We just returned from a vacation at places favored by couples –– some on weekend getaways, others honeymooning. We enjoy seeing couples holding hands and stealing kisses. But sadly, growing numbers of couples on getaways together have nothing on their ring fingers. These couples no doubt think that their love can survive without promises and commitment, but love requires exclusivity. Love is not love if it doesn’t insist "I am yours; you are mine."
Popular songs used to have lyrics like "love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage . . . you can’t have one without the other." But "progressives" have tried to disavow the connection between love and marriage. Television has brought Hollywood values and dysfunctional relationships into our living rooms and mainstreamed once-bohemian ideas that the commitment of marriage is a barrier to personal fulfillment, an unwanted restriction of independence, and a loss of freedom. As a result of this foolish social experimentation, many people are accumulating crippling emotional baggage in their attempts to have love and sex outside the bonds of marriage.
Love introduces an enormous amount of complexity into our lives. On the positive side the emotion of love brings joy and the hope of a lasting bond. That, however, is not the end of the matter. If we were purely rational beings there wouldn’t so often be a gap between our professed beliefs and our behavior.
Love is often paired with other strong emotions and desires — fear, anger, pride, envy, greed, and/or lust. Sometimes we have feelings that we are not even fully conscious of, feelings that spring from suppressed hurts; these can flare up and override our normally rational decision-making processes and produce destructive reactive responses that conflict with the moral standards of our professed beliefs.
If our beliefs are to determine our behavior, they must be grounded in truth and govern the emotions and needs that drive us. Only then will the moral principles to which we give lip service become strong convictions which serve to impose boundaries on our behavior so that we develop real character. Otherwise even the promises of marriage will be little more than "til death do us part . . . or not."
Love and sex unleash the strongest of feelings. While love and sex without promises are part of the foolish unrealistic imaginings of the post-modern mind, truth has a way of coming to the fore in the least expected places. Never was this more evident than in the movie Vanilla Sky. In a poignant scene, Cameron Diaz’s character frantically tells Tom Cruise’s character that he made promises to her. When he declared that he had made no promises, she replied –– with the strength of absolute certainty –– that the intimacy of their intercourse the night before had constituted a promise. Sadly, though she uttered truth, the movie presented her as a psychopath.
Promises become convictions only when reinforced by commitments, and they are only meaningful and effective when the person making them develops strong character. Even then, being the fallible creatures that we are, we need all the assistance we can get to make good on our promises. It helps to have the reinforcement of a ceremony, of a public declaration before God and assembled family and friends that raises expectations of others whose opinions we value, to whom we are accountable and whom we do not wish to disappoint. Plus there can be great value in having milestones, a moment in time delineating one stage from another.
Much as I enjoy watching couples in love, it is bittersweet to see those who settle merely for strong feelings, that "half a loaf" of mere physical desire. Theirs is such a flawed start that often doesn’t lead to fulfillment. The odds of a dead end are high. The many emotions they will have to contend with can be overwhelming; love’s passion is so volatile and unpredictable.
I should know. It was such a surprise when some of my younger siblings expressed surprise that our marriage had lasted. My first reaction upon hearing this was bewilderment; how could they doubt the passionate love my husband and I shared?
With time and reflection I understand their misinterpretation of the explosive intensity of our personalities. It is no simple matter to contain such a volatile combination of two strong individuals. Certainly, without commitment it could not have lasted.
Enduring love and sex without promises? No way!
Without the sacred covenant of marriage? Impossible.