I had asked you for your number.”
Such listings are easy to snicker about or simply dismiss as overly romanticized fixations on the prospect of serendipity. This was the perspective of Counter and her peers until one day she found herself the object of a missed connection. After a night of drinks celebrating the birthday of a friend, they turned to Craigslist for some late-night entertainment when, across the screen before them, flashed an ad searching for what most certainly appeared to be Counter.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Counter eventually discovered that her fairy-tale romance was too good to be true. In the Times piece, she shares with courageous honesty that, like the people she once mocked, “We were all hoping love wouldn’t miss us. We were all eager to believe that love, for us, was meant to be.” At the close of the article, her honest introspection fades to cynicism as she writes, “One thing I do know: ‘Meant to be’ is just a fairy tale we tell ourselves.”
If Counter’s anecdote offers lessons learned in love requited, than the story of Mina and Abbas Rafsanjani presents the less often told narrative of love lost and regained. Featured on This American Life, the Rafsanjani’s saga unfolds on a world stage, beginning with an arranged marriage in Iran and including a divorce in Southern California.
Love that sweeps into our life unannounced and without cost is a fleeting and fanciful love.
For two years after their divorce, Mina and Abbas went their separate ways and tried to make life work on their own. In different, yet similar ways, they both failed. Abbas read self-help books and tried to date, while Mina clung more tightly to her two grown daughters. Until one day after watching an older couple on a date, Mina confesses, “I want somebody to know me.” Her ex-husband responds to her confession by telling her, “I lost you. You were the most precious thing that I ever got. And so I want to fix that if you let me.” Mina let him and together they tied the knot again.
I contrast these two tales in order to punctuate the bait and switch nature of a Hollywood-style romance. Fixated on “destiny” and “romantic providence,” our culture promises a kind of love that emerges from spontaneity, blind fate or some cosmic story written in the stars. For some reason, these tales strike us as the only kind of romance worth seeking. They also happen to be stories that center on the only character we often care about most: ourselves.
Yet love that is simply “meant to be” was never the way it was meant to be. Love that sweeps into our life unannounced and without cost is a fleeting and fanciful love.
In comparison stands the love of the Rafsanjanis, who model the hesed love of God. Theirs is a story of relentless love, a love of action. It is the kind of love that should be pursued by every follower of Christ who invites His disciples to a love of others punctuated by hard work over the course of history. It is a love of second chances. And it is a love that is formed from the discovery that love is more about giving then getting, of loving “because He first loved us.”
This Valentine’s Day, whether you find yourself sharing a candlelit dinner with your partner or trolling the “missed connections” section of Craigslist, reflect anew on the fact that the only kind of love worth seeking is the kind symbolized by a cross, rather than a box of chocolates or a bouquet of roses.