None of you know this, but I write fiction. Writing bad fiction is a bit like being an omnipotent God, in the most “omni” sense of the word. I will characters into existence and then shape them to do my bidding, to move my story towards whatever end I desire. They’re protagonists or antagonists. They’re heroes or villians. They’re sexy and alluring or not. But whatever else they are I know this: they’re boring and predictable. This is because I created them, rather than doing what real fiction writers do, which is allow them to ripen into nuanced, delightfully unpredictable, complex personalities, full of twisted desires and noble dreams, ugly fears, and bold heroic actions. Real people, you see, are always better than the projections we make them out to be.
In an age of commodified relationships, lots of people have developed an addiction to fantasy wish dreams. They have notions in their mind of what will constitute “the right person” for them, as if the person exists solely to fill the large chasm in their sole. This chasm stems from legitimate longings for intimacy but is made even bigger because of our fantasy derived expectations of what the “right person” will do for us, expectations we get from Glee or porn or 50 shades of whatever. Armed with the stories that fill our imaginations, we create fantastic and absurd notions of what intimate relationships will be like.
That’s all well and good until you meet an actual person because real people are both more glorious, and more annoying than anything in our fantasies. This is the thesis of Ruby Sparks, a movie well worth the time if you want to better understand the challenges that come when we spend too much time in our heads, or in our virtual worlds.
A lonely author writes a girl into existence, the perfect girl for him of course, because he made her. Then, against all odds, and all physics, she appears – shows up in his kitchen, cooking breakfast, acting like his girlfriend. When it slowly sinks in that she’s become real, he’s ecstatic and in his ecstasy, locks the manuscript that is her life in a drawer so that she’ll never change.
But of course she does change because nobody spends a nanosecond on this glorious and broken planet without being altered by everything and everyone. Once she’s off the manuscript, it’s as if she takes on a life of her own, with her own opinions, and headaches, and needs, and o so much more that makes her threatening to author-man, whose interior world has become the only safe place in the universe. How he deals with the disillusionment of reality and real relationships is the central theme of this well crafted film and finely acted film.
Tim Keller’s marvelous book on marriage includes this bold statement: we always marry the wrong person, which is a way of saying that the disillusionment of reality must invariably follow on the heels of the romantic notions which constitute act one of any relationship. I was, of course, attracted to the other (34 years ago) for two obvious reasons: 1) there were things about her that delighted me utterly and 2) I, apparently, delighted her too.
Marriage though had included the dawning and necessary realization that she wasn’t always delighted with me anymore – that she doesn’t like the fact that I don’t put laundry in the proper places at the proper times because there are life changing things going on in my world, like sports on TV. She doesn’t like that I prefer to clean the kitchen once a day, or once a week, rather than after each meal. She doesn’t like that I play spiritual trump cards in arguments sometimes. Of course the reverse is true too – but I won’t bore you with the details.
The last 33 years have included moments where each of us have seen our own dark sides, and the dark sides of the other, courtesy of the marriage covenant. Had our addiction to the fantasy version of the other been strong enough, I’m sure the disillusionment would have killed us. Instead, we made it through, but not without some seasons of trying hard to play omnipotent author in the lives of each other, changing them so that they fit our fantasy versions. On the far side of those futile efforts resides a much richer love, ripened precisely because we’ve endured both conflict and disillusionment.
We’re now, 33 years into the story, enjoying real versions of each other, having allowed the fantasy versions to evaporate. I’m convinced that knowing the real versions and letting the wish dreams and romantic notions die takes both time and the safety of a covenant relationship, which is just one of the reasons I’m strong on marriage, as I’ll share in a series this winter at the church I lead.
This doesn’t mean all conflict has ended. It’s simply changed. Mostly, the conflict now is related to clarifying and helping each other move into our shared vision of the future, as we challenge one another to be the real people that we know each other to be.
The moment when author-boy surrenders, letting his omnipotence over her die, is one of the best little sections of film I’ve seen recently because it’s both well crafted, and ripe with real meaning for a world where fantasy addiction is creating a loneliness epidemic. It’s a film worth watching with a few people and discussing together, all with the goal of moving towards a vision of intimacy that’s authentic knowing of the other, and learning that it’s only the real other that can shape us to be people who know how to love.