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The feminization of love and romance: can manly men live up to girlie love?

I fear that this post is going to be construed as sexist.  Let me assure the reader that I love women.  Some of my best friends are women.  In fact, I’m even married to one (and she is not a pillow).  People have noted that the female characters in my Birth Pangs series are really strong, independent ladies.  But I think I’m still going to be called a sexist.

I had the misfortune to see the movie Twilight this weekend with my wife.   I had heard that it was a chick flick.  That’s not the misfortunate part.  The misfortune consisted in it being, in my estimation, a poorly made movie.  Maybe the book is better.  It wasn’t a surprise exactly but after the movie was over I asked my wife what she thought and she liked the movie.   I asked why and she said something to the effect of the guy showing complete and utter devotion to the girl in the show.

I’d like to think that before we were married I showed that kind of devotion to my wife.  It occurred to me, though, that the hero in Twilight has many advantages that real life doesn’t exhibit.  Let’s see… first of all, he only had to be devoted for a month or so, and then the movie ended “happily ever after.”  It is easy to be devoted for short time periods.  Second of all, he had lots of opportunities to act out his protective nature on her behalf.  I mean, I’d hunt down and slay marauding vampires for my wife, too, if only they existed.

I protect my wife in plenty of other ways that don’t seem nearly as romantic.  For example, we’re not living in a crime ridden area.  Also, I have installed deadbolts.  I’m ready enough to defend her further, and woe to the robber who breaks into our house if I’m at home, but honestly what are the odds?

Contemplating these things lately (in large part because book 3 of my aforementioned Birth Pangs series deals with love and a woman is the main character) has led me to this conclusion:  what we think as a society about ‘love’ has been determined almost completely by… women.

And this isn’t good.

One reason that it isn’t good that leaps immediately to mind is that it is hopelessly unrealistic.  There is a time for ‘knight in shining armor’ romance, but when we get to the ‘happily ever after’ part the way that love is expressed must change, simply by necessity of the change of circumstances.  For example, if the knight shows his love for the fair maiden by slaying the last remaining dragon, there are, by definition, no more dragons to slay.  How will the knight continue to show his love and devotion?  Changing the oil in the car is important, too, but it pales in comparison.

An understanding of love that plays along these lines, I cannot help but think, will tend to breed disappointment.  Personally, I believe that a lot of divorces occur because marriages are established on the notion that the men and women ‘love each other’ according to the pattern above.  When the warm and fuzzy ‘love’ goes away, men and women alike figure that the basis for their marriage has gone away, too.

Really, do women want to live in a world where there is enough true danger that men have enough opportunities to defend them from real threats?  The relative purging of society from highway bandits, wayward beasts, and things like that could very well reflect loving actions that have been institutionalized.  Not very romantic, but effective… but it would seem like you can’t have both.

I see the ‘feminization of love’ at work in the Christian church, too.  I have had many, many conversations about love in relation to Christianity because it is my view that Christianity’s chief failing at this point is its lovelessness.  However, almost always some wise guy will retort, “So, what?  We’re supposed to spend our time with warm and fuzzies and dealing with people’s ‘felt needs’?”

I think it is really telling that even manly theologians, when they first hear the word ‘love,’ think of some panzy-ish, wussy, girlie notion of love.  I wonder why that is, but my hunch is that ‘love’ has girlie overtones because we’ve basically let girls define it.

A reading of the Scriptures- if that matters to anyone- would reveal a view of love that is hard as rock and as tough as nails.  Gentle when need be, but rough and tumble, too.   “Love is as strong as death,” Solomon said.  “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church- that is, die for her,” said Paul.  “There is no greater love than this:  that a man dies for his brother,” said Jesus.

This might be just me, but love- Christian love, as well- consists of much more than what we see in dime store romance novels and the like.

What would a manly love look like?  Well, it could be argued that conceding my observation really means just acknowledging that women have a notion of love that is valid, but not exhaustive.  Likewise, then, whatever we put forward as a more masculine appreciation of love wouldn’t be exhaustive, either, even as it is valid.  It might be said, then, that a ‘masculine’ love would be just as skewed as a feminized ‘love’, but with different, but still bad, consequences.

True, perhaps.  But we’ll never know until we men step up and add our perspective.   So what would a ‘manly’ love look like?  How would it be different to the prevailing attitudes about ‘love’?  Can anyone think of anyone else making these kinds of observations?  Am I right?  Or am I just an old fuddy duddy sexist?



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    • Nathan on March 11, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    A lot of good points. Some I buy, some I don’t. Nothing really worth adding either way except a testimonial of today’s dating scene and that true sappy romantic love wont last. Went through maritial troubles a few years ago. I was always a rock. Good provider, handiman around the house, cooked on the grill, involved wth the kids, but wasn’t overly romantic. Went to the preacher when the issues 1st came up. He told me I needed to be more spontaneous and romantic. As an overachiever I pulled out all stops. A few weeks later, my ex told me it was overwhelming. I turned it down some but not off. Before long, old patterns set in (…by that I mean her spending time in another man’s bed) and we divorced.

    I’ve had 2 real relationships (and one internet start of a relationship) since then and I carried the romance into each of them. The women LOVED the sappy, poetry writing, romantic guy…for about 4 months. After that they seemed to prefer someone more like a friend with benefits and minimal obligations, responsibilities or true emotion.

    • Veronica on March 11, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I don’t think you’re a sexist fuddy duddy, but I think there are some other issues that need to be considered. I agree with you about the knight in shining armor problem, but why do those women idolize a male savior? I suspect it may partially be because some women have been raised (directly or indirectly) to feel that having a man will be the most important thing in their life, and without one they’ll be powerless. I don’t think women just made that up to suit their needs. I’m not going to get into a discussion about Biblical views of males and females, but I think that God wants both sexes to feel like they can be independent to a certain point. Also, I think both males AND females follow the view of “fuzzy and warm” love, which you actually stated in this blog…then why is it “feminized” love if both males and females are following that idea? In my opinion, both sexes are to blame in this situation. Anyway, so I agree that relying on emotion-based exciting love is a big problem, but in the end I don’t really think I’d be very comfortable calling it “feminine” love.

    • David on March 11, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    Yeah, thats the influence of feminism on our culture. We no longer value family, which is built on commitment, not feelings.

    • Anthony on March 11, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Hi all, thanks for your comments.

    To Veronica: I think that you put your finger on something important about men and women being independent. One of the things that I believe about healthy relationships is that we should never behave or believe as though the other individual(s) will be able to satisfy all of our needs. There has to be a comfort in our own skins, and we shouldn’t put on the people around us a burden they cannot possibly carry.

    While I agree with you that both males and females are following this idea, and I do agree that both sexes are to blame, the reason why I am calling it ‘feminized’ is because I think women are setting the tone and leading the way on this. It would be the fault of men to go along with it uncritically. By way of anecdote, if we agree that this notion of love is embodied and reflected in places like the dime store novel with the handsome hunk on the front, I note that we don’t find men buying THOSE!

    In short, I think women tend to be generally happy with this ideal of what love is whereas even if men go along with it, I don’t think they’re really comfortable with it.

    “You mean, I have to go out and slay ANOTHER dragon? That’s five this week!”

  1. “Feminized love” made me think-

    I recently commented casually to some pastor’s wives that it may be doing a disservice in “dressing” our husbands or reminding them to send a thank-you card out. How did men act during the Middle Ages? How about the Pioneers? Mrs. Daniel Boone said good-bye with her 5 children at her side while hubby went out to blaze the Wilderness Trail. I wonder. Was she ticked with him? Maybe. But he didn’t turn around and come back.

    While I understand we live in a different time, men are still men. And perhaps they need to slowly regain their influence. It can start in our churches. Perhaps men should take down the doilies and flowers and make it look more masculine for starters. Let’s face it. There is a tendency for many men to fear women, let her call the shots, and ultimately, the order is upside down.

    So… if the ladies want their knight in shining armor, they better be ready to live with all that goes with a guy from the Middle Ages!

    • Anthony on March 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Kathleen. I think there is a lot of validity to them. I think a lot of the men were brutes back then, but your point is well made. I think in addition to your last sentence about being ready to live with a guy from the Middle Ages, it is necessary to point out that men themselves don’t really know what it looks like to live like a guy from the Middle Ages. 🙂 This (hopefully the good parts) will have to be re-discovered. It was learned before by imitation, but this presumes something to imitate.

    Check out my update post reflecting on the things I heard in various comment threads: https://sntjohnny.com/front/on-the-slaying-of-dragons-and-manly-love/815.html

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  4. I think it is really telling that even manly theologians, when they first hear the word ‘love,’ think of some panzy-ish, wussy, girlie notion of love. I wonder why that is, but my hunch is that ‘love’ has girlie overtones because we’ve basically let girls define it.

  1. […] my last entry I felt compelled to clarify that I was married- and that, to a woman, and not a […]

  2. […] I had the good pleasure to post on my recent ruminations that ‘love’ had taken a distinctly ‘feminine’ turn […]

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