If I marry, I expect my wife to be one screwed up and damaged individual as a result of her sinning and being sinned against. I anticipate dealing with her baggage and problems and fears and shortcomings for a lifetime because I’ll bring those things into our relationship myself. In other words, I expect a needy and flawed human just like me.

In a much-needed word to singles and married people alike, what I’m getting at is this: The romantic idealism celebrated in our time and often coddled in our imaginations is not love; it’s a paralyzing selfishness that destroys love.

The Anatomy of Romantic Idealism

Romantic idealism Insta-filters reality and Photoshops love. It airbrushes away the demanding neediness, ugly blemishes, and inconvenient vices from a relational prospect, presenting a custom-crafted companion that meets all of your unrealistic expectations and fulfills all of your self-centered desires. This ideal offers you the giving of itself without the needing in return, a self-satisfaction without self-sacrifice.

Romantic idealism preaches that your relationship pursuits are personal quests for one-way consumeristic fulfillment and transforms precious souls into priced-out commodities. It depersonalizes the image-bearer right in front of you. The end product is something that resembles more of a build-your-own fantasy android than a flaws-and-all human person.

It’s all very ideal because he or she then satisfies your preferences and checks your boxes. It’s all very easy because the object of your affection consequently exists to please and serve you. It’s all very “what I’m gonna get from you out of this relationship” and little to none of “what I’m going to give as an act of committed love.” Tim Keller wrote about how this pernicious thinking has become so widespread today:

“If your desire is for a spouse who will not demand a lot of change from you, then you are also looking for a spouse who is almost completely pulled together, someone very ‘low maintenance’ without much in the way of personal problems. You are looking for someone who will not require or demand significant change. You are searching, therefore, for an ideal person–happy, healthy, interesting, content with life. Never before in history has there been a society filled with people so idealistic in what they are seeking in a spouse.”

Self-Giving Love

But a genuine romance that leaves an enduring legacy in this world of sin is not easy and it’s not ideal. It’s not perpetual bliss. It’s not low maintenance. It’s not a one-way street to personal gratification. It doesn’t always “just click” with your significant other. It’s not carefree and your relationship doesn’t always cue rom-com musical montages resounding in the background of your cinema-worthy lives.


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