In many romantic films, the relationship story is about a man trying to win a woman. This is often demonstrated by arduous romantic acts that lead up to a magical proposal or a kiss accompanied by soaring music. Any obstacles to overcome are minimal. All that is needed is for the man to convince the woman to be his. They are, after all, meant to be together, a perfect match.
Have you wondered why in these movies, women seem to be shown as fairly passive? Perhaps the expectation is that men should put the upfront effort in order to win the woman. The idea is that the woman is then expected to carry the relational load for the rest of their relationship. This is not fair for either person. For the man, it puts a pressure on him that many find impossible to overcome. Maybe he is shy or poor or unimaginative. Does this make him unworthy of love? On the other hand, this also propagates the idea that women are prizes to be won, encouraging men to give up once he has won, transferring the responsibility of relationship maintenance on to her shoulders for many years to come.
This is not how relationships should work.
Instead, relationships should begin, and proceed, on the progression of steps. When getting to know each other or beginning to pursue romance, the relationship should deepen as a response to each other’s steps. One takes a step toward the other intending to develop the relationship. This can look like many thing, such as asking them out for a date or calling them and the other chooses to respond and accept this invitation. Then, to be fair, the next step should be taken by person who was first invited, showing reciprocation of affection. It should not be the same person initiating contact—instead, like a dance, they should respond to each other’s advances.
This routine should extend into marriage with each partner taking steps to grow and deepen the relationship. This might mean you take turns planning date nights or anniversary getaways. It definitely means that both of you make a point of asking the hard questions. The hard questions about how your relationship is doing and how to keep things from growing stagnant. One person shouldn’t bear the weight of the relationship on their own.
Are you the only one trying?
Many of you reading this may feel that you are the only one taking those steps. You may be tempted to give up, feeling that there is no point in your continued effort. It is definitely hurtful to be the only one putting energy into a relationship. I would argue that it is also extremely painful to live in a relationship that has ceased to develop in any sort of way. You can also be encouraged by the example that God has set for us in handling imbalanced relationships.
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In our case, God has taken the burden of initiating and continuing the relationship with us. In the incarnation, we have the grandest romantic gesture there is—God leaving his world to meet us in ours. When we dream of extravagant romantic acts, there is no greater than this. We take great comfort in the fact that we do not have to earn His love in any way. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV). His example of selfless love is an encouragement to us all to keep persevering in love, even when it is difficult.
We are invited to respond!
Even though God has done all the work, we are also invited to respond and to take our own steps towards Him in faith. Valentines Day, originally based on the idea of sacrificial love, is the perfect time to consider His grand gesture and respond with our own. In confidence that we are loved, we can now take our steps of response, joining in the dance of love that He began.
Taking His cue, we can be emboldened to love others without fear. Knowing we are loved because He loved us first allows us to freely love those in our lives (1 John 4:19). And, if you realize you are the one who has been doing all the receiving, this Valentines Day be the one who gives. Take the steps needed to bridge any gaps that there might be in your relationships.
In this way, we will all have our own romance stories to live—between us and God and in our marriages. The next step is yours!