It was late Sunday afternoon when my daughter, age fifteen, sauntered into the den where I had been firmly ensconced on the couch watching basketball—first the SEC championship game between Kentucky and Vanderbilt, (yawn), and next, the Celtics-Lakers regular season NBA game. The Celtics were doing okay, holding their own at the time, so I wasn’t too agitated when she plopped down next to me and announced, “I want a boyfriend, so bad.”
Well then. What do you say to that? Unlike all the trinkets and baubles with which we try to inject meaning and purpose to our lives, there is no boyfriend store where one can go and select the right mass-produced boyfriend. A boyfriend is not something that can be purchased. For my daughter, there are basically two places where potential boyfriends might be found—church or school, with a good deal of overlap between them—and neither place actually traffics in boyfriends. So, what to tell her?
I don’t know much about specifically acquiring boyfriends, but had a fair amount of experience, even if all of it was over twenty years old, at acquiring girlfriends. I seemed to remember having had quite a few in my day, but maybe that was the black and white of my memory playing tricks with the Kodachrome of reality*. But I do remember one thing that always preceded a new relationship—mentally rejecting any hope of a new relationship, and simply getting on with life, allowing it to unfold as it might, girlfriend or not.
So I told her, “The first thing you must do if you want a boyfriend is to quit wanting one. You must internalize the desire you have for a boyfriend, accepting that you can’t change the desire, but resolving to not let it control the manner with which you live your life.”
“It’s something of a paradox,” I told her, “but the way to get what you want is to abandon all hope that you might.”
She looked at me as if I were absolutely loony and retreated to her room, I’m sure to pine away her lazy Sunday afternoon in desperation at wanting a boyfriend. But my advice, in essence, is the same advice Christ offered to his followers on how to gain salvation: to find yourself is to lose yourself; to be first, you must be last. Christ was describing the means to real power—not superficial power that comes with the trappings of success or high office or fame—but real, inviolable power, which ever and always arises from within. Real power comes from knowing, understanding, and gaining control over one’s self. And power (admittedly also in its superficial forms) is the most potent attractant, the most powerful aphrodisiac, known to mankind.
Christian love and romantic love, in their idealistic forms, are not so far apart. As every heart-stricken lover will attest (if ever they regain their senses), the insanity of being “in love” is roughly tantamount to worshiping another person as a deity. Listen to the popular songs of romantic love. Christ or God or Allah could easily be substituted as the main love object without doing a bit of theological violence. This is not an accident, but is for reasons that would require a dissertation to fully explain. In short, romantic love and Christian love are directed at the same purpose—eternity. Romantic love aims to achieve eternity through the power of reproduction; Loving God or Christ or Allah has the same aim, but through a different method.
Gaining control over the romantic impulse requires a searing examination of the soul. I should have told her, “Ask yourself, why do you want a boyfriend? What would it mean to have a boyfriend? How would it change your life? Is it just because you want to have sex?”
Anyone that’s trying to fill a void in their life through romance is bound for disappointment. A real relationship between two people requires two complete people, fully capable of meeting the challenges of existence without the other. While my daughter’s obviously not at the stage of acquiring what amounts to a partner in the business of life, it’s never too early to disabuse her of illegitimate ideas.
I wonder sometimes if things were really so much worse when marriages were arranged. An arranged marriage captures a great deal more of the essence of the marital transaction as the creation of a business partnership, while alleviating the pressure to find a “soul mate” in a spouse, whatever that means. It is not necessary that one loves their spouse for a marriage to succeed. A great many partnerships—marital, business and otherwise– thrive with no love lost between the partners. It’s only been for the last couple hundred years or so since arranged marriages weren’t the norm. Maybe the freedom to choose one’s mate is another instance of a freedom too far; of a freedom that carried too much responsibility for a great many folks to successfully bear.
As a David Brook’s article, The Fertility Implosion, in the New York Times notes (and I have repeatedly pointed out in this blog), birth rates across the globe are plummeting, but especially in the developed world. Undoubtedly, a great deal of the reason is the ability of women to secure their economic futures through means other than as baby factories. But a corollary development–the freedom and responsibility of choosing a mate—can’t be ignored as a contributing factor.
In the meantime, I hope my daughter comes to realize that no boyfriend, nor even friend, can make one a whole and complete person—that only comes from within; that only God is worthy of worship, and that a boyfriend or mate or husband is only worth having when you don’t want or need them.
*A reference to the Simon and Garfunkel song, Kodachrome, “…if you took all the girls I knew when I was single and got ‘em all together for one night…I know they’d never match my sweet imagination, everything looks better in black and white…”