I’ve got two great essays to share now that Valentine’s Day is over, and you have to go on muddling through how to offer and receive love without quite so much guidance from Hallmark. First up, in First Things, Alexi Sargeant has a great piece on dating and courtship, and the kind of deliberate work couples need to do to keep dating focused on its proper end: discernment.
An overwhelming amount of the media we consume (from romantic films to television sitcoms) suggests that couples work out their whole relationships through some kind of telepathy—that the need to talk (about each party’s expectations, hopes, reservations, etc.) shows that something is going wrong. A healthy relationship is a sort of hive-mind; talking with one’s beloved about serious matters is at best worrisome. Even if we have the life experience to laugh this off, the preponderance of such morally insane examples can color all our relationships (not only romantic ones) with a feeling that they lack something…but that something is the magical speechless intersubjectivity of lazy writing.
If we want a culture where unmarried people are not isolated, and where older forms of love like friendship, service and extended family are honored, many of us will have to rethink how a good adult life is shaped. We’ll have to make economic sacrifices to stay close to church, community or friends.
There are practical changes that can help — employers could allow their unmarried employees to designate a friend as family, so they can take time off if their friend needs care. (Many have noted the centrality of friendship for veterans, and the barriers they face in getting non-vet employers to understand that their comrades were their family.) Changing zoning laws that make it harder to share housing would also help friends make a home and a life together. Churches can help by blessing friendships, by marshaling the casserole brigades for people exhausted by care-giving for close friends, by acknowledging from the pulpit the love and sacrifice shown by unmarried people. I was deeply moved when my sister included my best friend in our family photo, showing that she was truly a part of our family.