The Radical Immaturity of True Romantic Love

To the question I posed yesterday—Is It EVER Okay to Be Facebook Friends With an Ex?—I caught a flurry of protestations for answering an unqualified “no.” In general, the arguments proffered by those claiming that it is okay for a husband or wife to maintain, via Facebook, actively open lines of communication with one or more of their exes boiled down to that being the more mature, more emotionally sophisticated way of handling such a concern.

Typical of the arguments I got in for why it’s okay for spouses to keep their exes as Facebook friends came from a woman who wrote, “[My relationship with my husband] is the joy of our lives as well as the envy of most of our friends. And it’s completely absent of jealousy or possessiveness . … Neither of us feels at all jealous or worried about each other’s relationships. It’s called communication, honesty, and trust, and it’s a far more mature and Christlike way to handle relationships than simply cutting yourself off from people in your past with an assumption that no one can or should be able to manage it.”

See? Being perfectly content with your spouse having an ex as one of their Facebook friends is mature.

Great! Except for one tiny little thing: There’s nothing whatsoever mature about passionate romantic love. When you’re in love, you’re positively 100% lunatic. When you’re in love, you want all of the person who is the object of your (to coin a phrase) consuming desire. You want their thoughts. You want their mind. You want their body. You want their heart, their soul, their essence—you want to possess and call your own virtually everything there is to them.

Being in love is to maturity what a hurricane is to a gnat’s fart. Being in love makes you insane. Being in love means the absolute furthest thing from your mind is being (of all things!) mature. Being in love means being a veritable black hole of need, an agony of insecurity, a whirling vortex of teeth-baring fear that you’ll lose the person you need so much you’d rather have them than air.

It’s horrible. There’s nothing dignified about being in love—nothing whatsoever measured, controlled, calculated, reasonable. It’s the least pretty, least mature thing imaginable.

But let’s say that you’re in that kind of love with your spouse—and that they feel the same way about you. Then it’s Happy Daze for you! Because now you at least have a chance of not ending up on the six o’clock news. Because now you and your beloved can occupy the Crazy Love Zone together. Now you can both reside and function and make a life for yourselves inside the bouncing, floating Bubble of Love.

Being in love is like jumping off a cliff. You know you’ve left solid ground behind you, that you’re headed for a certain miserable death, and that absolutely nothing can save you.

But if you make that jump while holding the hand of someone who can’t help themselves from taking it with you? Well. That’s the incomparable rush.

All I was saying with yesterday’s post is that if you and your spouse share the kind of Berserk-o-Love that wouldn’t know a measured response from a starving man’s reaction to a Big Mac, the idea that you would expect your spouse to be okay with you having an ex as a Facebook friend—or that you would be okay with them having the same—is inconceivable. Who is okay with knowing that the person with whom they share that kind of love can or is sending confidential emails to an ex of theirs? I almost didn’t post yesterday’s piece, because I was sure I was saying something so sophomorically obvious it didn’t need saying at all.

[To the woman quoted above, and the others who wrote in similar arguments: First of all, thank you for caring enough to write in at all. And I do understand the value of what you've all said. I just don't think you go far enough. I believe that the quality of mutual emotional maturity to which you're pointing as evidence of an ideal marriage should, in fact, be something that you outgrow. I believe that kind of negotiated autonomy is a thing to be shed as your relationship evolves. Wanting to maintain a relationship with an ex is about you: it's about what you want, what feels good to you, what flatters you. In a very real sense, it's about protecting you, distinguishing you, buffering you. In the final analysis, it's about nothing less than your desire to keep your life distinct from that of your spouse. It's been my experience that there's only two reasons for wanting to do that: fear of allowing yourself to love your spouse too much, or not feeling enough love for your spouse in the first place. Either way, it's a sign that you're not as engaged in your marriage as you might be. But all that said, I do understand that these sorts of things are fluid, and that everyone's experience is different.]

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • http://www.myspace.com/r347_terra Luci

    What you refer to as true or passionate romantic love, I refer to as infatuation. Infatuation is an unhealthy, and like you said, lunatic feeling that is often confused with love and can lead to things such as controlling spouses, domestic violence, and stalking. I don't know about you, but if I love someone, I want what's best for him, which means I don't want to own him or anything like that. I just want him to be free and make his own choices. Mainly, what I want to say is, if your spouse is trying to cut you off from people you've decided to be friends with (or vice versa), then you shouldn't be married to that person. Also, if you are in a relationship in which your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend is trying to control you, you shouldn't let them do that for fear that you will "end up on the six-o'clock news". Instead, end the relationship. I don't care how much you think you need that person. It's like an addiction. You will go through withdrawals for a while, but you will be okay. When it comes to love, you shouldn't have to be afraid that your partner is going to leave you or cheat on you, nor should your entire life be about them. You are still you, whether you're married or not. You should be able to go months, or even years without them beside you with the certainty that they still love you, because TRUE romantic love is eternal, and it is not something you outgrow, but something to grow toward.

  • MetalPhil

    Hmm. Interesting conversation. I'm not sure about my thoughts on romance being a single college student, but, you know, good conversation nonetheless. I think the whole "being friends with an ex on facebook" really goes back to why you think you need to be friends with them. I'm friends with an ex, but it's not to prove anything or whatever, we're just still pretty good friends.

    Dunno.

    Always love reading your blog man! Well, when I do read it… =)

  • textjunkie

    Sensitively put, John, and well worth reading. I have to agree with the first poster, that I would consider what you describe as berserk-o love as being infatuation, and not particularly healthy at that; and it's the expectation that that level of insanity will continue for a lifetime that leads to a lot of marriages breaking up when the infatuation fades.

    That said, if you and your wife still have that berserk-o crush thing going after 30 years and you're both happy with it, more power to you. :) Clearly it's working for you!

  • B

    I read your post yesteday with great interest. It touched many nerves with me. Especially the poster you refer to. You see , at year 13 of my marriage I could have written exactly what was said in those particular posts she was rebutting you with and believed every single word and thought you were crazy too.

    That particlar person even claimed to be a marriage counselor and I have to wonder about that. Because anyone who has had thier life shattered by an adulturous spouse and done the hard work to repair and rebuild would know better than to say the things she said.

    First off, It is possible for a man to have an affair on his wife that he loves dearly. Its about temptation. Its about the moment of weakness and forbidden fruit. Its about stupidity. It can be about having another woman pursue your husband , because she see's a marriage that s the envy of everyone and she is so miserable in her situation, she wants a piece of your pie. Men that inspire envy are the men at risk for being chased by a sad woman. Look around and be aware. Also, be careful of your pride. It is one of the Seven Deadly Sins for a reason.

    Second off, Trust should be earned not automatically given. I don't always trust myself. What you think you will do in a given situation can change once you find yourself actually living the scenario. Transparecy in a relationship is a good thing. If that means sharing passwords to private emails, bank accts, facebbook, cell phones, thats not a sign of being mentally deranged and possessiveness, Its in my opinion, a basic building block of a solid marriage. I'm sure that my feminine sensitivity would have seen thru some of the flattery, my denser husband thought was innocent. I often wish, I had trusted less and looked alittle harder. I might have actually gotten jealous when I read some of the other womans comments and shut down that relationship before it had a chance to hurt me. But then , My spouse and I would have missed a serious opportunity to grow and mature..Hummmm.

    If we all lived in Utopia, her way of life would work beautifully. Open communication, honesty and trust. Maturity. I'm not acquainted with any perfect people. Until we get to heaven, I think the next best thing to do is put on the armor of God and remember that the only being in your life who will never let you down is God.

    Being mature in love for me is learning how to grow in grace, forgive and rebuild, Its very easy to love when times are good. The true measure of a man or a woman is how they behave when times are rough and the chips are down.

    Thanks for a great article, John..It actually kept me awake last night thinking..LOL

  • casey

    I agree, I see both arguments; but I have to say that if you're mature enough to stay friends with your exes or whatever- then odds are that particular relationship didn't end in a nightmare and you are at least still on positive speaking terms. If you're not- then I'm with John, they aren't going to stay on that list.

    I think every one sees, feels, experiences love differently. That's amazing, but can get kinda hard when attempting to explain it to someone else.

    I agree that you should have an equal, happy, love with out feeling jealous, or nervous or whatever- but at the same time when you're so far head over heels- you can't see how unhealthy something. It's just not going to happen. sadly.

  • http://megaloi.blogspot.com Redlefty (Michael)

    Sounds like I have some lucky advantages on this tricky topic:

    1) I didn't date in high school. Not due to desire, but due to lack of oppportunity. Thank you to braces, late physical development and a crushing case of agoraphobia.

    2) I only dated one girl in college, and after a year I ended it in a very immature way, ensuring that she will hate my guts and never show the slightest interest in reconnecting with me.

    Sometimes it pays to be ugly, shy and insensitive! Well, maybe not "sometimes", maybe just this one time.

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com ric booth

    Just read both posts, John. Very well put in both cases. Unfortunately, I think frending an EX on FB is not the problem, its a symptom. But then I think you've said that here already.

  • http://living3dfaith.blogspot.com/ Tim

    I meant to post this yesterday—but no matter how "mature" a spouse may react when the other openly volunteers the fact that they fb their ex or exes, the reaction is more than likely a dishonest one. Who wants to appear petty or jealous? Of course the other will generally attempt to assuage their own insecurity by denying that it bothers them in the least. What crap! Of course it does. And if you say, " It doesn't!" (and you've convinced yourself you really mean it) you're self-decieved.

    When a couple marries making that covenant to their betrothed and to God, they must guard that marriage. Past loves must be left behind. PERIOD. What part of "forsaking all others" can't some people wrap their tiny heads around? The vows aren't simply for shits and giggles. The vows are as serious as a heart-attack because they are a "to-do list" that God wants His people accountable to.

    If God isn't part of the equation, I suppose all is fair. But that isn't anything I would bet on.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      "Who wants to appear petty or jealous?" — Me. If it's how I feel then that's what I express (and if you have the sort of relationship that I do, that won’t happen often).

      A better question is this: Who wants to appear less than completely honest in their relationship? As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord: truth is trump. My wife wouldn’t be hurt to see that I was petty or jealous—she's seen me at far worse than that—trust me; what would hurt her is to realize how I truly felt after I'd been, to some extent, hiding it from her, and as our spirits merge to one, she knows how I truly feel—there's no hiding it—she sees into my soul.

      No-no-no, Tim, THERE IS NO "I" for I to “really mean it”! You put together two halves of your brain and act like their one person with one soul, so why don't you do that with your spouse? Of course I too struggle with this in my less mature moments.

      I understand the forsaking of all others just fine. I would die for my wife, and not for any other since to die for any other would bring such pain to my wife—UNLESS she were to love that person enough as well to sacrifice even her life too, would that be necessary. Yes, it trumps children, parents, friends, whomever—all others are forsaken—but not forgotten.

      Now, it's NOT "forsake all others," Tim; it goes, "forsaking all others, remain true to him/her as long as you both shall live." So, first, anyone with ex’s from prior marriage already proved this commitment to be meaningless to them! But more importantly—the forsaking is not the end in itself; it is simply what we are to do as far as would be necessary to REMAIN TRUE! You're suggesting, however, that people not remain entirely true! Fine, if you interpret it this way, forsake then all others unconditionally: forsake your children, forsake your aging parents—go ahead! It seems you are the one who can't wrap your head around what it means. My wife and I will do what is *right* regardless of these silly feelings of yours, for if God is a part of the equation, Tim, the solution will necessarily be equal to the truth!—and it will come with love!

  • Matt

    Yeah as a single, my radically immature love has turned itself on someone who doesn't feel the same way about me. I'm trying to walk a fine line by staying friends with her – attempting to feel the joy I get from hanging out with her, without feeling the crazyness that comes from wanting more. I should know better, but the logical part of brain keeps on losing out. I'm sure other people on here have been through similar situations. Has it ever had a happy ending?

  • Dianne

    So John, you've met my brother? Found his high school sweetheart on Facebook, divorced his wife of 30 years, now lives in another state with his fiancée. This all happened during a span of TWO MONTHS! He lived in a state where you can get a divorce in 30 days. They may stay blissfully happy, but everything you said sounds like reality is waiting to happen after the crazy love settles down. I'll keep you posted!

  • Robin

    Good stuff, John. I befriended a psuedo-ex last year, and went a little wacky with it. (Unrequited college stuff.) I got a little overly concerned with him responding to me & wanted to see him when I went home for a while. I had told my husband that I was being a bit wacky, but he's one of those delusional, trusting types. I finally un-friended the guy for my own mental health & the sake of my marriage. Again, nothing happened, but I was not where I needed to be.

    Some months later, he sent me a friend request, and I was in a better place. I actually told him that I was being a bit freaky (told him it was for different reasons, though.) Now it's cool, and I really hadn't even thought about him until reading your post. So, I would suppose that you could make the blanket statement or general rule, with perhaps wiggle room if you're sufficiently self-analyzing & open w/the spouse. And you MUST be completely willing to un-friend if your spouse is at all uncomfortable, no questions asked, no whining.

  • http://cadoah.wordpress.com cadoah

    1 Corinthians 13. 'Nough said.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Amen, cadoah.

    Believe me: I know full well what it is to throw rationality to the wind and love, crazy as a fool! (Just a couple weeks ago, in fact, I was speaking to (yet another) someone who just couldn't understand what I've done for love; of course, as usual, he was male and someone who's not yet known true love (of the romantic sort).)

    Yet I cannot understand how you claim as true romantic love one with so many barriers, such that such a thing as private correspondence exists! Nor do I understand how you make the leap from truly caring to desiring to possess.

    (In fact, what stalkers, abusers, and all-around creepy types don't seem to get is that if you truly care about someone, you'll want what's best for them even if that means not being with you! It seems to me that care for a human being is about respect, rather than possession, and that marital love binds us in a union of the flesh, where the possessive feelings are no different from how you feel about the fact that you possess a right arm.)

    I think it's up to each marriage to set the ground rules of its covenant based on what's comfortable for both parties, since every couple is different, every relationship has its uniquenesses, and every society as well. I feel I've been blessed in terms of the environment in which my emotional development matured/ is maturing, but others may have understandably quite different ways of looking at relationships based on their own life experiences.

  • ms.glove

    I am new to this site and am commenting well after the original post, but I read all of your comments, and the one thing that I noticed is that each of us defines “love” in the romantic sense, differently. Some see it as a feeling, some as an action, and others, like myself, as a choice. I read somewhere that the euphoric feeling that comes when we “feel” love, is actually a chemical reaction in our bodies…a physical response, that can only last for a certain amount of time. I have experienced that crazy “in” love feeling, and it truly does cause us to do, act and think rather irrationally at times.

    In my opinion, (which means very little here, but means quite a lot in my marriage) love is a constant choice. Though our commitment to each other is permanent, our love and our expressions of that love, are continual choices. My husband and I strive, as I am sure most couples do, to love one another unconditionally…however, we fall short of that all the time. Does that mean that we give up? No, it means that we make the choice to love one another anyways, and that we continue to try, learn from our shortcomings and hope to do better next time.

    Every day, sometimes several times a day, I have to choose to love my husband, in spite of something he says, does, or doesn’t do. He, also, does the same for me, and I am the first to admit that there is one week a month where I think he consciously has to tell himself out loud to make that choice, as I am not always the most lovable at that time. We recognize that we are not perfect, and we choose to accept each others imperfections. We aren’t even close to perfect, nor is our love, but that love is perfect for us. To someone else, it may seem crazy, and we’re okay with that. We are accountable for our relationship, and our love, not anyone else’s.

    Involved in that choice, is the fact that we choose to put our relationship and each other first, only second to God, and that it is not “me” or “I”, but “us” and “we”. Because we are so imperfect, long ago we tackled the ex-factor and anything even remotely similar to it by deciding that we would not do or say anything that we could not say or do in front of our spouse, or that would cause us to be embarrassed, ashamed, etc. of our behavior if our spouse were to walk in the door in the midst of it. This is what works for us, in regards to “perimeters”…trust, loyalty, honesty and so forth. As we grew in our relationship with Christ, we have added to this by trying to live in a state of awareness that, even more importantly, we want to live in a matter pleasing to Him, since He is always with us.

    We are works in progress, and just because we had that growth spurt, doesn’t mean that we instantly transformed our lives or our relationship and now automatically do this. But, we are aware and mindful of it, and we continue to work at it, by choice. There are many times that my husband will do something and it will cause me to feel a great deal of love for him, and there are even periods of times where that euphoric feeling of being “in love” with each other occurs. My parents have been married nearly five decades, and when asked their “secret”, my mother will say, “We have no secret. We just have been lucky enough to not fall out of love at the same time.”

    There are many definitions of love, and for us, that definition is clear. Love is a choice. We choose to love each other full spectrum, at the highest of highs, and also when we like each other the least or are the most unlovable. Even now, as I type this, my husband is literally snoring so loudly that our bed is actually vibrating slightly, and it was his snoring that woke me up at 3am and caused me to read some of John’s older posts and stumble across this one.

    I was less than thrilled to have my sleep interrupted. I can’t stand my husband’s snoring, and there are times it especially frustrates me and annoys me, like today. As I glanced over to look at him, I don’t “feel” particularly “in love” with him at this moment. Yet, I choose to love him anyways, and I know that, when I reach over to kiss his forehead and wake him up for work soon, that he will do what he has done nearly every single morning. He will open his eyes, smile slightly, and pull me close to him and mumble, “just 5 more minutes…”. He will put his big, strong arms around me and nuzzle his face into the back of my shoulder and I will feel intense love from and for him at that moment. Then, 30 seconds later, when he begins snoring like a buzz saw, INTO the back of my neck, with nasty morning breath, while I am “stuck” because his strong arms are holding me down in the most awkward and uncomfortable position, I will lay there counting down those next four minutes and I will again, choose to love him.

  • Kristy

    Late to the game, but still…

    I get what you’re saying, but I don’t agree. I AM friends with an ex. (“The” ex, actually. The only ex.) Much like my husband, this guy and I were friends before we were a couple; after it ended, it took some time for the pain to die down, but now that it has, the factors that made us friends still exist even without the romantic element.

    Is your claim that it’s impossible to ever have a platonic friendship with someone you used to have a romantic/sexual relationship with? Is it that you shouldn’t have friends that your spouse doesn’t share? Because I think both of those are patently false. Were the situation reversed, I would have no problem with my husband being friends with one of his exes. I trust him, I know he wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, and while I may not be able to avoid an irrational twinge, I would know it to be IRRATIONAL. I happen to think jealousy – when applied to a trusted partner who is doing something innocent – is a bad thing, is the opposite of what love should be.

    I dunno. Maybe that means I’ve never been in what you call love. I can’t even imagine it. It doesn’t sound like anything I’d want.

  • Allie

    Seems to me it matters a great deal how your spouse feels about it. If your spouse feels even the slightest twinge that the relationship isn’t platonic, if it bothers him or her in the slightest – then no. But sometimes everyone is aware that the fire that powered the old relationship is dead. I’m good friends with one of my ex-boyfriends and his wife, a man I almost married at one point before I met my husband. There’s nothing there except a warm pleasure that we both have happy lives. In fact he INTRODUCED me to my husband. Sometimes people really do move on.


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