I saw this image come through my news feed this morning. And it angered me (if you posted it, this isn’t an attack against you; this picture just started a morning-long conversation in my head). It’s a cute picture, and it’s a cute sentiment. The idea is that ‘she’ makes everything better. ‘She’ cancels out the negative thoughts and self-talk in his mind. Essentially, she saves him.
Just like that terrible movie, A Walk To Remember. Again, a cute movie, but like so many movies, idealizes a view of relationships that is actually quite destructive (I realize I’ve scandalized a lot of you by now). That movie, like this image, sets my blood on fire. And here’s why:
It is extremely selfish and a terrible burden to lay on someone you love to expect them to save you.
Single people worship relationships. They throw themselves at them. I see this everyday at Cambridge Youth Unlimited. We expect so much from a romantic relationship. We expect the person to love us, to cherish us, to never leave us, to never harm us, to serve us, and to meet our needs. “She completes me!” we say dreamily, sometimes almost in a catatonic state. We desperately pursue the one, that one person who will make our lives meaningful and our existence notable.
The idea of the one is even popular in Christian circles. “Find God’s match for you!” is the slogan of the supposedly Christian dating site, Christian Mingle. The concept of the one is actually not biblical (though some try to claim it is). It’s actually a platonic Greek idea of the perfect being split into male and female, spurring a lifelong pursuit for one’s other half. So why is this a bad mindset to have? Well, when you are single, you believe – to some degree – that your life is incomplete without that person instead of carving out your own life. When you are dating, you are constantly second guessing the relationship instead of working on it. When married, and you hit a rough patch, the first thing you will think of is, “Did I miss the one?”
As a young man who is in a relationship and has struggled with depression for years, I found this image extremely offensive.
True, I’ve thought this very thing often when I’ve been single. If I simply had a woman to love me, the depression and anxiety and insecurity and fear would go away. Essentially, I was turning a romantic relationship into a saviour and a god. If I found her, I would be complete, I would be healed, I would no longer struggle with depression. Essentially, I was turning a woman into an idol and expecting her to be God. And that is an impossible role to fulfill.
My girlfriend is not God. True, she encourages me and challenges me and compliments me and makes me feel good – usually. But she doesn’t define me. She doesn’t change who I am at the core of my being. She can’t permanently change the chemical balance in my brain. And she can’t serve as my sense of worth and purpose in life.
Imagine that your identity and sense of self is like a suitcase. You fill your life and your suitcase up with things that matter to you (check your bank statement if you’re uncertain of what that is). So does every other person. But when I base my identity and my hope in another person, it’s like handing them my luggage to carry. It’s like telling them to stop working on what’s important to them and meet what’s important to me. Not so cute anymore, is it?
At its core, this attitude and expectation is selfish and incredibly burdensome to the ones we claim to love.
And so, I don’t expect my relationship to ‘fix’ my depression. A friend or girlfriend or wife may help, but they can’t fix me. Only Jesus can do that. The answer to the negative self-talk I hear is not to be coddled; the answer is truth, spoken in love, from the Author of life Himself.