Columnists > Soul Food

Reality vs. romanticism

Preferring truth with pain over a comforting lie

Issue: "Unholy matrimony," Feb. 13, 1999

I like reality. I didn't always, and even now I'm prone to backslide-those little excursions into the land of "what if?" and "wouldn't it be nice?" at the slightest provocation. But I don't live there anymore, and the cords of reality reign me in quickly. I'm glad for the sidelong glances in the mirror, or the storefront window, that dispel my romantic fantasies. Glad for the kid on the youth group retreat bus who called me "middle-aged" (I was only 38 at the time). I like it when someone tells me, as my husband did last year, not without love, "Don't worry about what people think of you; they don't even think of you." That's helpful to me; that's as good as a $60 counseling session any day. I have come to see pain in the soul as salubrious, like pain in the body-a signal of something to be fixed or tended to. And I was glad when the unreality in my marriage imploded spectacularly about six years ago. Not right away I wasn't, but within two or three years, I'd say. And I'm still grateful. Ours is not the stuff of fairy tales, but we're starting from reality this time and building from there, and who knows? The trouble with movies like You've Got Mail, which I saw and loved and cried through, is that they end too soon, just at the apex of emotion. Nobody stays on that mountaintop forever, I don't care who you are. The next day there's laundry and bills and the finding out that the guy has a nasty habit of stuffing his dirty socks down at the foot of the bed. There are other troubles with movies too. A day or two later you feel like you've been had: the conspiratorial music; the canny selective cut-and-paste of scenes; the realization that you've been subliminally sold a raft of godless propositions along the way (who needs God after all? Decent loving people like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan can get on without Him just fine, thank you very much); the dawning on you that a director is a little god who designs his own universe, stacking the deck of his carefully constructed reality to make you believe whatever he wants you to believe. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Catherine Deneuve, 1964)-now there was a movie, if you want to talk about cinéma vérité. Boring for the first two hours (your usual tear-jerking romantic tragedy) but redeemed in the last 20 seconds, with an understated little surprise of breathtaking, and not unpleasant, reality. I won't spoil it for you in case you ever plan to see the film, but the French really know how to make movies. They should, I suppose. With 2,000 years of history as opposed to about 200, they are further along the arc of the decline of Western civilization than we whippersnappers. But the chickens are coming home to roost here in the New World too, and the harvest of romanticism is pouring in: 50 percent divorce rates and climbing, a certain loss of sensitivity (2 Timothy 3:1-6; Ephesians 4:18-19), a general coarsening of culture and affections (just listen to the talk shows). It's not like I'm down on sentimentality altogether. I think Jesus sent Peter, James, and John a Valentine when he planned his private post-Resurrection goodbye with them to be reminiscent of the way they first met on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, even down to the very word and the miraculous catch of fish. The passage still sends shivers down my spine. But it's a true story, see, and that's the difference. Give me a true story with some pain in it rather than a comforting lie. At Christmastime I overheard a guy behind me on the escalator explaining to his girlfriend that you don't ever have to get a hangover because you can just keep drinking when you feel one coming on. True enough, but that's not for me anymore. "The end of a matter is better than its beginning" (Ecclesiastes 7:8). I'm into endings now, as God is. His indictment of backsliding Israel was that "she did not consider her future" (Lamentations 1:9). But you and I, Lord willing, can do better than that. So husband, here's to reality and looking squarely at the facts-but all the facts. Here's to putting Christ at the center of our marriage, our politics, our childraising. Happy Valentine's Day, dear. And all the unValentine days in between.

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Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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