[Medieval chivalry] is not wholly true, and it is not perfectly 'theocentric.' It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man's eye off women as they are, as companions in shipwreck not guiding stars. (One result is for observation of the actual to make the young man turn cynical.) To forget their desires, needs and temptations. It inculcates exaggerated notions of 'true love', as a fire from without, a permanent exaltation, unrelated to age, childbearing, and plain life, and unrelated to will and purpose. (One result of that is to make young folk look for a 'love' that will keep them always nice and warm in a cold world, without any effort of theirs; and the incurably romantic go on looking even in the squalor of the divorce courts). (emphases mine)When it comes to searching for a spouse, I think it is very hard to strike a proper balance between romance and pragmatism. Over the centuries, we've swung from being entirely pragmatic (when marriages were arranged and based on practicality) to expecting that our marital unions be based entirely on romantic feelings - feelings that are pretty much unsustainable.
Does God prefer one over the other? I'm sure some would argue that arranged marriages have a lot going for them. For one, they eliminate the turmoils of the courtship/dating process, helping to reduce youthful indiscretions, painful breakups, and unwed pregnancies. They also put the husband and wife in a position where they must choose from the outset to love one another rather than simply assent to euphoric feelings. In other words, arranged marriages provide a unique opportunity to practice "agape" love.
However, I wouldn't advocate for turning back the clock. In defense of romance, is there not something undeniably beautiful about choosing someone? That is, falling for someone and forsaking all others for him/her? Isn't it clear that there is something about the way we are wired that arranged marriages simply can't satisfy? And isn't there a case to be made that this wiring is a part of God's design?
It is fascinating to me that the Bible has very little to say, in terms of prescriptive directions, when it comes to the process of finding a spouse. How odd that something so significant in the human experience is addressed so little. Of course, instructions are given for those who are married - instructions that demonstrate how significant and special the marriage union is supposed to be - and there are numerous commands to flee from sexual immorality (see my post from 1/16/13 for more on this), but there is almost nothing about the process of moving from singleness to marriage.
Perhaps this is because this is an area God wants the human race to have some freedom in. Maybe there are supposed to be multiple paths by which a man and a woman can become one, and we are supposed to trust Him in the process depending on whatever culture we are in. Maybe the reason the Bible stays silent about this is because there's supposed to be some mystery surrounding how it happens, and that is part of the magic of it.
The author of Proverbs includes "the way of a man with a maiden" among the top things he does not understand (30:18). Amen.
But, I've digressed. Getting back to Tolkien: I like his metaphor. Single people who want to be married should not be looking for a guiding star. We should be looking for a companion in shipwreck. I like the metaphor, because I think it strikes a healthy balance between the two extremes of pragmatism and romance. We should not be overly idealistic, because we will never find another human being who can be our 'guiding star.' If that is what we are looking for we will inevitably become bitter and cynical, and - if we ever do get married - divorced. However, if we adjust our aim to 'finding a companion in shipwreck,' we will be less likely to end up disappointed and we might actually find someone who fits the bill. We'll know what to look for: someone we can brave the after-effects of the Fall with. But, in the midst of this pragmatic attitude there's still a place for romance. I mean, you're being shipwrecked with someone. That's romantic, no?
Happy Valentine's Day to all you shipwrecked stars.