Talking about some issues is hard, because I do not share some of the assumptions in the mainstream conversation. That can make for misunderstandings and so every so often it is good to state what I think are the basic ethical truths that form my bigger ideas.
Romance is good, but not a very important, if by romance one means the combination of sexual desire and intimacy sold with tooth paste, movies, and soap. Making romance very important never has done me much long-term good and it has done me a great deal of harm. Vitally, it has also harmed people I love.
Thinking about sex, and romance, forced me to acknowledge that most humans never experience romantic fulfillment. I have become unsure that it is even possible for most of us this side of paradise.
The good news is that unlike other desires, for food, water, air, or even companionship, celibacy does not prevent human flourishing. Chastity, a deeper form of romance, may even make full human flourishing easier.
One is not “doomed” when one is told to be chaste. In fact, for most of Christian history married people were often encouraged to embrace periods of chastity. Sex isn’t evil, but like eating too much (a besetting personal sin) or drinking to much is distracting to spiritual things.
The large numbers of people who “marry the wrong person” or who never “meet the right person” are not doomed to misery. Saint Francis or Saint Catherine would not have been happier if they had found human romance.
In fact, marriage is (so far as I can tell) not helpful to romance. Sometimes romantic desire exists, sometimes it does not and I see no evidence marriage is better when it exists, though it is more fun.
I must not define myself by my desires sexual or otherwise. Whatever helpfulness scientists find in using terms like “heterosexual,” “homosexual,” or “bisexual,” these are not helpful descriptions of a person. A human may have desires, any desires, but is not defined by them, because they can deny desire.
My deepest desires are not who I am, though they are part of me now. They tell me nothing about what I could or should be. My desires compete: sometimes I wish, deeply wish, the approval of one person, but want something (with all my heart) that will cause them to disapprove of me.
My desires cannot always be reconciled simply, but instead I must use the will of God to help me choose. My character, my self, is not defined by what I want, but what I do.
This is a tough standard, because what I do is short of what I should do. Hatred and selfishness abounds and love is lacking.
What can I do?
Thanks to God, I can ask Jesus to change me from within. This change is slow, organic. Replacing all of me that is broken at once would destroy me. I would be the fixer-upper demolished foundation and all, but God preserves me by recreating what should have been in me.
This process will not end until my death and, Scripture suggests, continues on the other side of that passage.
Meantime, I will not let my good desires define me (“I am a pious American.”), because even my good desires are just desires. I will let God’s grace enabling good works to define my nature.
And this reminds me to never define my neighbor by his desires, but only by what he does. If my neighbor struggles, then I will applaud his victories, judging him as I hope to be judged: mercifully.
Who am I? A broken man: a sinner. Who will I be? A restored man: a Christian. What am I now? A transforming man: a sinner becoming a saint.
And this leaves me with one prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”