Nothing can feel more desirable yet more impossible to attain than lifelong love. Finding someone you can trust to love you unconditionally is a natural desire. A love you can share with just one other person is the fulfillment of our longing to rest assuredly in another’s embrace.
That longing appears in the first pages of the bible. In chapter two of the book called Genesis we are told that God was so moved by Adam’s loneliness that God stepped in as a sort of divine match maker (Genesis 2:18). Many people interpret the Creation story about Adam and Eve moralistically to defend marriage between a man and a woman or to justify keeping women in roles subservient to men. Let’s not do that here!
Instead, let’s mine the Creation story for insights into human desire. We are not as lucky as Adam who had a soulmate fashioned by God exactly for him, someone who was hard to overlook since she was the only woman in Eden at the time! For better or worse, humanity was fruitful and multiplied, so much so that it is harder than ever to find our soulmate from amid the myriad possibilities we are presented with today.
Love is the context in which one can be fully, authentically oneself, stripped of all masks and pretenses.
Naked and Unashamed
There is one gigantic clue at the end of Genesis 2 that can help us in our search for love. It’s this verse: “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” Please don’t take this literally! It is not biblical advice to become a nudist or to glory in posting naked selfies. Nakedness as a device to prove how proud you are is not a prescription for lifelong love.
In the story of God’s love for Adam and Adam’s longing for a soulmate, nakedness is a symbol of vulnerability. Love is the context in which one can be fully, authentically oneself, stripped of all masks and pretenses. But it is also true that one of the conditions for love is – you guessed it – vulnerability. It’s a feedback loop that one can only enter into by risking rejection.
In the swipe left era, rejections are part of the game and they are based on our carefully curated profiles. Not on who we are but on how we have presented ourselves via an image, small bio and a list of interests. But that’s not really risking rejection – it’s doing everything we can to pretend that we don’t care if we are rejected or not.
What is becoming more and more obvious is that a posture of indifference is what will generate the right swipe. In other words, we put our best self forward, a self that appears whole, who has everything together, and is not needy in the least. No one likes needy – it never shows up in bios!
This is nothing new. Online dating has only brought this dynamic into sharp relief so that it is harder and harder to ignore. Here’s a story from the pre-dating app era that illustrates what I’m talking about.
When I was a freshman in college, two really good-looking guys wandered into our dorm and found their way to my hallway. Someone invited them into her room and it wasn’t long before the word spread and at least a dozen of us had gathered to gawk at these specimens of masculine hunkiness all with the hope that we would stand out from the crowd and win a date with one of them.
As I sat there I realized that I had one chance and one chance only to draw attention to myself, and that was to get up and walk out without a word. Which is what I did and within an hour one of them called me for a date. We went out for a few weeks before he dumped me. Quickly his friend asked me out and we dated for a few months before he dumped me too.
My relationships didn’t last because I never found a way to move from indifference to vulnerability. Why? I didn’t realize that that was what I should be doing. Our society places a great deal of emphasis on independence and idolizes the completely autonomous individual. I truly believed that I would be more attractive if I hid my need for love behind a façade of invulnerability. I was wrong.
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Getting to Vulnerable
There are no shortcuts to vulnerability. That’s because vulnerability requires trust and trust takes time. The short profiles and snap judgments of dating apps are not fertile ground for trust. I strongly advise against oversharing in your profiles. The risks are too great.
Jesus issues a warning about those risks in Matthew’s Gospel. It comes in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus’ teaching:
Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you. (Matt 7:6)
It sounds for all the world like a prediction of the cruelty and mercilessness of online bullying, call out and cancel cultures, doesn’t it? But like I said, all this is as old as human desire.
So here are some things to consider if you would like to cultivate an environment in which lifelong love is possible:
- Do not overshare. Large, public, and impersonal environments like dating sites too easily encourage snap judgments and thoughtless rejections. Be wise about what you share and remember that trust takes time and personal connections.
- Go slow. If you feel ashamed after literally or figuratively being naked before someone, it was too soon. Learn from that feeling so that next time you have the courage to go a bit slower until trust has been established.
- Love your need for love. Needing and desiring love is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s divine.
Genesis tells us that humanity was made in God’s image and here’s the kicker – God is a very needy divinity! Just as Eve was fashioned to satisfy Adam’s longing, we are the object of God’s longing, so Genesis tells us. So go ahead and put your best foot forward in those dating profiles, but don’t lose sight of the things that make for love.