3.13.2009

The Bachelor: After the Final Rejection

So you don't watch The Bachelor. That's okay, because these are my thoughts on the concept of love perpetuated by American culture. Actually, I've always thought The Bachelor was a ridiculous show, but it's great for girls' night!

As I watched this season with my wonderful girlfriends, I thought I'd have fun and write a post with a tough-love counseling approach to the most memorable Bachelor rejections. Then the finale aired. For non-watchers, Jason proposed to Melissa, then 6 weeks later dumped her on national television and asked Molly, runner up, to take him back. Keep in mind prior to this fiasco, none of the other bachelorettes thought he was a jerk and he had come across as an all-around good guy.

He's just following his heart.
Jason kept repeating how he tried to focus on his and Melissa's relationship, but "I can't control my head," and "you have to follow your heart." It sounds familiar. Our culture tells us we can't help falling in love (Elvis croons this), and you should follow your heart. The American dream romance is falling in love. We pursue and end relationships based on whether or not we're "in love."

So is Jason really a bad guy for the decisions he made (excluding his decision to break Melissa's heart on national television)? Isn't it considerate he broke up with Melissa as soon as he realized he wasn't "in love" with her? Following his heart sounds romantic, but excuses a broken promise to Melissa, a choice made while "following his heart." What if, later, "following his heart" means leaving or cheating on Molly?

C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,
the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing.
Jason chose to follow his heart above all else, leaving broken hearts and broken relationships in that pursuit. Being in love, while a good thing, isn't the be all and end all, so "you cannot make it the basis of a whole life."

I will always love you?
What the phrase "in love" means to our culture is falling and being in love, which naturally leads to commitments and promises — think Whitney Houston and "I will always love you," or Jason originally proposing to Melissa. Yet, Lewis points out, "being in love" is a feeling and if one promises to always "be in love," then "he might as well promise to never have a headache or always to feel hungry." Feelings don't last. Can we commit to a relationship because of something so inconstant as an emotion? Yet those emotions drive us to these promises.

What is love?
While "falling in love" inspires us to make big commitments, in American culture there is not point in remaining together after "falling OUT of love," except maybe "for the kids' sake." So what about that commitment? Melissa called Jason out on this: you chose Melissa, but you won't fight for Melissa. Lewis writes,
The promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits one to being true even if I cease to be in love.
Are we doomed to choose between broken promises and loveless marriages? Not according to Lewis.
ceasing to be "in love" need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from "being in love" is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be "in love" with someone else. "Being in love" first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.
We keep the promise, even when we aren't "feeling it" because we experience love in an infinitely deeper and richer sense. It's worth it. You move beyond the feeling and have new and exhilarating experiences with your beloved. The point of falling in love is to not always feel in love, but to move beyond it, just as the point of feeling hungry is to move us beyond it to nourishment.

I can't help falling in love with you.
But Jason fell in love with Molly. Staying with Melissa isn't fair to her if his heart is with Molly, right? True, but that's assuming he couldn't help but fall in love with Molly. Lewis also addresses this issue.
Another notion we get from novels and plays is that "falling in love" is something quite irresistible; something that just happens to one, like measles. And because they believe this, some married people throw up the sponge and give in when they find themselves attracted by a new acquaintance. ... When we meet someone beautiful and clever and sympathetic, of course we ought, in one sense, to admire and love these good qualities. But is it not very largely in our own choice whether this love shall, or shall not, turn into what we call "being in love?"
We allow ourselves to "fall in love" because our culture has trained our minds to do so, not because we have no choice. It was Jason's fault he fell in love with Molly because he let himself constantly think about her and indulged in his emotions toward her (of course the experience of the show encouraged this).

But who cares what C.S. Lewis wrote?

I realize I'm using arguments from a Christian book. However, I think most people long for a forever relationship. Molly, I'm sure, expects Jason to be true to her. Melissa was upset because, instead of fighting for their relationship, he broke his promise to be true to her. She wanted that ring to mean forever. Deanna, from the previous season, came back and her advice to Jason was "LEAD your heart." We long for love, but we don't know what love is.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. —1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is selfless and beautiful. I'm reminded again God's standards aren't to limit us, but to bring us fulfillment. I'm so thankful Ian and I have true love (even though we're imperfect), and I hope we can continue to share that with others.
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