Alyssa and I have battled with thoughts that harm our relationship. The way we see it, both of us came into our marriage sick in some way. A disease of sorts had been coursing through our systems for most of our lives, but sometimes it takes a marriage to start seeing the symptoms.

It reminds me of a party we had before we moved from Washington to Maui. We didn’t know it at the time, but someone was definitely carrying a crazy intense virus. Within three days of the party, eleven of the fourteen people came down with a stomach bug that involved being wrapped around a toilet for two days straight, not knowing what end it was going to come out of next (and if you’ve been there, you know that might be one of the worst predicaments you can ever face in life).

When I was at the party, I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t feel like I caught anything. I didn’t feel infected. In fact, I felt just the opposite. Happy, cheery, hanging out with friends and family. It wasn’t until many days later that I actually was sick.

Yet, I had caught the virus at the party days earlier. In many ways, that’s us with love.

We are lovesick and love-diseased. Our views of romance, sexuality, dating, and marriage are killing us. We’ve been infected for years and haven’t even realized it. It almost killed me in high school and stayed with me in college, like shrapnel in my soul that I’m still plucking out and finding healing for. Nothing has caused me more pain, grief, and hurt than previous relationships and my pursuit of love.

Isn’t that true for most of us? We get to our mid-twenties or mid-thirties and feel like we should be beginning our adult lives, yet it feels more like the end. We are tired. We are hurt. We are exhausted. And we don’t want to do it anymore. We are left to pick up the pieces of our adolescence, and we now look back with enough perspective to realize just how detrimental our decisions have been.

How did we get here? Why are so many of us entering adult life, our marriages, jobs, and new families hanging on by a thread rather than starting our journey with vibrancy and life and fullness?

Maybe it has something to do with our bad definition of love.

Clearly something isn’t working. Clearly we’ve got some wires crossed.

Our culture at large is hurt. Sick. Unhealthy. Bruised. Broken.

And a question that haunts me is, if we are all sick, do we realize how sick we truly are?

Loneliness has been declared an epidemic.

Porn has gotten so out of control, it’s been labeled a “public health crisis” and “public hazard,” as Pamela Anderson, one of the most famous porn stars in history, put it.

The use of antidepressants has more than doubled since 1998.

“Friends with benefits” and “no strings attached” seem to be the normative view of most relationships—and of Hollywood movie titles.

Marriage is becoming so trivial, or is failing at such a high rate, that some lawmakers have considered things like a “two-year marriage license” instead of a lifetime commitment.

And selfish, casual, hookup sex has reached its logical conclusion in many ways. It has been so detached from an actual relationship that some people now buy lifelike robots that they can customize and have sex with.6 I mean, if sex is simply about pleasuring yourself and getting what you want out of it, then why not get a robot instead of another human? They are much easier, and always “in the mood” as long as they’re plugged in.

In a strange irony, one of the biggest pornography sites in the world, a place that is probably the farthest from real love, since you are literally having sex with yourself while staring at a computer screen, seems to be full of people in search of that very thing, as the most frequently used word in its comments section is love.

Loneliness. Trivial marriages. Sex robots. Porn.

In a world where you can get anything you want at any time (as long as you have Amazon Prime or Postmates), love seems to be the proverbial carrot on a stick.

Yet Scripture says that “God is love.”

And a famous quote says, “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

The good news is that the reverse is also true. God is knocking on the door of every brothel, looking for man. We all have our different brothels—places we go in search of connection, intimacy, and love. We need to be in a relationship because we are addicted to approval and that feeling of emotional and relational intimacy.

For some, it’s the need to be recognized, liked, affirmed, and admired.

Or we scratch our heads, wondering why we so easily fall in and out of love with people we are dating, not realizing we are addicted to an ideal of a person who doesn’t exist, and our ideal not only crushes them but also doesn’t satisfy us. Then we move on, hoping to find it with the next person, creating a vicious cycle.

We become human bodies full of wounds, hurts, emotions, and scars, carrying around so much baggage that we aren’t sure how much farther we can go. But what if it wasn’t actually love that got us to that place? What if it was the misunderstanding of love that did?

When I was sixteen and fresh out of driver’s ed, I had my first flat tire. I say “first,” because, well, let’s just say my first couple of years behind the wheel didn’t go so well. (If we ever have coffee, remind me to tell you about that one time I totaled my first car after only owning it for two weeks because I thought it would be a good idea to hydroplane purposely in big puddles for fun—with the car my dad had spent months building and repairing before giving it to me.)

I remember driving and feeling like something was a little off in
the car’s movement. I was a few miles from home, driving on a side street after hanging out with some friends. (I can’t remember exactly what I was listening to but knowing the year, it was probably “Yeah” by Usher or “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day. I may have an eclectic taste in music.) But it felt like the gas wasn’t working or that the emergency brake was on or the gas pedal needed to be pressed a little harder than usual to stay at a normal speed. It felt like I was towing or dragging something.

Since this was my first flat tire, I didn’t know what it was. I thought a flat tire would be more obvious. You know, like in the movies, where a tire explodes and the car spins out of control. At least in my case, driving felt off and weird, but I could still accelerate, turn, and stop.

Little did I know that every second I drove with a flat tire, the worse it was for my whole car—the rims, the engine, the alignment, and more. But I kept driving. And my car kept getting worse and worse and worse.

For a lot of us, the way we see love, dating, sexuality, marriage, and romance is like a flat tire. There’s a little something off at first. We know it and we feel it. Sure, we can still get from point A to point B on a flat tire. Sure, it does the job. Sure, sex before marriage doesn’t feel wrong. Sure, living together while you’re dating helps you learn more about each other. But there are moments when it feels “off.” There are moments when it feels more damaging than it should. But we don’t know any better, so we keep driving. And it gets worse. And worse. And worse.

We were created for more.

We were never meant to drive on a flat tire. We were never meant to have sex with someone who wasn’t our husband or wife. We were never meant to be addicted to porn. We were never meant to be so wrapped up in a relationship that makes us feel as if we are losing our god when we break up with that boyfriend or girlfriend.

Years later, when we finally pull over to look under the hood, many of us realize—for the first time—just how damaging the flat tire was.

The compounded years have made us view love as something we can take instead of what we can receive.

As something we feel instead of something to commit to.

The reason love, romance, and sexuality feel so right, even when they are wrong, is because we were created for them. Even the distortions hold an element of truth; that’s what a distortion is—an alteration of the original. But there’s more. So much more. God doesn’t want to take away our joy; He wants to give us more of it. He doesn’t want to take away our sexual desire; He wants to give us the context in which it works the best. God doesn’t want us to hate romance; He wants to introduce us to the greatest love story of all time.

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Jefferson Bethke

Author Jefferson Bethke

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  • Avatar Sarah Towns says:

    This was so good! Never heard it explained so to the point and clear. Could you write a post on what love looks like? You did such a good job explaining the counterfeit we buy into, and now I would love to read your perspective on real and raw love with your husband or wife and what that looks like. What does remission from love sickness look like, and what should a healed view of love be?

  • Avatar Charlotte Danielson says:

    So good! The flat tire metaphor was so perfectly descriptive especially in terms of sex and living together before marriage: "Sure, sex before marriage doesn’t feel wrong. Sure, living together while you’re dating helps you learn more about each other. But there are moments when it feels "off"… But we don’t know any better, so we keep driving." I love that you took this predicament and didn’t need to outright reject the idea, but rather you gave reason as to why it is damaging with this metaphor. So well written. Thank you for giving reason for something I think we all know is "off", but we have a hard time finding why.

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