Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love Paperback – 1 Nov 2005
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About the Author
Laura A. Smit (Ph.D., Boston University) is dean of the chapel and assistant professor of theology at Calvin College. She is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Christian Reformed Church and has served in a variety of pastoral settings.
Top Customer Reviews
The author is a professor of English at a US university and her profession shines through in the beautifully crafted text, as well as through the extensive illustrative material from literary classics -with Jane Austin's works being a particular favourite of the author.
As a married man of almost 30 years, I found the deep spiritual insight of this single (at the time of her writing it) woman,very deeply moving and helpful.
If you ever loved, never loved but especially if you've loved and never stood a chance, let alone lost, then this book will undoubtedly impart both wisdom and hope into your situation.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Rejection is one of life's great humblers, and it almost always leads to introspection. As one who is still single at 39, I've been on both sides of the equation. I'm a sensitive person, probably more so than I should be as a man. Indeed, being rejected has caused me great emotional disruption, especially when the woman initiated contact and expressed interest in me. After a few of these train wrecks, I began to wonder if I was cut out for romance and marriage. Consistent rejection, combined with never "going all the way" despite the pressures of a sexualized culture, has led me to believe that I have the gift of chastity. Therefore, I appreciated the author's endorsement of the celibate lifestyle, both in word and action (she plans to remain single). Celibacy's benefits pop up throughout the book, as when Ms. Smit cites Augustine's realization that excessive commitments to other people and things diluted his commitment to God (pg. 212). That's cool, but another, less prominent man's down-to-earth statement that "when you get knocked off a horse, you learn to stay away from horses (pg. 226)" also applies. If I persistently suck at something, prudence dictates that I look elsewhere for succor. That's especially true if my weakness could drag someone else down.
At any rate, you may be wondering how the book's subtitle, "The Ethics of Unrequited Love," applies in real life. With Scripture as her guide, the author uses various relational anecdotes from her students, popular cultural references, and examples from literature to illustrate right and wrong ways of rejecting and dealing with rejection. For example, we should be firm when turning down someone we aren't interested in. Although it may be flattering to be desired, sending mixed signals defrauds and hurts the other person. And when it's our turn to be rejected, it's important to respect the other's right to refuse our affections. Exemplifying Hollywood's ideal of dogged romantic pursuit is a sure way to arouse anger and earn a real-life restraining order. Either way, when pursuing or being pursued it's critical to treat the other as you would like to be treated. Only then do we demonstrate mature love vs. selfish desire. These are fundamental ideas, but the author writes about them in a refreshing and challenging way.
This review's titular quote from Walter Trobisch (pg. 227) sums up my feelings about "Loves Me, Loves Me Not." Despite my embrace of celibacy, I do have sexual thoughts and urges. I worry about missing out, or winding up like Anthony Hopkins' character in "The Remains of the Day." Some would say that I'm repressed or scared. Others insist that sexual desire means that God intends for me to marry. Perhaps they have a point. But all I know is that I've consistently failed at romance, and the only deep long-term love I've ever had is with God. Echoing Augustine, I may not have enough love for both God and a wife. The idea of loving God first and foremost is central to "Loves Me, Loves Me Not." If we do that, then we can truly and rightly love others, romantically or not. With this in mind, I'd rather "miss out" on romance if doing so drives me closer to Him and prevents me from hurting another.
Maybe I protest too much, like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." But that's how this book affected me. Every page had something that made me ponder, provoked me to debate, tweaked an inadequacy, convicted me of sin, or affirmed a life choice. In a market too often characterized by superficiality and platitudes, this book is the real deal when it comes to being Christ-like when pursuing Eros love. "Loves Me, Loves Me Not" has my highest recommendation.
Smit begins with a "theology of romance" in which she details God's nature (as love), God's creational plans (both in Eden and in the New Heaven and the New Earth), sin's effect on those plans, and finally, virtuous and vicious romance - that is, how sin twists God's intentions for love and how we can be virtuous by shaping our romantic lives to God's plans.
With this theology of romance in place, the rest of Loves Me, Loves Me Not focuses on how to behave virtuously in loving someone who does not return your romantic love, as well as being virtuous toward someone who cares romantically for you, when you desire only friendship for him or her. Smit encourages her readers to consider true Christian charity in these situations and whether or not charity -- or we might use the word, agape -- supports or rejects society's scripts for such roles.
Smit has in Loves Me, Loves Me Not some very powerful exhortations for the church that I appreciate on two levels: one, she forces readers to think seriously about New Testament teachings on marriage, family, and singleness; and two, she gives singles in the church a voice.
If my review has sparked your interest, and if you want the specific, and I think rather good suggestions Smit makes as to how we can pursue loving virtue in our relationships, buy the book.
"Loves Me, Loves Me Not" is a book about unrequited love or rejection or more broadly, romantic love. While the book offers many solid kernels of wisdom, the main problem is that it does not offer a general positive framework or positive approach for romantic relationships. Rather than help readers navigate the various phases of romantic relationships, understand their own expectations and views of relationships, work through issues or challenges, discern God’s will, or move on after rejection, this book instead focuses on rejection, a negative consequence. Like a baseball coach that emphasizes the results of striking out, this book focuses on a negative result and thus, facilitates a negative approach and attitude that will only lead to negative results.
1. Rejection must happen within the context of expectations, hopes, and discernment. While the author argues against the idea of “soul mates,” she then places a heavy burden on relationships (in fact, she states relationships have a "burden of proof," like a court case) and argues that Christians should tend toward singleness. Her view of relationships offers little room for couples to work through challenges together, to grow together, and grace. The author offers little guidance in helping readers understand their own expectations and hopes, the importance of communication, prayer, and grace in relationships, and how to better discern the direction of relationships.
2. Rejection may occur at many phases in a relationship—from expression of initial interest (not a big deal), after a few dates (still not a big deal), after dating exclusively, dating more seriously, during engagement (painful), and even within marriage leading to divorce (often viewed as outside God’s will). The author makes no effort to distinguish or discuss discernment during these various phases. Divorce is the ultimate form of romantic rejection, and sadly it happens as much in the church as it does outside the church. However, the author offers no insight into the issue of divorce. More importantly, the author should provide a framework for navigating and understanding various phases in relationships.
3. The author seems ill-qualified to be writing this type of book.
- Her source of original research comes from several focus groups, mainly involving her class of 19-21 year old students. This does not qualify as a sociological study in even the loosest sense.
- The anecdotes are one-sided and presented as stated, without insight into what may have actually transpired. For example, the author presents a story of a 19 year old that broke up with his girlfriend of five years because he loved her with a sisterly love and not an intimate eros love. What happened? Why did it take five years for him to realize this?
- The author does not have experience mentoring or discipling singles or couples working through issues of romantic love.
- Her own experiences with romantic love and rejection have been her rejection of various guys expressing interest in her. It does not appear she has ever been in a relationship, let alone, go out on a few dates.
- The author’s frequent use of many romantic examples from fictional literature or movies (Shallow Hal?, really?) seems to demonstrate a lack of connection to reality and connection to real romantic relationships. A few focus group studies does not cut it. This book lacks sympathy, empathy, humor, and positivity.
Reject this book (irony intended). This book’s placement of extreme and unrealistic expectations on relationships as well as it’s focus on a negative consequence facilitates negative attitudes and behavior that will only lead to additional negative consequences.
As alternatives, I would recommend Aziz Ansari’s "Modern Romance" (if you don’t mind a secular perspective) or Timothy and Kathy Keller’s “The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.” Aziz Ansari shares many personal stories and the book is cowritten by a sociology professor. The Kellers have mentored and guided numerous singles and couples within their church across a wide variety of stages of relationships.
I did not like the formatting of the book and the author jumped around some, but the personal accounts of unrequited love added an authenticity to the book that was assuring. We may feel isolated in our feelings of unrequited love, but the very existence of this book shows that we are not alone.
Overall, a good book on a difficult subject.
I'm not done with it yet; I'm still mulling the book over.