How My Marriage Ruined Television
Before dating my wife, I was addicted to on-screen romance. 13 Going on 30. Notting Hill. Sweet Home Alabama. The Notebook. Dear John.
Ross & Rachel. Jim & Pam. Meredith & Derek.
I yearned to be part of the narratives I witnessed on the screen. I wanted the stories. I wanted the conflicts, the make-up conversations, the romance, the endearment, and the constant affection. I ached for romantic reciprocation. I dreamed of enchantment.
But these well-crafted stories became more than just stories to me. They became distorted maps, a set of peculiar reference guides, used to help me through my woes of romance. I fell heart-first into a dangerous twilight zone, adjusting and planning out my reality based on fantasy. I had it backwards and the damage wasn’t pretty.
Thinking back through those years and thinking on my marriage, I’ve realized 3 monstrous lies that on-screen romance woos us with that biblical marriage must shatter. And I fear, if we aren’t careful, we will believe them without hesitation.
1. A Mirror, Not A Window
The movies and television shows we binge on can be quite the entertainment. They make us laugh, make us cry. But that’s not all. These narratives we get swept up into on screen make us doubt, make us change, make us resent, make us obsess, and make us expect. At some point, our processing shifts. We trade the entertaining window that movies and television are supposed to be and turn it into a mirror. But on-screen media will always be a disastrous mirror. It’s fun to watch Ross, with unhindered ambition, chase Rachel for 10 years of his life. It is warming to watch Jim propose to Pam on the side of the highway at a gas station in the rain. We love watching Meredith and Derek play their games for years.
You watch long enough and you begin to think their life is yours. Your life is theirs. You think if you do the same thing Ross does, then whomever you’re chasing will in the end love you back. But your life is 100% real, while theirs is 100% fake. Ross and Rachel’s lives unfold based on a script. Your life unfolds in real-time. Looking out the window of television isn’t always harmful, but becomes a disaster when you start thinking you’re looking into a mirror.
Marriage should distort the narratives on our screens, not enhance them.
When you believe that what you’re watching is a shot by shot, emotion by emotion, reflection of your life, get off the couch, close the window, and pull the drapes.
2. Your Dedication Will Pay Off
This is the linchpin of much of mainstream media romance. The initial spark. The initial conflict. And then the testing of true love. After his love is proven, after he’s suffered enough, after striving and putting in the exhaustion, he gets the girl. She turns and the scales from her eyes lift and she sees her prince charming in a completely different light.
But what if a conflict and our moment to prove doesn’t come? What if Rachel never finds the prom video? What if Pam never leaves the note in Jim’s folder? What if Derek doesn’t choose Addison initially? The lie is just wait, your worth will be proven in due time. Keep doing what you’re doing.
This is toxic. This is works-based righteousness right in the middle of romance. Try harder. Do better. They will come around. No wonder so many people live under the false assumption that God is waiting for them to live better lives before He loves them. You believe you’re loved, or will be loved, as long as you work hard and show it. But the first sign of failure, the first sign that it looks like you are foolish, like you’re weird, like you’re acting like who you really are, it’s over. The first sign you act in some way like you don’t care, it’s done.
Hear this loud and clear:
This is not Biblical love. This is works-based seduction. This chains women and men to the deck of a sinking boat, paddling until they die of exhaustion, trying to reach a shore they will never see.
What a dangerous poison for the reality of marriage. How so? Marriage is actually supposed to be the true mirror, reflecting the truth of the relationship between Christ and his chosen Bride, us, his people. And this cosmic relationship is built on the complete opposite of works. The truth is that we could never win the affection of our Pursuer. Never. So when we believe the lie of the media’s works-based love story, we’re taking the very thing God designed to reflect rightly his pursuit of a people that don’t have what it takes, will never have what it takes, and saying how God feels about us isn’t really so.
Sadly, we get sucked in to believe television tells a better narrative than God does.
Our relationships must look to the Scripture, not the screen. Scripture is our narrative. This is the romantic storyline we dream of. What we witness on the screen is a pale attempt at plagiarism and like erosive poison it destroys the very nature of marriage and love.
3. Love Is Easy
The last great lie. Love is always easy. It’s always fun. It’s always effortless. You’re singing every moment you’re together. It fits. You work. You click. She is the missing puzzle piece. He is your other half. You could spend every waking hour with each other. It’s perfect. Everything you’ve been looking for.
Love isn’t easy. Obsession is easy. And there’s a great canyon separating the two. Obsession is easy because obsession is everything we want. We obsess about everything that’s desirous to us. Obsession doesn’t stop. It consumes us. We have to have it. We are blinded by our pursuit, by our desires. We would never be obsessed with something we don’t find enticing.
This isn’t love. Love doesn’t consume. Love doesn’t obsess. Love reveals and addresses. Throughout the Scripture, love confronts. The book of Proverbs shows love addresses sin. Love disciplines. Love wounds in order to heal. Love isn’t based on feelings. Love is based on truth. Love is based on covenant. And in the Bible, we see God, in his love, staying true to the covenant he made even when his people do selfish and disobedient things, even choose other gods over him. He is steady. He is committed. God knows, as we would do well to understand, that his love for his people isn’t based on their loveliness or obedience, but rather on the loveliness and obedience of His Son.
Think about it. If love were based on the loveliness of the object, it will vanish at the first sign of anything but. It is blinded obsession, not true love, which sees only the good and never the bad.
It was John Stott that said,
“If we are looking for a definition of love, we should look not in the dictionary but at Calvary.”
The cross shows us that love isn’t easy and that love doesn’t ignore faults. The cross shows us that in the midst of our faults, love goes to whatever length to address them in order to free us from their weight. The cross shows us love is costly. Love is faithful. Love is challenging. God knew us so deeply that he knew exactly what he must do in his love for us. Even in the midst of our faults, God kept his promise. That is what love is. Love knows so deeply that it gets to the core of who we are. Love is not satisfied with superficiality.
Showing Christ to one another means showing love that’s not always easy, but always committed.
The only dedicated work, the only exhaustive effort, which makes love possible, is the saving act of Christ. We are capable, and commanded, to love not on the basis of someone else’s work, emotions, feelings towards us, but rather Christ’s work done for us.
The truth is, knowing this about Christ doesn’t do much to our romantic pursuits. We keep at it with our distortions because we continue to watch our movies and television shows and think of them as mirrors, not windows.
Thankfully, marriage has shattered what every show and movie led me to believe. Every day there’s something I do that Ross and Jim would never do. I’d never make it into a script. But I’m beyond grateful for my wife and the amazing example of Christ she is and has been towards me. She has destroyed my entertainment concept of works-based acceptance, obliterated my standard of obsession. That’s what real love does. Marriage should utterly distort the narratives on our screens, not enhance them.
Marriage isn’t the movies. The beauty of marriage is that faults do come out, disagreements happen. Sometimes you don’t want to be around each other. Sometimes you don’t want to cuddle. It’s messy. It’s raw. But it’s real. And that’s what you want. You want forgiveness. You want grace. You want honesty. You want covenantal love, not blinded obsession.
You want to show Christ to one another, not Meredith and Derek. And showing Christ means showing love that’s not always easy, but always committed.