How to Tell a Better Love Story

The New York Times called their essay contest “Modern Love,” which suggests something about my generation in itself: that love looks different today, somehow, from what it has in the past.

According to the winning essay, “No Labels, No Drama, Right?”, it does. (You should go read it. Like, right now. I’ll still be here, I promise.)

labels drama

I love this essay because it is so honest, and there is a lyrical courage to it that reminds me of Ecclesiastes.

I hate it because it is so hopeless, even in its beauty. There are really great things in what the author has to say, and I even agree with some of her conclusions. But it breaks my heart, because the author and every man and woman who identify with her story are settling for something so much less than what they’re made for.

It’s not a matter of stuffing our hookup culture in a time machine and dialing it back to Mayberry days and values. There’s something deeper going on here. The author of the essay summarized the problem this way: “All the while, we avoid labels and try to bury our emotions. We aren’t supposed to want anything serious; not now, anyway. But a void is created when we refrain from telling it like it is, from allowing ourselves to feel how we feel.”

To me, that seems so close, but not quite it. Because I think, even if you allowed yourself to feel, if you admitted you wanted something more, would that be enough? And would it be enough even if you got that something more—a real relationship with boundaries and definitions?

I don’t think so. The void you’re feeling would not be filled with a define-the-relationship talk, a Facebook status change, even a wedding ring. I’ve seen people in my generation who thought all of those things would solve their discontent, only to be deeply disappointed when happiness didn’t come along with the events and accessories they always thought they wanted. It wasn’t enough.

No, I wanted to say to the author of this piece, your Jeremy does have a label. He is not your boyfriend. He is your god. And when we love anything besides God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength—a person, an idea, an emotion, a possible future—we find that it can’t bear that weight. Any relationship will crumple under the misplaced love of idolatry.

The main problem isn’t that you’re looking for love in commitment-free sex or wishful fantasies. It’s that you’re looking for love apart from God.

You won’t find it anywhere else.

Do you know what is beautiful about a Christian marriage? It’s not bragging rights for the number on the anniversary cake that the happy couple achieved by gritted-teeth legalism and old-fashioned values. It’s not the ordinary courage it takes to trade independence for a tied-down-but-stable existence. It’s not even families that can rely on everyone showing up at the dinner table every night until death do us part.

The beauty of a Christian marriage is this: two people who commit to each other as a picture of their relationship to a God who loves unconditionally, who will never fail us or leave us alone. Or, as 1 John 4:19 puts it, “We love because he first loved us.”

My dad used to say two things every night before my twin sister and I went to sleep: “I love you” and “The love of God never changes.” Every night. And we’d say them back.

It’s only recently that I realized they were not actually two separate ideas. One was built on the other. To this day, I remember Dad explaining it, sometime before I was old enough to really feel the weight of what it meant: “I can’t promise I’ll never let you down,” he said. “But I want you to know that God won’t, not ever.”

To the people I love and will love in the future, whatever your label—I can’t promise I’ll never let you down or hurt you. Oh, I would love to be able to promise that. But I am weak and quick to anger and deeply selfish, and I will fail. But this I can promise: I will do all I can to let God’s love influence my love for you.

This is my generation too, and I want to tell a better love story.

9 comments

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I needed to “hear” it. Especially tonight as I’m contemplating what’s missing in my relationship and what I can do better. It’s not perfect but after reading what you wrote, I’m understanding better that that’s not the point. It’s aiming to love each other as God loves us. At least I think that’s what you said. Sometimes that’s easy and sometimes I lose sight of that mission. Anyway, I love your blog and appreciate hearing what you have to say about these things. Keep up the great work. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Mary, for the encouragement! And accepting God’s love for us and loving others with that sort of love are really hard things to do. (At least, they are for me.) But you’re right…that is what matters in the end.

      1. I know that feeling. So sad. I do think she grasped a lot of the problems with the current generations view on love. I always see them admiring people who’ve been married forever, but never willing to make the self-sacrificing commitment to gain what they admire.

          1. Yep. But it’s cause we’re taught that our happiness is our goal in life. We believe nothing should stand in the way of happiness and the universe owes it to us. Hard to keep any relationship going when you only think about yourself. Again, we worship ourselves and not God.

  2. Thank you for sharing your insight on this painfully honest essay. Your commentary took the sting out of the hopelessness in the work and affirmed my own commitments to my future. ❤ It's always a delight to read your posts.

    "Any relationship will crumple under the misplaced love of idolatry." Bam! FTW ❤

    1. Thanks so much, Jeanna! There’s a lot of hopelessness and cynicism in this generation, I think (maybe even in the church?), and that often bothers me.

      And yep, I wrote that idolatry line to myself too. Because even if we know a thing, it’s much harder to practice it.

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