Pornography of the Heart

couple hugging in front of Eiffel Tower
Though the highway is the quickest way home from the city, I often wind through downtown because I like to see it bustling. I like to see people all dressed up for their evening plans, smiling and having fun. My eyes linger on the beautiful women and the couples walking hand in hand. It makes me feel something. I see beauty. I see life. If I’m honest, I feel a twinge of longing.

My choice to drive through the city in search of beauty isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nor is longing for something I don’t have. In fact, seeing happy couples reminds me of my own desire for a healthy marriage; it can even motivate me in my pursuit and remind me why love, companionship and even romance are inherently good things. I think this desire is natural and healthy as long as I’m not using the ache as an excuse to become bitter or envious, or nurse pangs of already-present loneliness.

I usually like a love story in movies and shows, too. Seeing a couple fall in love makes me feel good. I want a perfect “cute-meet,” as they call it.

But living in this fictional space too long makes me want a girl that looks and walks and talks like that (all women must be like that, right?). Before long, I notice that my longings have intensified and my standards have skewed. What happened? I was fairly content before that movie. Now I’m even further from finding someone who quickens my heart and inspires me to love.

I realized recently that such a fictional, idealized love story with idealized people can be a type of pornography for the heart. In the same way that pornography can set up false ideals of sex, such “all-conditions-are-perfect” love stories can build up an expectation for love that is unlikely to be met.

I don’t want to say that we should never watch fictional love stories, but we should be aware of what they do in us and evaluate if it is helpful for where we are in our own hearts.

My friend Jose had an interesting angle on this today. He said it is not singleness that is our problem; it’s our idealized expectations. He has a point. When we see things that set our expectations of romance so high, of course it will be hard to find someone who reaches them.

So what do we do about this? Deciding not to watch tons of romantic movies or shows may postpone the longing, but isn’t going to help us move forward.

To achieve a healthy balance, ask godly friends who have marriages that you admire. Ask them what is realistic. Pray and search the movements of your own heart. Is it wise for you to watch this type of movie right now? It might be just fine for one person and not for another, but we should examine our motives and be aware.

I think we must always trust God with where we are in our journey and pursue relationships as God leads. But a life hack that has helped me endure the lonelier moments of singleness also happens to be something that I think can help us in our search for a spouse.

Rather than live vicariously through actors on the big or small screen, I try to fully engage in my own story by pouring my time and effort into my gifts and callings. If I’m pouting at home on a Friday night, of course I’m going to feel more miserable and empty than if I’m busy doing my part to bring God’s kingdom to earth.

How about you? How do you take hold of the life and opportunities before you? Maybe it’s by planning dinner parties for your small group. Or bringing your friends together for a C.S. Lewis or Tim Keller book club. Perhaps by inviting someone you wouldn’t naturally gravitate toward to dinner and a walk. For me it is just getting together with people and sharing our hearts, as well as writing and illustrating content that I hope will draw people closer to God. That stuff keeps me productive and fills my heart quite a bit.

The funny thing is that if we are pouring into our own passions and callings, we have an increased opportunity to find our future mate, because they are most likely going in a similar direction. Not that there’s a formula or guarantee for this, but I think we can all agree that anyone who is pursuing their passions and callings inherently appears more attractive. They are motivated by something bigger than themselves.

So take time to appreciate the beauty around you, especially as you see it in relationships. But specifically look for the beauty in what is real — in ourselves and others. You’ll find that this beauty — far from being empty or deceiving — is both lasting and fulfilling.

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