Soulmate Ideology - Kyle Hanawalt
So, as you may know, this Wednesday is Valentines day. Can I let you in on something… I hate Valentines day. It might be my least favorite holiday of the year. I mean I prefer Pulaski day over valentines day.
And it’s not that I don’t love celebrating with my wonderful wife, because I do. And it’s not because I don’t like the romantic part, I consider myself a romantic at heart. If not always by practice. It’s actually in part because I do like that stuff that I hate valentines day.
You see the reason I hate it is because It’s the day before my birthday, My birthday is February 15th. And the week of my birthday, my somewhat self-centered nature rears its head. I came from a family where you didn’t just celebrate your birthday on your birthday, You got the whole week and half window around your birthday. It’s really more of a birthday week, or honesty more of a birthday fortnight. And so selfishly I don’t like having the share the week of my birthday let alone the 48hrs around it.
I hate it because I love my wife, whom I have been married to or dating for the last 13 valentines days. I love my wife and I want to have time to celebrate with her, I want to have a night where we can be romantic. And on one hand I find Valentines to be way too much pressure to be a perfect night. And on the other hand, my selfish birthday desires of wanting the week to be all about me seems to sabotage valentines every year. I can even remember one year when Michelle and I were having a wonderful time together, we were sitting and watching a movie or something and when it struck midnight. And I declared, it’s my birthday and I wanted to watch something else. Like halfway through the movie. I mean I liked the movie we were watching enough for a date night, but not enough for my birthday. You see totally sabotaging what otherwise would have been a wonderful night.
You may not relate to my particular issue with Valentine's day, but I am in no way alone in my dislike of this holiday. I know several married friends who really hate the pressure for their relationship to be this perfect thing on February 14th & I have many single friends who feel all kinds of not fun feelings around this day.
I actually think hating Valentine's day make a lot of sense.
And I think it has a lot to do with something that historians actually have a name for: it’s called Soulmate ideology -
It’s the narrative that we have all been told from the Disney movies we watched as kids to whatever modern romantic comedy we just watched last month.
I believe it to be one of, if not the, most prominent narrative we have in American culture. The narrative that meaning, fulfillment, connection, your hopes, dreams, the destination of your journey of life. All of that is found in a Romantic partner. To quote Jerry McGuire, “You complete me” This notion that a romantic partner is what completes us, that a romantic partner is what brings us fulfillment and meaning, is a relatively new phenomenon. For the majority of history and honestly still in many places in the world today, the idea that our romantic partner is what fulfills us, just wasn’t how people understood the role of a spouse.
Not to say that I wish things were that way, or that our highly individualized understanding of romance is bad.
I think marriage is fantastic. I am very happy that I got to choose my wife because of the love I felt for her.
the companionship of marriage is amazing, especially when we are experiencing hardship, and I have found that God has used my marriage almost more than anything else in my life to shape me and challenge me and grow me as a person.
longing for a partner and for these things is not at all bad.
Nonetheless, soulmate ideology screws us over. Like all really toxic lies, it begins with a truth (like those good things about romantic love and partnership and companionship) but then it twists and distorts that truth
It is one thing to acknowledge the good things romance can bring and quite another to be berated by the narrative that our best (and maybe only) hope for happiness, fulfilment, completion, purpose is romance with another person. That screws us over, and lies to us. It lies to and screws over single people - telling them that their experience of life is somehow lesser because they don’t have a romantic partner. It lies to them and tells them that they will be lonely as long as they are single. It’s a pervasive and evil lie. And it screws over married people - because people get married thinking they are marrying their soulmate, only to find they married a human being. I can just speak for myself. If my wife, had to rely on me to be what brought fulfillment to her life, if she had to rely on me to bring meaning, if she had to rely on me to complete her… She would be in trouble, because... I have met me... and I am not, nor will I ever be enough to be all that. I know many married people that seriously struggle with loneliness. And it’s not because their spouse sucks, or their spouse isn’t living up to what they ought to be as a partner. No, it’s because no romantic partner, no person, will ever be enough to meet all of our needs for connection and companionship.
The funny part is that I think we all know that soulmate ideology is a lie. Just look at the divorce rate in this country and it is clear that finding that romantic partner did not bring all the meaning and fulfillment people thought it would. And honestly, we are not being fair if we think a spouse should do that for us. Because they can’t. A romantic partner can share life with us, they can be there for us, they can challenge us and encourage growth in us, but they can’t complete us.
And this is why communities like this, communities like BLV are so important in my opinion. Particularly in our current time and place. In our current individualist consumerist culture. We just don’t have the same structures in place for community as the rest of people in history had. This was a big part of why we started this church, to creates a space for connection, support, companionship, so that romance is not the only thing we think to turn to.
I mean just look at the life of Jesus who went around with 12 of his closest friends wherever he went and the early followers of Jesus who were known for the way their communities would care for and support each other, even sharing possessions and money.
Or I am always struck by the words from the book of Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another
I like how it describes the challenge, that we may be tempted to go through life alone, that left to our own devices, that without help, humans are prone to giving up on meeting together. And in turn they miss out on love, connection, encouragement, and perhaps we even become less compassionate, less interested in good deeds -- that makes sense, the less we’re meeting with others, the more self-centered or “only my immediate family - centered” we become.
This is why making community happen is such a big part of our purpose to make lives deeper and fuller. Because community is full of invitation and opportunity - opportunity to show us that romantic love is not the only place we can find connection and companionship.
For single people, it is the opportunity to find connection and share life in a way that our wider culture would tell us is only found in a spouse. And for married people, it is the opportunity to find the connection and support that is actually needed to make our marriages work. Ironically I have found that I need the support and community of other people to get the most out of this relationship that is supposedly going to complete me. That connection to a wider community feels necessary to help my marriage thrive.
And so I want to take a moment and say that I am so sorry if you have been hurt by the lies around soulmate ideology I am so sorry if you are single and have been told that your experience of life is somehow lesser because you don’t have a romantic partner. I am sorry that you have been told that you are to be lonely as long as you are single. That is a hurtful lie I am sorry if you have you are married and have felt as if something is wrong because you and your spouse are not able to meet all of each other’s needs for connection, I am sorry if you are married but still experience loneliness. And, as a pastor, I am especially sorry if anyone here has been hurt by the version of this soulmate ideology lie that churches are often known for I grew up with a church supported narrative around this. That because of the fear and taboo way that sex is treated in Church culture, I have heard time and time again that everyone should just get married so we don’t have to worry about this whole sex thing. Like, by being unmarried you are living at constant risk. And rather than have honest conversations around sex, everyone should just be married so we can just avoid the uncomfortable issue. There is something there that feels poisonous to me. Not to mention that I am not sure how well that sets people up for a healthy sex life even after they get married. A narrative has woven itself into our culture. And I think the lies around soulmate ideology has stolen from many of us, stolen from our contentment and stolen from our ability to fully receive the connection that is available So, I am going to pray here in a moment and I want to pray that God frees us from the lies surrounding soulmate ideology, and that those of us who have been particularly wounded by those lies that we could find God healing those hurts.
And then at the end of our service today, before parents have to pick up kids,, we will be having our community fair out in the Davis’ lobby. We will be creating space for everyone to learn about and sign up for the various ways that community happens here at BLV. And I want to encourage you to take us up the invitation to get connected. Because, I believe wherever we are coming from, regardless of relationship status, that all of us will find life better off, deeper, fuller when we are experiencing life in community.
I would love to invite you all to stand and pray with me.