— WARNING: This will be long because I have spent a lot of time on writing it so please be patient and take some time to be open to what I have to share.
We have so many young people wanting a romantic and loving relationship; but at the same time, when a real relationship is presented to them, they seem to reject it. Even though there is an ever-growing list of dating and matchmaking apps, websites, and services that range from look-based to personality-based, yet many still end up alone. There are many quick hookups, casual sexual exchanges, short relationships, and the likes, but there is also a growing number of young people who do not trust in relationship anymore because they have gotten hurt by the post-modern concept. They often called themselves “hopeless romantics,” waiting for who they think a wonderful person and relationship should be, yet still end up alone because what they want and are willing to give to make a real relationship works are not really realistic and genuine. So what are we really looking for in this post-modern world regarding real, life-giving, sustaining, genuine, and loving relationships? I would like to answer Christ-centered. Now, let me explain with some personal pointers that I have learned from listening to numerous stories of hopeless, shallow, misguided, and broken relationships.
1. There is a difference between a companionship and relationship. Do not allow yourself to simply enter into a “relationship” just because you feel lonely or need a companion. You will end up hurt or it will become a toxic co-dependency. You do not need to be in a relationship to be loved… Find good, genuine, and caring friends who care for you!
It seems like many only want to be quickly captivated and to feel a Hollywood-based version of a romantic, Instagram-perfect, social media official, and butterfly feel-good feeling of a “relationship” that is nothing short than a companion. Unfortunately, those puppy-love, picture-perfect, likes, status, comments-based “relationships” are very short-lived because they are meaningless and fake. We only want perfect and romantic dates, someone to be there to make us forget and ignore our blues, someone as a partner to keep us satisfied, text us often as if to show that they “care” or “think” about us. We often want to show that we have gotten “the one” that makes everyone else jealous or to make ourselves think that we have found the desired #relationshipgoals that everyone wants. All of these are simply to make ourselves feel good as if we have achieved something wonderful! We only want a companion to make us feel less lonely, to have one along the way to make all those things on the checklist possible, and when the feelings run dry and imperfections show, we become very tempted to walk away.
It is so easy to want and maintain a companionship of mutual benefits and initial inertias that looks and feels like a relationship in the short term; yet, we constantly change partners when the other side becomes insignificant and too burdensome. We keep saying that we want meaningful relationships but all we have ever given and sought for were short-term companions and friends with benefits. We only want fake and mentally or picture-perfect relationships as to not be lonely, yet all these things that we have ever wanted are things that will bring the relationship to a hurtful end when we are done with the initial good stages. It happens regularly because we begin to not be able to stand and see the other person as he or she is as we are not ready to engage in something that is serious, mature, and self-sacrificial. Even if we choose to stay, it is often a toxic co-dependency because we only miserably choose to be together to make each other feel less alone or not rejected. Partners in these types of “relationship” forever remain objectified and exist only to serve the needs, benefits, and satisfaction of the other side. There is no real relationship because neither one is able to relate, for they are only wanting a companion.
One does not have to be in a relationship to be loved or to have all the things that have been listed above. I believe this empty, showy, and pervasive portrayal of the desire to stand out, resulting from low self-esteem and emptiness the soul, can be overcome when we find, nourish, and deepen real, personal, and intimate friendships with people who have substance, those who truly care for us, and those who are genuine enough to keep us true to ourselves. The Book of Proverbs has many quotes regarding meaningful friendship, but I would like to just like to highlight one to emphasize the wonderful blessing of having a friend who truly cares for you and I as a brother or sister — through thicks and thins: “A friend is a friend at all times, and a brother is born for the time of adversity.” (17:17)
2. Red flags when someone rushes you into making uncomfortable decisions, pressures you into choices to prove that you love/care for them, asking you to keep secrets, and you are uncomfortable sharing about this person with people who you love and trust.
Many of these trendy and popular apps, websites, and services entice us to find someone who is attractive as they promote a quick, physically-attractive, meaningless, casual, sexually-objectifying hook-up culture. Looking up one’s profiles, reading about the person, or sensually attracted to them at first sight is not usually the effective means of finding the right one who has substance and a deeper connection. Swiping left or right in hopes finding the right one is not the right way to find a soulmate. Reading information on how to making ourselves appealing or how to know whether the person might be into us is not the right approach. A real person who can engage in a sustaining, meaningful, and self-giving relationship is more than something that we can find in a profile, information-based project or calculation. Many often asked, “How did they do it? How do they stay happy?” when seeing a “happily ever after” couple without knowing how much works went into overcoming many obstacles and hardships. There is something wrong when we have invested more times to see how this person or that person will match with us through profiling and matchmaking than to understand, develop, and sustain a meaningful and personal relationship. We worry too much about what meets the eyes and what is attractive or sensually giving than what is underneath all those passing first impressions with all their short-lived feelings and emotions. There is something wrong when the regular mode of communication, getting to know the person, is through what they have written on social media, what they have shared, what we have talked or texted to each other over the phone. Perhaps we have been too focused on one’s persona instead of getting to know one’s real personality, too worried about a person’s status and information than the person as him or herself.
Post-modern relationships are full of red flags because they are too merit-based as both sides challenge each other to jump through hoops and or do things in order to prove that they love each other. Yet, all of those are meaningless because they are short-lived! It is so easy to walk away from each other when there is no more expressive signs of how one can prove “love” to the other. Nevertheless, a real relationship and love is more than proving! We fail to maintain a meaningful, genuine, heartfelt relationship when we only judge the value and happiness level of a relationship based on what we can do for one another or feel good when we are around each other. We have allowed ourselves to forgo any real chance of having a personal, intimate, genuine, and heartfelt connection by simply allowing ourselves to mutually accept, entertain, and play games with each other’s heart so that it is constantly being stimulated instead of seeking something deeper. There is no real intimacy because a typical relationship is only based on the pleasurable expectation and satisfaction of one another. There is no real winner because many will walk away when those feelings and emotions go away, when they no longer feel connected to each other, but all of that happened because they have never given each other the chance to truly be intimate, genuine, and vulnerable without turning to shallow pleasures, satisfaction, and entertainment. Many people only want a facade and feeling of a relationship without truly working to build one that is based on true care and commitment.
Saint Paul in his Letter to the Romans reminded us of this foundational and essential expression of mutual, selfless, Christ-centered love that needs to be expressed and enlivened in every relationship if we truly care for one another:
“Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.” (12:9-17)
Love cannot exist if we are unwilling to go beyond ourselves to build a genuine and loving relationship that comes from the heart. It cannot exist if we only want certain things to emulate a facade or empty show without building up a substantial foundation with trust, genuine care, self-sacrifices, and personal commitment. A person cannot love you and I wholeheartedly if he or she does not have substance — and vice versa, and the only way to deepen and grow in the substantial qualities of mutual love as described by Saint Paul is to be Christ-centered (as to care and to love because He has loved us).
3. No one has the right to force or pressure you into being someone who you are not. If you have to change or compromise your faith and moral values for the person in order to make him or her happy, that is NOT love. Period.
Look not just for the hand-holding, teasing, sensational feelings without the desire to truly care with serious, heartfelt conversation and eye contact that speak the truth from the depth of our soul. It is important to seek the meaningful relationship that is not just a picture-perfect or sound-good promise, that is pretty to look at, but lacks the actual commitment and respect. Do not worry about what society wants us do in order to prove a #relationshipgoals “relationship” by doing all the things on the Hollywood or media-created checklist without the genuine, heartfelt, and God-centered commitment that lead to a sacrificial, self-giving, life-changing journey of love. Do not seek for the meaningless “happily ever after” without the personal and intimate efforts to work, to strengthen, and to build a strong relationship here and now. It is suicidal to want the idealistic end product without the willingness to make it work. There is no real glory without the growing pains along the journey. If we truly want someone who truly cares for us and holds our hands at the end, finds one that is willing to love us in the hurts. If we want true love, be willing to be genuine, vulnerable, and committed as to walk alongside with each other through the blessings and the storms of life. One cannot love if one is only willing to be entertained at his or her own will, remaining safely, independently apart from the true intimacy that is only found in a Christ-centered and God-fearing relationship as we learn to care for the other as He cares for us. Saint John said this beautifully in his First Epistle:
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent His only Son into the world so that we might have life through Him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” (4:7-11)
Without a doubt, real love can only be understood, given, and cherished when we align our own human standards with His divine love for us as we reflect this everlasting, life-changing, self-giving, and sacrificial relationship to others.
4. If the person cannot respect, care, and love you for who you are — as a child of God — then he or she is not loving you. This person is only looking to be satisfied with something that you can give to him or her. If someone truly cares about you holistically, he or she should be honest, genuine, encouraging, and helpful, walking along your side in your life and faith journey.
The irony is this, even though many people say that they want meaningful relationships, they just want friends with benefits. They are too worried about, “What is in it for me? What am I getting out of this?” Many remained behind their own reservations because they are too scared of being genuine and vulnerable because they are worried about getting hurt or being used by the perverted, objectifying, and shallow definition of a “relationship” in our post-modern world. Even though people desire real relationships, many will seek, want, or stay with the illusions of a relationship without an actual self-giving, meaningful relationship. All these things happen because we want rewards without risks, satisfactory payout without real personal giving, immediate gratification without sacrificial cost. We are too scared of commitment that we are only willing to give a little but not everything, to feel connected and accepted to a comfortable point but nothing is genuine or intimate. We simply tell ourselves that is fine to go with the flow, see where it goes, but are too scared of challenging one another to grow into something meaningful and beyond ourselves. We quickly jump into a hookup or satisfactory “relationship” but with one foot out the door and one eye opens for other possibilities — just in case it does not work or “if it is not for me.”
We are too scared of letting people see who we truly are because it is not picture perfect nor social media worthy, keeping them at arms length for the for the selfie culture, simply playing with one another’s emotions without really being genuinely and emotionally commitment for something greater.
When things get too close to being real and personal, it is easier to run away, hide our true self, or leave because we are too scared of being vulnerable, excusing ourselves that “there are still others out there” so we do not have to change our lifestyle and its fears of genuineness. It is sad when we only want a profile-based, information-matched, easy-to-manage, and picture-perfect person like what we see on social media, in a dating or matchmaking app that we can move on or swipe away when there is a hiccup. It is sad when we selfishly want someone that we can compartmentalize as a part of our lifestyle and reject when we have no more need for them. The real problem of our post-modern society and its dating and relationship realm is that people are too scared of being vulnerable and real as we unpack our baggage and work through the unpretty parts. We failed and continue to fail when we think that we can hide everything behind a filter, choosing a timed show instead of a lifetime committed relationship. Our problem is that we simply want a placeholder, a companion, a warm body instead of a person, a friend, someone who we can truly love through the thicks and thins. All these shallowed failures remind us that what we truly want — what is truly meaningful, what is deeply satisfying, what is genuinely fulfilling — requires patience, commitment, and genuine gift of ourselves to one another. Everything that is real and substantial requires sacrifices, personal efforts, focused energy, in order to make it work. It is easy to simply want someone who can make us happy, but we have forgotten that happiness is not just a feeling. It is a state of being united with God. Only when we are able to rest and be content with who we are in God, can we be able to give ourselves to others without reservations or temptations to look for something that is quickly, shallowly, or cheaply satisfying. We can only give, nourish, and maintain meaningful, genuine, and heartfelt relationships when we know who we are — loved by God — as we learn to share that same personal and intimate love with others. When we recognize this reality, we will not worry about the number of friends we have on social media, how many followers or likes we have from our pictures or posts, whether we are in a “relationship” or not, but the real quality and genuineness of everything and everyone who is in our lives. Saint Paul reminded us of this important sense of respect and dignity in his Letter to the Romans: “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”(13:10)
5. Do not rush yourself in looking for a relationship. Find, deepen, and nourish good friendships and let them grow naturally. It is better to have good and caring friends than to be in a “relationship” that is toxic and destructive.
We often feel entitled to love like we feel entitled to be better life and job. We simply want everything and everyone to be like what we want them to be so we do not have to be lonely. When was the last time you and I were able to engage in meaningful conversations instead of simply having a gathering of people who were too busy looking at their phones and scrolling through their apps’ newsfeed? Perhaps what we truly need is not to find quick, changing, and short-lived “relationship” to keep us occupied and being fearful of loneliness but actual, real, meaningful, caring, and intimate friendships of people who can help one another grow and mature in our life and faith journey. It is easy to find quick (but false) happiness, but everything that is wrong with post-modern relationships tells us that everyone truly desires the real thing. We have to rise above the shallowness, the quick hook-up game, the picture-perfect facade, and the objectification of the person for our own satisfaction or pleasure in order to seek, nourish, and deepen meaningful and substantial friendships that are founded on personal, intimate, and qualitative loving cares of one another.
Thank you for being so patient as to read until the end. There are many more things to say but I hope what was being said today can give some thoughts on what it truly means to care and love one another. I know this reflection has been long so I am going to end it with a passage from the First Epistle of Saint John:
“The way we came to know love was that He laid down His life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” (3:16-18)