Cultural Challenge of the Week: Disappearing Romance
A friend of mine was out to dinner recently and saw an endearingly awkward teenage couple arrive for dinner, ready to splurge on a casual sit-down restaurant instead of the burger joint next door. They seemed intent on giving a “real” date—with actual, face-to-face extended conversation—a try.
Alas, not really. Within minutes of being seated, both the boy and the girl pulled out their smartphones and began to tap their screens addictively. It was obvious that neither person thought there was anything wrong with focusing on screens, instead of the other person, during an obviously early-in-the-relationship date.
My friend’s story sparked our own discussion about why these teens thought friendship and romance would be better fueled by technology than real life affection and attention. Certainly the ‘normalcy’ of electronic communication technology nowadays is a contributing factor. Technology-assisted relationships are the new norm.
But there seems to be another factor that comes heavily into play: teens rarely see their parents or close adult relatives displaying romance or affection towards each other. Aside from images in a video, then, when do young people ever actually see romantic, endearing, long-lasting relationships?
As technology dominates communication, even within families, married couples have fewer natural opportunities to set a positive, truly romantic example for teens, young adults, and singles of all ages. Young people today simply don’t get a peek at marital romance in ways that teens did in the past.
My friend’s parents used to dance in the living room when her dad’s favorite song came on the radio. They would show affection—a hug, caress, or brush of the hand—in little moments, before dinner, exchanging car keys, or getting ready for their own time out alone. And I remember how warmly my mom would welcome my dad home after a long day of his caring for sick children as a pediatrician. I absolutely loved to watch my parents pour love and affection on each other in their daily communications. I've heard it said that the most loving thing a father can do for his children is to show his love for their mother. I believe that with all my heart. But how often does that happen?
How to Save Your Family: Model True Romance and Healthy Marriage
I’ve written previously, in the wake of the Supreme Court rulings on marriage, about how important it is for us to model for our young people a healthy, attractive vision of marriage. And to commit to fostering marriage vitality in our own lives. At a minimal level, this means seeking help when a marriage relationship founders in turbulent waters. On most days, however, our marriage “work” begins in little ways.
We need to demonstrate our love, commitment, affection, and yes, romantic feelings for each other during mundane moments, when we greet or depart from one another, and in the little ways we strive to please one another or to express how much we cherish each other.
Our kids need to see this. So do our neighbor’s children, and the kids sitting behind you in the movie theatre, or walking past you in the mall.
“Romance” is too often misunderstood—and perhaps that’s one reason that the divorce rate among older Americans has doubled since 1980. Media stereotypes portray men as either clueless about romance or sappy and weak. Women look for strength in a man—but strength comes packaged in different ways, including moral and emotional strength. Some men wear the “strong and silent” badge, without realizing that, in a marriage relationship, “silence” may generate distance or communicate lack of interest. Other men may think of romance only as a means to an end, a prelude to sex, and fail to show affection and interest in non-sexual moments.
Women, especially those who drink in countless “romantic” novels, may confuse romance with novelty, mystery, or excitement. Others mistake sensitive listening for unselfish giving, yearning for the “great listener” in that greener pasture rather than appreciating the giving spouse who serves the family day after day. And those who bemoan their lack of a “soul mate” may be overlooking the kind soul sharing their lives.
Think about romance as tenderness, affection, and attentiveness—the hallmarks of love. Certainly it spills over into passion, but it’s not defined by it. (Interestingly, devout, churchgoing married couples report the most fulfilling sexual lives.)
Enduring romance flourishes when it’s grounded in the truth—when we cherish the real person with whom we share our lives. Cultivate romance by thinking about your spouse in his or her best moments, remembering not only passionate times but also loving support or unflinching sacrifice. Practice romance by looking for opportunities to please your spouse in unexpected moments or unexpected ways. Be vulnerable to each other and empathize with the other’s feelings first, before sharing your own.
Parents need to model for their children the importance of putting a spouse’s happiness first, investing time in them and their interests, and making efforts to please and delight them when they are not expecting it or don’t “deserve” it.
Invest in each other now (instead of waiting to make up after fights) so that you become better friends and better parents. Model marriage as a kind, generous, and romantic relationship, and someday you will have the joy of watching your children grow up to become caring, loving spouses—the kind of parents you want your grandchildren to have.