Opener to The Relationship Issue

“Love will find you, it’s as sure as gravity” –Tonio K.

Contrary to Tonio K, we don’t like hearing love will find us. We want to “find love.” And today, as much as ever, many outfits are lining up to guide us to where love lives.

Among those guides to the land of love are the many online dating platforms (Match, OkCupid, ChristianMingle) which give users thorough questionnaires, like little individualized maps to get there. Some of the questions are basic get-to-know-you questions (Are you an adventure seeker? Are you clean?), but other questions cut pretty close to the bone (Are you easily discouraged? Are you unable to deal with things?). Regardless of anyone’s level of self-knowledge, I find it hard to imagine someone willing to get real about the depths of their discouragement. Maybe I’m wrong.

The idea of filling out a love profile may sound a bit mechanical, but it makes sense. Doing so just makes it easier to find someone you might actually like. Everybody knows a dog-person and a cat-person will never see eye to eye, and so a questionnaire allows men and women to sort the wheat from the weeds, on their own terms. It’s not like we haven’t been doing this since the Ice Age anyways, judging people for their eyebrows and making friends by rock-throwing contests.

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to guess, though, that the set-up only works if there’s a mutual honesty agreement in place. And for people dead-set on finding love, with a white-knuckled grip on their own destiny, honesty seems to be an unrealistic expectation. Just look at your Facebook feed.

I have a friend who once told me that an inordinate amount of people on post pictures of themselves in scuba gear. Why? Well, we’d prefer not to lie about how lazy we are or how easily we’re discouraged, but, given the givens, that’s what it may take to find someone who will accept us. Irene Sherlock writes in her Modern Love essay in The New York Times that “If we were really honest, our ads would read: My heart has been shattered, and I’m scared. Will someone take a chance on me?”

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It’s not just the question of honesty that throws a wrench in our relationships. It’s also how tight-fisted we can be when it comes to whom we choose to associate with. We love finding the friend or lover who’d be our tennis partner, our aesthetic double, our do-gooder sidekick. Daniel Jones, editor of the much-adored Modern Love column, whom we’ve interviewed for this issue, describes what these kinds of (online) categories portend for relationships:

The entire process operates on the assumption that we know what kind of person we’re looking for… As we do this, what began as a rush of enticing possibilities… quickly devolves into a game of exclusion as we flee from variety and risk and mystery and meekly migrate toward the familiar… While real people of various persuasions might have a chance at winning our heart, a category never will.

Jones may just be talking about online dating, but it doesn’t matter—in any relationship, we love categories. Categories are safeguards, categories provide a harness for our whims and impulses, and categories make sure the ones we follow aren’t quack doctors or deviant stalkers.

But love doesn’t tend to follow our rules. Despite the various platforms and pathways for our discovery of “the one,” love hasn’t gotten any easier (or any harder). It refuses to be sequestered to algorithms and filter bubbles. This makes sense, given the age-old semantics we’re given of “falling in love,” of a “match made in heaven,” or even of “star-crossed lovers.” These connections weren’t agreed-upon statistical arrangements, but mysterious moments of mythic power. They were no more agreed-upon than our blood types. In this sense, it seems more appropriate to say that love finds us, not the other way around.

In Hemingway’s “Capital of the World,” a father seeks out his long-estranged son, Paco, by putting an advertisement in the Madrid paper. The ad reads: “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.” What he finds, come Tuesday, is eight hundred Pacos at the hotel looking for their father’s forgiveness. This is the kind of love we hope finds us—a letter that clears the slate and beckons us in.

In 1 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul calls this “the foolishness of the cross,” which stands in direct opposition to “the wisdom of the world.” While we posture and network and tweak our categories according to the wisdom of the world, the cross of Christ is the absurd acknowledgment of what is true in you and me. This incisive honesty about our embarrassing tics and weaknesses, says Paul, is the starting-point for the love of God. And its limits are not set.

In a number of ways and in a variety of mediums, this “foolish” message of love is the beating heart of The Relationship Issue. We have two interviews, one with Daniel Jones, the other with the men behind the Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated. We explore the meaning of a “relationship with God,” the legacy of the emotional disco-force known as ABBA, and the reason why so many people watched M*A*S*H. We have stories of bad fathers and reckless children, wedding registries and unplanned pregnancies, and so much more!

So, if you’re looking for love, rest easy. It’s already here, as sure as gravity. And, we hope, you’ll feel its echoes in these pages.