Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions Book Discussion: Chapter 2

Photo by Phil Kates

Guest Post by Joanna, she blogs at The first post in the series is here.

Our culture loves romance. Pop music is full of it, it has a book genre named after it, whole movie genres centre around it and many magazines devote themselves to the romances of the famous. Romance even has a special day dedicated to it- Valentine’s day.

Christian culture also likes romance. We may seek to present a more wholesome version of it, but nonetheless, romance is given a valued place in Christian culture. We talk about true love waiting or finding our soul mate. We preach sermons on the goodness of marriage. Christian bookstores are filled with books about getting or staying married.

On the surface these all seem like wonderful things. Some of them are good, biblical things. However, in chapter 2 of Sacred Unions, Sacred passions, Dan Brennan contends that there is an dark side to our elevation of romantic relationships.

Brennan argues that elevating romantic relationships to being the highest, closest and most fulfilling form of male-female relationship is not particularly healthy. Couples get to be seen as tight units that are very distinct from society. Under this model close non-romantic friendships are discouraged on the basis of being a threat to romantic relationships. Rather than protecting romantic relationships, he suggests that we may be damaging them. Romance cannot substitute for deep friendship and the elevation of romance risks encouraging too much credence being given to the impossible ideal of a perfect soul mate.

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Singles suffer too under the elevation of romance. Not being able to experience romantic love comes to seem cruel. Brennan goes as far as to say that some Christian thinking implies that single Christians cannot know God as well as the married.

Most central to the message of the chapter and the book is how the elevation of romance robs us of close friendships between men and women and even friendships between people of the same gender. When so many expressions of closeness are assumed to almost always have romantic connotations, we loose valuable ways of knowing people as friends.

As a single woman, I have experienced the effects of these ideas. It is entirely too easy to start wondering if romance is what will fulfill me rather than seeking to draw near to God and develop deep friendships. Contentment in singleness is not always easy. It also can be easy to slip into evaluating guys on the basis of romantic potential rather than valuing them for the friend that they are.

To discuss-
1. Do you think Brennan is right in thinking we make too much of romance?
2. What are some examples you have seen of these ideas in practice?
3. How might the lessons of this chapter make a difference to how we live?


Chapter 1233a456, 7 discussions


Regarding the question whether “we make too much of romance” I admit I am torn. When I was married I used to downplay the role of romance in my relationship with my wife but I now believe that was to the detriment of my marriage, because, I now believe, to quote Thomas Moore from his book Soulmates, that “Romantic love is as important to the soul as any other kind of love”…and…I didn’t believe that when I was married.

When it comes to the single life, and I have now been single for almost ten years, I do believe romance has “a place”, alongside, the various other aspects of a relationship. I also don’t believe romantic feelings can be easily suppressed because of our deep seeded need for passion, affection, and attention from others.

So, where does that leave us?…I don’t have the answer, but would suggest for consideration that we as individuals and as a community need to find ways to hold romantic love in tension with the other equally legitimate expressions of love…and…perhaps the real problem has less to do with elevating romantic love and more to do with the possibility that we either do not understand or appreciate the wide range of love and what it really means to love another person and this is a challenge whether we are single or married…Bill

    I think there is much that I agree with in your conclusion. But I want to question your initial assumption. I am reading the book Committed right now (it is about marriage). And I am at the point where she is questioning the idea of romantic attachment in the way that we in the modern western world look at it. She interview many women from a variety of non-western cultures. And while she says they loved their husbands in their way, the idea of “good husband”, “romantic attraction”, “one right person”, etc were all largely missing from their conception of marriage. But I think most of us are locked up in a western culture. So we have expectations about what a marriage is about. And trying to down play the role of romance, in general, is not the way to strength a marriage.

    But I also think you may miss the focus, if we are talking about platonic (non-sexual) relationships, then the focus on romance as the primary way that opposite genders interact, has a big deal to do with how we understand cross gender relationships.

      I assume you were addressing “my comments” Adam? I acknowledge your platonic relationship qualification and agree with those who are concerned with an overemphasis of romance as a primary way opposites genders interact…but…also believe that we need to acknowledge and give proper attention to romantic feelings when they do come up in our friendships with others…without… feeling guilty or trying to repress them. I hope this makes sense?…I’m just talking out loud here for the most part and trying to make some sense of it all for myself.

I’m not surprised, Adam, to hear that the idea of romance is western and that the concept does not translate to non-western cultures and women’s experience from those cultures does not prioritise “romantic attraction.”

As to how far we are locked into this paradigm, perhaps it’s inevitably our starting point; I take it that Dan Brennan approaches his subject from the assumption that our fear of “romantic attraction” is what prevents the blossoming of Platonic gross-gender friendships, or at least a strong inhibitor.

Inevitably we have to start from somewhere. And to answer Joanna’s first point, yes, I think we do make too much of romance, across both the long stretch of a happy marriage (after all being married may be a state covering 60-70 years today)and also by “sanctifying” the marital state in the church (in this case I think it is a fair generalisation that in the 20th century the married couple has been the dominant typology in protestant churches to the detriment of other lifestyles).

From our western Christian standpoint, I’d suggest that cross-gender friendships outside marriage are likely to be regarded as a risk, both because of our natural tendency to perceive the development of relationships through the “romantic” lens and the consequent strain that a perceived close gross-gender relationship will place on the other partner in the marriage.

I’d also accept the point of both Brennans (in the sense that the book is a marital project) that the risk entailed in gross-gender friendships is worth taking. And take Bill’s point that the important thing may be to stay attuned to any romantic potential and deal with it rather than denying it.

As to how this is put into practice, Joanna, I guess for me this has been accepting the growing importance of friendship as a source of enrichment in my life. And underlying any gendered aspect, the issue of friendship is perhaps a challenge to the genuine acceptance of diversity and multiplicity. Points back to the Trinity mysteriously, perhaps?

    The longer I think about this, the more I am inclined to think that the biggest problem is a lack of friendship in general. If there is a real spirit of friendship, then whether those friends are cross gender or same gender there is benefit. We are in a society that does not have a lot of deep friendships, especially among males.

    But I do think that there is something different about cross gendered friendships, obviously or I would not have hosted this blog discussion. But the issue for me is how to encourage without either endangering those that are weak in this area or without harming those primarily younger, single women like Joanna that are most likely to be harmed by the gossip, accusations and misplaced fears.

    The marginalization of women, primarily because of a misplaced view of romance or a misplaced understanding of scripture, I think is one of the top handful of problems that must be dealt with for the church to really move on to its full role in modern society.

      I didn’t get to the gossip bit in my post, but yes that is definitely a problem. In the past I have had a few male friends very much had the love language of physical touch so were very huggy. I didn’t want to spurn what was a well meant expression of completely platonic friendship, but could never quite shake thinking about how other people read it and might talk about it.

      Obviously things get even more complicated when the male friend is not single. I have a few good male friends, some of whom are not single. I care about them and the wellbeing of their other relationships. I would never want it to seem like I was inappropriately pursuing a romantic relationship with them or was disrespecting their girlfriends. It can be a hard line to work out, especially when it comes to conversations about more personal matters.

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