In the introduction, Andy Stanley starts by reflecting on our cultures current state regarding sex, love and dating: that everything is sexualized. This sounds like an exaggeration but when you begin looking, you start to see it all around you. “Sex is leveraged to sell just about everything. Actually, the promise of no-strings-attached sex with a way-above-average-looking person is used to sell just about everything. Sexual scandals among politicians, athletes and celebrities elicit yawns. Infidelity is woven into the plot of just about every form of entertainment that involves a plot.” (pg. 12) He then points out that this tide that is relentlessly sweeping through our lives runs against a secondary current that has existed for ages: “a deep appreciation and desire for good ol’ fashioned, stand-the-test-of-time love.” (pg. 13) This book, though, isn’t about changing the culture so much as it is about NAVIGATING it. The truth is that the hook-up and overtly sexualized culture we live in leaves most people disappointed and eventually seeking something better. He writes, “So whether you’re still in or back in a season of looking for love, I can help. If you’re living with someone in an attempt to discover whether he or she is the right choice of a lifetime companion, this content will help. If you’ve given up on love or if you’ve never seen a marriage you would be caught dead in, this content may very well restore your hope. If you’ve concluded, ‘All guys are the same,’ and ‘Women only care about how much a guy makes,’ keep reading.” (pg. 18) And so I kept reading.
Chapter One dives straight in with the myth of the right person. The pervasive idea that there’s this person out there that is a perfect compliment to you in every way and it’ll be like every romantic comedy ever made. He emphasized, “The myth isn’t, There’s a right person for you out there somewhere. There may very well be. The myth is that once you find the right person, everything will be all right.” (pg. 22) It’s not just about looking for the right person, although that is important, it’s about the more of the relationship; the part that shows up very little in media but grows great relationships.
Consider the “list” you have. The boxes we describe as MUST HAVES in the right person, the boxes that are WOULD BE NICE. These lists that might possess good traits and characteristics like adventurous, kind, Christ-follower, respectful, etc. are fantastic, but they are rarely the deciding factors in who we date or even marry. Why? Andy Stanley says it falls into two categories: chemistry and attraction. And while attraction alone works for relationships in adolescents, in adulthood we usually abandon our list for a combination of chemistry and physical attraction. But should those two things be the foundation of our relationships?
“They knew before they got to know each other. Strange. Strange, but not uncommon. While instant chemistry that dovetails into an instantly healthy relationship with until-death-do-us-part potential is not… falling in love is easy; it requires a pulse. Staying in love requires more. There’s that word again.” (pg. 24) His point is that when a relationship feels right, it can be powerfully persuasive and pushes us to go further faster than is healthy. “Physical attraction isn’t like art appreciation. It’s not something you admire from a distance. Physical attraction is like hunger. It’s something you satisfy.” (pg. 24-25) This leads us to the big reveal: someone and you have a few things in common and you’re attracted to one another. Shouldn’t you see if you’re also compatible in the bedroom? Andy Stanley points out that we are compatible with far more people sexually than we are relationally (he also said no male would underline the sentence stating that, because isn’t this obvious?). But this means that sexual compatibility is not the tool by which we ought to measure our relational compatibility. “Sex is a bit like glue. You shouldn’t apply it until you’re absolutely sure you’re ready to stick two things together permanently.” (pg. 26) This is because sex actually inhibits relational development while also building attachment. It camouflages potential red flags that, if we weren’t already sexually engaged, might have us making different decisions.
This also isn’t a distortion which, now that you’re aware of, you can engage in sexual relationships while keeping your eyes open to potential problems. It’s an actual cognitive bias that you develop which is known as focalism. “Focalism is the brain’s tendency to magnify one thing to the exclusion of everything else. Focalism distorts reality, be that reality food, a dress, a car, or, yes, a person.” (pg. 27) We experience this often and rarely is it something of much importance, resulting in spending too much on an outfit or driving out of the way to appease your sweet tooth. When it comes to selecting a partner though, such bias can have substantial long-term consequences. Many of us might recognize this in a relationship where two people are mad for each other while everyone else is asking themselves if maybe they’re just crazy. Do they not see what everyone else sees? The answer is actually no, they probably don’t.
“If you allow attraction and chemistry to sweep you immediately into sexual involvement, you will most likely confuse sexual compatibility for something it isn’t. Namely, a sign.” (pg. 28) There are consequences too, beyond just the cognitive impairment. It diminishes something that has great value to you into something summed up in, “you’re place or mine?” Treating valuable, bond-building stuff cheaply comes at a cost. When the connection built on sex and attraction stops being effortless, when the chemistry slowly begins to ebb, the foundational more that is so critical to the success of the relationship isn’t there. It wasn’t built.
Side note: Babies don’t help broken relationships and divorce doesn’t fix why the marriage didn’t work. Babies: Why do we think that adding a helpless, totally reliant on you bundle of life to an already difficult situation is going to “fix” things? “While 15% of married couples divorce within three years of the birth of their first child, the percentage of unmarried couples who separate after the birth of a child is closer to 40%.” (pg. 31) And divorce? “…Second marriages have a higher failure rate then first marriages. Sixty-seven percent of second and 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce.” (pg. 31) Why? Because their approach and philosophy remain the same: if I find the right person, then it’ll all work out the way it should.
He closes chapter one by reminding us that there aren’t any guarantees, but there are ways we can be better equipped and then asks readers to step back if we are in a relationship that people are warning us about. He reminds us that while what we are feeling is certainly REAL, that doesn’t make it reliable. Love (or should we say chemistry and attraction?) just isn’t enough.
For more, continue to A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Two)