Thursday, January 05, 2006

Myths of Christian Romance: Risk-Proofing

One of the common arguments I often hear in defense of courtship is that it helps to cut out much of the heartbreak that comes with dating relationships. Dating, goes the line, often involves a high level of emotional involvement, often to the point of attachment. Because there is no greater goal to which the couple is working, this tendency is quite unhelpful and even sinful, particularly on the part of the man, who is responsible for leading the relationship and keeping emotions on healthy, unattached pre-marriage levels. Put simply, the couple achieves a level of emotional intimacy that is only meant for marriage. When the relationship ends, as many dating relationships do, both parties are damaged by the experience, having invested much energy and emotion in their now departed flame.

There is great wisdom in courtship's denunciation of this flaw, which is indeed an indictment of poor leadership on the part of many Christian men. Scared of commitment but eager to indulge emotional hunger for another, many Christian men conduct relationships without regard for the woman's heart. This is reprehensible. However, many proponents of courtship go too far in correcting this flaw. Because dating can get overly involved, some say, couples ought not to date at all, because it so often brings harm. They should either be seriously committed or not at all. In the thinking of its proponents, this does much to safeguard against emotional attachment. Couples who enter a courting relationship are thus aware of the commitment they are making to one another and have a structure to which they will stick. So emotions are guided along by a careful process, especially as the couple is urged even as they consider one another to not become deeply involved emotionally.

There is much good in this approach. We think much of the physical sins that befall young couples, but oftentimes we think little of the emotional hurt that results from many dating relationships. Young people simply plunge into relationships and then are quite broken when things don't work out. This is a bad thing, and it is right that we work against it as Christians. However, we must at the same time remember the plain but essential truth that love is risky. It is a part of life, a wonderful part of life, and like much of life, it is not child-proof. The world of adults is risky. Our parents aren't there to cushion our fall, and it's right that they aren't. When we try for jobs, we risk. It hurts not to get a job. When we play sports, we risk. It hurts not to succeed. When we make friends, we risk. It hurts not to be called back. When we apply to colleges, we risk. It hurts to be rejected. But all of this is essential to life, to growing, changing, becoming stronger, and developing character. Risk is often exactly what we need; in fact, it is riskiest to never risk at all.

To apply this more specifically to the topic at hand, it is great to guard against emotional attachment. No, more than that--it's essential. But we must always remember that love is risky. To request the hand and perhaps the heart of a girl is for a man a fearsome thing. To receive his request and give her heart is for a girl a fearsome thing. But in this potent exchange there is beauty. Man was made for woman, and woman for man. The Lord ordained that man would need to pursue a wife. In so doing, He dropped an element of risk right into our lives, and pronounced it good by virtue of the process. Tomorrow, we'll wrap up why risk is so important and thus must not be deleted from the quest for love.


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