Looking for Love Like a Peasant
Living in such a confused culture, could it be we are going about the “search for love” with a completely wrong agenda?
To me this is remarkable and made all the more so — not to mention ironic — by our seeming inability to find marriage partners with ease. In the old days a man could usually find a wife if he went looking, and a single woman could attract a husband by putting herself in socially acceptable places to be noticed.
So what are we doing wrong? If the vast majority of single Christian men and women “want to be married someday,” why is it so hard to get married?
Aristocrats vs. Peasants
Jewish rabbi and relationship expert Shmuley Boteach, known as the “Love Prophet,” believes he knows why singles today find it so hard to discover their soul mate. His theory is so sound and makes such sense in our confused world that I wish I had invented it. When it comes to love, Boteach writes, we’ve become a generation of “aristocrats” in search of the perfect match, when the real secret to lasting love — the attitude of a “peasant” — is available to us all along.
In his book Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments, Boteach writes:
I often ask people, “Aren’t you going to get married?” At that point I hear a strange response: “When I meet the right person.” Sure, the idea is reasonable, but the sentiments are rarely so. Usually what I am hearing is a person telling me that they are waiting for a person to come along and impress them with their eligibility. This is the thinking of aristocrats, and leads nowhere. In dating, you should always be a peasant.Boteach, Shmuley. Dating Secrets of the Ten Commandments (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 34.
To find the perfect soul mate, Boteach states, you should focus not on what you have, but on what you lack. We make one of “the biggest mistakes of all” when we go about finding a marriage partner by sitting down and making a list of everything we have to offer a relationship. Historically, this laundry list of qualities is the very thing the aristocracy took into consideration when making a match, whether it was the union of royals to ally two nations or the nuptials between the daughter and son of two landowning families, for example.
In his work as a rabbi at Oxford University and in London, Boteach noticed a curious phenomenon. He observed that the more successful a man or woman was, the more partners they dated and the later they married in life. These men and women were so good at what they did for a living that they wanted to “hold out for the best.”
For all our advancements in the modern world, Boteach writes, we’ve ignored the vast and all-important social changes that have swept the landscape:
Ours is a generation in which nearly everyone in the Western world is an aristocrat. Previous generations were not ones of empowerment. There was a small aristocratic class for whom everyone else worked and upon whom everyone was dependent. But while not everyone in the West today is wealthy, the vast majority are self-sufficient. We have our own jobs, own our own homes, can afford to take holidays and buy ourselves nice clothes. We can, thank God, employ other people to help us with the housework and nanny the children. We are the new class of nobility.Ibid., 17-18.
This hard-won nobility comes at a price, however. With our self-sufficiency and consumer mindset, we don’t want to “settle” for any commodity, from our wireless plan to the neighborhood we live in. We strive for the best we can possibly attain. Sounds reasonable, you might say, but what that translates to in the romance department is most likely a lot of searching and a lot of disappointment.
In contrast, the peasant class always knew they had a hard lot ahead of them, perhaps, but they tried to assuage that harsh reality by finding a good man or woman to love. Love was the one thing that might lift an otherwise dull, mundane life out of the murky waters of daily existence. A warm bed filled with a warm embrace at the end of the day would make it all worthwhile.
So while the peasant class “traditionally looked for one big thing in the person they date,” writes Boteach, “aristocrats have always looked for many small things. Because people with earning power — aristocrats — have greater choices about their lifestyle, they tend to make a laundry list of things that they would like to find in a relationship and marriage.”Ibid., 19.
Because aristocrats are so self-sufficient, not to mention confident in what they bring to the table, they seldom look to “share their lives.” Instead, when they get lonely and decide to settle down, they look for a “partner.” Therefore, the very first move by the aristocrat who wants to find a companion is to take a look at themselves and list their attributes, says Boteach.
The King of England wants to marry off his son. Well, he brings a kingdom to the table plus x amount of riches and x amount of noblemen who pay him homage and allegiance. He is then introduced to the daughter of the King of France. She also brings a kingdom, but does she bring the same amount of cash and prestige into the relationship as does the Prince? How many ladies-in-waiting are at her beck and call? Well, this will depend on the last battle her father fought and either won or lost. France’s navy is currently weak while the Spanish Armada is strong. It’s settled then, the Prince will marry an infant from Spain rather than a princess from France.
All of us are amused by the history of royal weddings over the past thousand years because they were all about business partnerships and political alliances and never about love and relationships. But I can’t tell you how many people think this way today as well….
This logic is not flawed, for it is the thinking of aristocrats. But aristocrats can never be truly happy in love. At best, they can hope for a harmonious partnership. Those who wish to find a soul mate in their relationships are a completely different breed of person. Indeed, they are the polar opposites of aristocrats. They are “peasants.”Ibid., 20-21.
The “needy, beautiful peasant” approaches the possibility of romance from the starting point of “What do I lack?” and looks for someone who can fill that need. Their main asset on the Potential Soul Mate test is their vulnerability. Not having an overly inflated view of what they bring to the table, a peasant dates in order to find
a lifelong companion who will make them feel profoundly worthwhile, even if the rest of the world dismisses them as unimportant. Whereas the aristocrat dates and marries for many small things, the peasant dates and marries for one big thing: someone who takes away the pain and makes life a celebration. In choosing a soul mate rather than a partner, the peasant is given the greatest gift of all.Ibid., 21-22.
Recapturing the Other Four-Letter Word
Shmuley Boteach has made a career out of helping people find lasting love, and for my part I’m glad to know there are individuals out there waving the marriage-is-worth-it banner. It makes all the frustration of waiting and searching worthwhile.
Recently one of the guys in my singles Bible study announced he’s getting married, for the first time, at age 45. He met the woman he is marrying online. The news made me smile, and immediately followed the thought, One down, 14 to go! I hope someday we will all be able to look back at our madcap single days and smile, remembering how interminable the years “in between” seemed before we found the one man or woman who changed our lives. And I hope we never lose our sense of vulnerability, or what Boteach calls “the four-letter word of relationships”: need.
In his book Why Can’t I Fall in Love? Boteach writes, “I frequently hear people telling their friends, ‘The reason you don’t fall in love is that you want love too badly…. People can smell the need on you. Love won’t find you until you stop looking for it.'”
Then he poses the question:
Sound familiar? Looking for love has become something to be embarrassed about. You don’t hear people talking about unemployment this way: “I used to go to job interviews, looking to get hired by law firms. I found it absolutely humiliating, having to cozy up to the partners to get them to give me a job. So I decided I will never go for an interview again. I’ll just live on the streets, with no money and no food. If some guy comes and offers me a job, I’ll take it, but I will never search for it again.”Boteach, Shmuley. Why Can’t I Fall in Love? A Twelve-Step Program (New York: ReganBooks, 2001), 141-42.
Need, the rabbi asserts, is the dirty little secret of dating that no one wants to admit. But when you’re looking to fall in love — when you’re looking for the happiness that comes from giving yourself fully to another — it’s all about “opening yourself up, exposing your vulnerabilities, and creating a space where you and a lover can grow together.” In short, Boteach says, it’s about realizing that need is good. He concludes:
We all must remember, after all, that one of our goals in the search for romance is to find someone who needs us. Imagine how you would feel if your lover one day told you, “I love you, but I don’t need you. I admire you, but I can live without you.” The only way to find love is to embrace that sense of mutual need. If you truly want to fall in love — to build an open, emotionally fulfilling relationship with another — you must let go of the posture of independence. No one can find love by pretending to be entirely satisfied with the single life. You can convey that you’re happy; there’s nothing wrong with that. Just don’t pretend you’re not looking.Ibid., 140-42
If I had to come up with one word that captures the essence of protracted singleness in one who desires marriage, it would be longing. Proverbs 13:12 tells us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Here’s hoping (and praying) that all your longing will lead to honest looking, and that in looking you will find lasting love.
Excerpted from Where Have All the Good Men Gone? (Harvest House). Copyright 2008 A.J. Kiesling. All rights reserved.