Over the weekend, I saw Red Riding Hood and enjoyed it for what it was, but it also raised some concern in me for what our culture is intent on reflecting in a romantic relationship. What the world tells us is never what God wants for us and I fear this overly sentimental, romantic approach to reality is quite possibly instilling some bad ideas in young girls. I have always thought the Devil must especially hate women because we are capable of something he is not — creation. He cannot create, he can only destroy. We can grow a new life inside our womb and bring something “new” into the world. That must really burn Satan. Why do I think he hates us more than he hates men? Because so much evil is directed against us — everything from attacking our sexuality (encouraging us to use it lightly, to shut ourselves away from it, to resent it, to exploit it) to abusive situations. And while our culture paints itself as being “feminist,” it isn’t, not really. If it were, it would care that the majority of aborted babies are girls, particularly abroad, and it would not mistake exploitation for “women taking charge of their sexuality.”
Which returns me to my original topic, the notion of romance and girls choosing a boyfriend or husband for the wrong reason.
I have never been what you might call a romantic. I’m just not wired that way. Logic overrules emotion in the majority of my decisions and as such I believe that love, like many other things, is a choice we make. Just as we choose to indulge certain thoughts, we choose to act on them. Love is not immediate but comes about as a result of our decisions, how we interact with others, and whether or not we choose to trust them with our heart, mind, and body. Red Riding Hood is the usual film aimed at a female audience in which the heroine, Valarie, is caught between two young men who both want to marry her. The one she loves and intends to run away with is Peter, and the one her parents want her to marry is Henry. As it always is with such stories, Peter is a penniless woodcutter and Henry has an income as a blacksmith. Peter loves her passionately, but she is not certain of Henry’s feelings. It never becomes a romantic triangle because she has already chosen to love Peter.
This same situation plays out in Pirates of the Caribbean, in which Elizabeth loves the penniless blacksmith instead of her father’s first choice, the older and more mature Commodore Norrington. It’s also similar to Twilight, where Bella is caught between the more romantic Edward, whom she desperately loves, and the practical Jacob, who loves her much more than she loves him. In each instance, in true Hollywood form, the story ends with the heroine choosing to marry (or at least be with) the man she has loved from the start: Valarie and Peter, Elizabeth and Will, Bella and Edward. It’s romantic, and it’s true love, because true love is the most important thing. After all, as Moulin Rouge! tells us, “all you need is love!” … right?
My friends sometimes tease me about always rooting for the underdog, the boy who never gets the girl — and it’s true, because most often I have the greatest amount of affection and respect for him due to his honorable behavior. I liked Norrington from the start. No, he was not an adventurous sailor who became a pirate, but he was constant, steadfast, trustworthy, and would make a fine husband. (I deny that the latter movies exist, they ruined my Norrington by making him act completely out of character!) He had financial security and no apparent bad traits that we could see. He loved Elizabeth enough to withdraw his marriage proposal and allow her to marry Will. And although Jacob had maturity issues of his own, when reading the Twilight books, I thought he was a better match for Bella because it made more sense in the long run. She could have had a fairly “normal” life with him, one that was not “damned” for all eternity. And when watching Red Riding Hood, I liked Henry. He was sweet and honorable. Maybe he was restrained in showing his emotions, but it seemed to me that he had a great deal more respect for Valarie than Peter did by not being too familiar with her.
I do not dislike Peter by any means, no more than I dislike Edward or Will. I like them all, because all of them minus a few faults are fine men, but what this film is telling its audience is that love is always sexually aggressive. (Twilight promotes this as well, underneath its abstinence message.) Peter cannot keep his hands off Valarie and that is all right because she loves him back — but there is nothing particularly romantic in my mind about considering consummating your love in a scratchy mound of hay with a bonfire and town party going on outside, in which anyone could wander in. There is no security in that, no warmth in that, no romance in that. What evidence of love was there beyond those embraces and stolen kisses? When it came right down to it, Valarie did not trust him. She did not know him well enough to believe he might not be the wolf. Is that really love?
From what I have heard, the script changed dramatically from its original draft to the final version. In the original, Peter is harmed by the wolf and leaves the village. Knowing a relationship will never work between them now, Valarie chooses to marry Henry. I like that ending. It’s sad but also meaningful because a romance can grow where two hearts are willing and for once, the girl is not asked to sacrifice her life for a man. There are two sides to that coin. One is a positive attribute in which you are dying to yourself and putting another person first, but the second is more dangerous, the notion that your life is meaningless and his life is more important. It is always the woman in these relationships who must sacrifice and suffer just to have happiness in romance. Elizabeth marries a cursed Will, fated to only see him again every seven or so years. That’s not a marriage. Bella gives up her mortality to be with Edward. She chooses eternal damnation for love. Valarie chooses isolation and solitude for Peter.
The message is that romantic love is more important than anything else. This is a nice idea that may make us feel warm at night, but it’s also a lie.
The most important relationship we have in our life should be our personal relationship with God through His son. That relationship overrules and transcends everything else. It comes first. It is the only one that can fill the emptiness inside and never wavers or fades. Being married, having a husband, finding the right man, cannot make you whole. It cannot complete you or make you more content. Only Christ can do that.
Emotions are fleeting and fickle. If you always make romantic decisions based on your emotions, you will go wrong every time. I have known girls who were desperately in love, who chose love first, who did things out of love now they are ashamed of, who found out the hard way that love doesn’t always last if it is not in addition to practicality. Love cannot sustain Elizabeth when she spends years waiting for Will Turner to sail back into her life from the underworld; it cannot quench her loneliness. Love will not sustain Bella when her parents grow old and die, when she loses Jacob and his children and grandchildren. What if Edward dies? Then she will be alone. Forever. Valarie can have something of a life with Peter, but it will be as a social outcast. Their love, will that be enough?
Hollywood would say yes, love is enough, and love is all that matters. But it’s a lie, a very pretty, romantic lie that encourages girls to put love above all else, to idolize it, to go through life feeling inadequate and left out and “bad” for not having found the One.
I am not asking you to give up your concept of love or to stop hoping that one day you can experience the joy of loving someone and being loved in return. I am only asking you to remember to approach any romantic relationship with an awareness that it is a partnership and should never endanger either partner or demand everything from one and nothing from the other. It is not love if he asks you to spend the night with him, because he is not thinking about you and your potential consequences. You are the one who will feel pain the first time. You are the one who may get pregnant and then face a difficult decision. It will be your life that will be wrecked if he chooses not to marry you. You are the one who will experience guilt and shame. And unless he shares the most important things with you — like your faith — there will come a time when “love” is not so forgiving. So be a little bit selfish in your relationship, if only to the extent of putting aside the romanticism of it all and thinking about how this impacts your life.
The world wants you to think a great romance is comprised of sexual attraction and the woman sacrificing herself for the man (even though they would never admit that last part). What God wants you to experience, however, is a much richer and deeply fulfilling romantic relationship in which everything transpires according to His plan, in which your love deepens over the years as it changes into something more profound (shared lives, shared bodies, shared spirits), and in which both individuals make sacrifices for the other person, not out of “need” but because they put their spouse first.
If he is an honorable, godly man determined to be the best man he can be who honors you enough to put up the appropriate physical boundaries to prevent both of you from temptation and has only the best of intentions, then he is worth giving up some things for.
Just not your soul.