No one will deny that we are all bombarded daily by an abundance of ideas/images of what relationships are supposed to be like, sound like, look like, feel like. On social media, in the grocery aisle, on the bestsellers list, everyone has a tip or a secret to reaching the best relationship and friendship possible. Without our noticing, these ideas/images —particularly through social media—have changed the landscape of our thinking and feeling and can send us on a vain pursuit of two things: constant novelty and consumer identity.
Most of us enter into a relationship with some level of excitement, intense or heightened emotion. We then imagine that “it will always be this way”. We make the basis of our relationship what is supposed to be the result of it. So when feelings of excitement or interest or “inloveness” fade, we think something is wrong. We then make it our mission in life to make it exciting again (or to seek it in a new relationship). We pursue constant novelty but out of fear of any boredom or normalcy, because we’ve come to believe that relationships fall or rise on the level of our passion or excitement.
However, novelty for it’s own sake will only produce an “ever-increasing craving for an ever-decreasing pleasure” (C.S. Lewis). In the end, we’ll still be disillusioned.
Instead, God has given us a desire for both change and permanence.
Each of us have flaws that we need and should want to work on, but that is in order that we might become a better friend — “we” not ceasing to exist but continually becoming. A parent watches their son growing up and over time perceives new physical qualities or character traits in them, thinking, “I can’t believe it’s him!,” while at the same time recognizing qualities and personality traits that have been with him since he was a baby. A sunrise is permanent in that it will repeat itself tomorrow and the day after, yet, every time, for those who watch it rise, there is something in it that is “new every morning”. The seasons are permanent, fixed points in time that we “return to”; but every winter there is, to me at least, a magical quality in the first and every fresh snow fall after that. In these and in all things, there is always a mixture of novelty and familiarity .
Above all, though, there stands God, unchanging and unchangeable, constant and faithful. We don’t want God to change. If He did, His love would change (and His mercy and His grace). It is His steadfast love that pursues and rescues our unsteady hearts. It is because He doesn’t change that we have hope of being able to change—of being changed. All change is rooted in the permanence of God.
There is in every day and culture and time “the fashionable”. The trends of the day are marked out for us and affect our lives for good and for bad. On the one hand, if you resist them you will find yourself “behind the times” and out of place. But on the other hand, and especially with regards to our relationships, if we don’t resist them we will find ourselves discontent in many of our relationships.
A consumer culture sells a consumer identity. We may have a great family or good friends, but if we’re not identified by them or by others with some brand or ideal or image, we feel lost and without purpose. To be is to be seen. We feel the push and the pull: “I do everything with you in mind.” But who is the “you”?
As soon as we go on social media we encounter standards and rules for how we’re supposed to live or to think or to feel in relationships. We surrender to them by choice, but they are false rules, not true—an imaginary web constructed not of common likes but of common dislikes. The emotions you are drawn into, and then drawn to, are mostly and often purely negative. One cannot help but instantly and easily get entangled in anger or criticism, comparison or jealousy, grumbling or bitterness. How you think and feel and act towards the real people you are in real relationship with begins to be shaped by the “idea” or the “image” you are being ruled by.
C.S. Lewis says that all of us want to be part of “The Inner Ring”. There is for each of us a group of people or circle of influence that we we want or feel we need to be a part of. We will do anything to be in, because they possess the “real” knowledge, or power, or beauty, or pleasure. The descent into The Inner Ring is gradual, never all at once. One day you love your spouse, flaws and all, and then a month or two down the road, you can’t stand them and wonder to yourself (and accuse them) why he/she can’t be like him/her, why we can’t be like them.
Being discontent in our relationship is often the result of wanting our idea of our spouse/friend, not our real spouse/friend. But God has not given you an idea or an image. He has given you a person. It is only in the realness of another that you will find completeness, contentedness. Being content in our relationships will never occur so long as we are caught up and caught in the high but false ideals and images that in particular social media holds up. Get off of social media (maybe for a month or two or six) and you may find your relationships are getting better, because you are actually becoming a real friend (and rediscovering your real friends). When God created Adam and said that it wasn’t good for him to be alone, He gave him Eve. God doesn’t want you to be alone; it’s not good. So He’s given you another and given you to another; a real other and the real you.
THE SECRET TO BEING CONTENT
The secret, then, to being content is sharing—sharing life with another, sharing in the life of another. Share your excitement and boredom, hopes and disappointments, successes and failures, strengths and flaws, dreams and fears, confession and forgiveness. These are the highs and the lows of life. You can’t have the highest without the lowest. But sharing these times means the real you being really there.