Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why I Love Happily Ever After and Why I Need Something Else

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Ben Howard

Recently, as both a massive surprise to myself and with great loss of personal dignity, I developed a love of the TV show The Bachelorette. Granted, I only watched two episodes, but those two episodes, like crack, were more than enough to guarantee addiction.

In my defense, a significant amount of my enjoyment is ironic. I mean what other show can support so many cliche story lines that it spawns both a drinking game and a fantasy league. At the same time, I actually felt a little emotional when quasi-Mormon Jeff With One F proposed to Emily the Blonde. Against my own expectations I had actually invested emotionally in their relationship. I like them. I hope they end up living happily ever after.

It's easy to mock a show like the Bachelor or the Bachelorette. It's easy to point out the insanity of trying to find your “soul mate” on a nationally televised game show. It's easy to be cynical, but I'm not convinced that the cynicism is warranted. At least not all of it.

At its core, the show provides a proxy for both our deepest desire and our deepest fear. We want to be loved, but we're afraid that we'll end up alone. It's the same core that spurs the success of paint-by-numbers romantic comedies. We want to hear the story again because we want the story to be real. We want the story to part of us. A show like this serves a purpose.

I've always been a hopeless romantic. I love the Bachelorette for the same reason that I love When Harry Met Sally or Definitely, Maybe. They're aspirational how-to guides about finding profound happiness. They're fairy tales.

We need fairy tales. We need escape and we need dreams. Sometimes they even come true.

But we need other stories too or else we run the risk of fairy tales dominating our reality to the extent that we think of them as the rule and not the exception. We need stories that tell us that happily ever after is just the beginning. We need stories that show us that being single isn't synonymous with failure. We need stories that remind us that we don't have to be rich or successful to be valuable.

Churches need to learn how to tell these stories. Please note that I did not say anecdotes or illustrations. These are not points we need to prop up, but stories we need to embody. In order to lead healthy, fulfilling lives we need big, beautiful dreams, but we also need a deeply realized and beautiful reality.

I try my best to be honest here. I've told some of my friends that writing this blog is my form of therapy and this post is no less than that. I love the fairytale, but my pursuit of that fairytale has often left me feeling bitter and lonely.

There are two possible reasons for this. First, to quote from the movie High Fidelity, “Only people of a certain disposition are frightened of being alone for the rest of their lives at the age of 26.” I am certainly of that disposition.

Secondly, and I think more profoundly, I have no idea what it looks like to be healthy, happy and single. It's not a story I'm familiar with, yet when I look at the Bible or Christian history it's quite apparent that this is a perfectly viable option.

I don't have a pithy point to wrap all this up. I love the stories we tell ourselves in popular culture, it's why I like writing about it, but at the same time I think we've gone too far. We know how to chase the dream, but it's become increasingly harder to live the reality. Here's to figuring it out.


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  1. I'm pretty sure Paul may have been the only one. Maybe that's why I'm not Paul's biggest fan (gasp! what? sacrilege!).

  2. The only happy single person? I think there have been others. And if you want sacrilege regarding Paul, oh, just wait for tomorrow.