All Better syndrome

I came across an interesting article posted on facebook. Basically, it describes the rise of the soulmate in society.

In his new book, Ansari provides both cathartically funny self-help for modern dating and an impressively researched guide to the swiftly changing ways we find love. Though the Internet plays a key role in the book, so, too, does that recent unicorn of romance: the soulmate.

“In a very short period of time, the whole culture of finding love and a mate has radically changed,” Ansari writes. “The tools we use on this search are different, but what has really changed is our desires and — and even more strikingly — the underlying goals of the search itself.”

Where once we married for the reasons central to “Downton Abbey” — retention of land, production of heirs and, maybe, friendship — now we seek someone with whom mutual love feels like destiny.

According to one survey the book cites, couples in 1940 met at church as often as they did through neighbors or at a bar. (For that cohort, only friends and family were more-common ways to meet.)

Yet by 2010, only 2 percent of couples reported meeting at church — the least-common relational starting ground.

Churches’ role in matchmaking may have declined for many reasons, but the likeliest seems our growing lack of interest in religious groups altogether.

The more disturbing trend than not meeting people at Church is through friends and family in my opinion. However, the decrease of the church involvement in life is typical in a secularized post-Christian society, so it’s not surprising that this is the case.

Wealth, in particular, is thrown at problems rather than interacting with family, friends, or the Church to help you out. Wealth takes the place of reliance on God. There’s a reason why Jesus said it is extremely difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven. Wealth tends to take the place of faith for the vast majority of people.

Ansari and his co-author, sociologist Eric Klinenberg, root this change both in the cultural shifts after World War II and the nature of the Internet. “It doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there,” they write. “It has helped to produce the idea there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it.”

They make a persuasive case for how the Internet got us hooked on the search for the best. But they never really explain how we came to believe that the best relationships also provide the stuff of religion.

In a TED talk they quote, psychotherapist Esther Perel says: “…[W]e come to one person, and we basically are asking them to give us what once an entire village used to provide: Give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity, but give me transcendence and mystery and awe all in one.

We don’t expect transcendence from our juicers, our ramen, our folding bikes. How did we come to see it as the mark of true love?

Ansari and Klinenberg’s explanation conflates romantic love with the search for a soulmate. But our spiritualization of love may have more to do with that drastic drop in relationships started at church.

Use of “soulmate” increased right around the same time religious affiliation started to drop, according to Google Ngram data. The poet Samuel Coleridge reportedly first coined the term in 1822, but its use stayed very low for 160 years. Then in the late 1980s, “soul mate” started cropping up in “New York Magazine” personal ads.

“Soulmate” quickly became mainstream in the 1990s.

The TED talk quote by the psychologist is particularly astute. That is what most people expect out of “Romance” to their own detriment. Expectations like that cannot simply be met in one person, so it stands to reason that fewer people are finding marriage because they expect this happiness from their soulmate and very few are finding it.

At multiple points, Ansari admits that we’re making great demands on love, which sets us up for heartbreak and disappointment. He even spends a chapter on the problems with too many choices. But each time he shrinks from acknowledging that we might be asking too much.

“Modern Love” frames romance primarily in selfish terms — and no wonder; almost every tool for seeking love encourages us to do. But if love and romance are all about me, then they also determine my value.

Great love, great value. Little love, small value. No wonder we seek the best possible lover. We need to think we deserve it!

As a long-single woman, I’ve grappled with this value problem for years. Throughout my 20s and some of my 30s, I fell for men aspirationally. Though I never realized at the start of things, I was drawn more to what their esteem and attraction would do for my ego than to the men themselves. That made their rejection and disinterest all the more devastating.

But recently, I’ve been studying long-term happy marriages — both those chronicled in the “New York Times’” wonderful “Making It Last” series and the unions of happily long-married relatives.

What modern singles often consider prerequisites for marriage — good sex, financial security, intellectual stimulation — more often proves the result of long-wed couples’ sustained and sacrificial investment in each other.

My own parents recently celebrated their 38th anniversary together, brimming with a mutual delight of the kind that often dims after the wedding-day glow. They share many common interests, and even a birthday, but I know from years as their daughter how much self-sacrifice, humility and forgiveness went into the enviable bond they share.

They may look like they married their soul mate, but that’s because they both committed to being a great mate.

This was a surprisingly good observation by the author who is a woman. I did not expect this type of self reflective analysis. However, I think part of the reason why she was able to do this is because it looks like she had a very good marriage modeled to her by her parents.

Indeed, most people conflate the parts of marriage that are great as the standard for marriage rather than focusing on the relationship itself. This is the inherently selfish mindset versus that of the unselfish.

However, the article misses the most important expectation that is almost never discussed. It’s nice to talk about the various aspects of the relationship such as expectations, commitment, and the good parts of marriage. However, the elephant in the relationship room is one that is very rarely if ever discussed. In fact, I have rarely seen it mentioned around these parts as well.

“All better syndrome” otherwise known as “Things will all work if…”

If I can just find a woman with X, Y, and Z qualities and marry her then everything will be all better. All my problems with my personal life will go away. Everything will turn out the way I always dreamed.

I think part of it arises from the Disney fairy tale myth. Lots of problems, but they found each other. Then they lived happily ever after. Yet, I don’t think that accounts for all of it. Specifically, Christians tend to fall prey to this with prosperity gospel or pulling Scriptures out of context. For example, the ubiquitous Jeremiah 29:11.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans that I [h]have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.

Let’s contrast it to the context.

Jeremiah 29:10 “For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans that I [h]have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your [i]fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

  1. The Jews in Babylon had to suffer in captivity for 70 years.
  2. It’s conditional: they had to search for God with ALL of their heart. Unlike most Christians who solely pay lip service to God or are Sunday Christians.

All better syndrome or they hypothetical “if only” is one of the most important negative expectations to root out of your psyche.

Stewardship calls for us to be responsible for what we have been given. Parable of the talents/minas and all. Things aren’t naturally made “all better” as that makes God a genie from a lamp. Certainly in the context of salvation and the gospel they can be made all better in an instant. But it’s rare that someone’s life turns around completely without repentance and working hard because your heart has changed. People who wait for change to happen them tend to only become victims of their situation, and they blame everyone else around them for what happens to them.

That’s why all better syndrome is one of the underlying foundations of victim mentality. Don’t become prey to all better syndrome.

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11 Responses to All Better syndrome

  1. Pingback: All Better syndrome | Manosphere.com

  2. Maea says:

    I believe it goes beyond the Disney fairy tale myth. It goes to show what happens when you remove community from Christianity.

    Christians have made a terrible habit of “soul mating” marriage prospects. It’s much worse for secular folks, as married couples are expected to be BFF’s, and if not the marriage is flawed.

    When Christians participated in strong communities, there was always a sense of belonging. There was greater diversity in the kinds of people to meet, and they had a wide array of friends or acquaintances. Segregation between the sexes was commonplace and it was a good thing because people met their needs without expecting their spouses to do it all for them.

    The idea of a “soul mate” reflects how far individualistic pursuits have gone.

  3. jack says:

    So basically, all these people are saying:

    “Dear Lord, please send me a significant other that will completely replace you as the center of my existence. Send me a substitute for you; an idol, so that we may engage in mutual self-worship, with romantic satisfaction that is so fulfilling that I longer have any use for you.”

    Sounds like a lot of match .com ads, if you translate them into their real meaning.

  4. Pedat Ebediyah says:

    @Jack

    ““Dear Lord, please send me a significant other that will completely replace you as the center of my existence. Send me a substitute for you; an idol, so that we may engage in mutual self-worship, with romantic satisfaction that is so fulfilling that I longer have any use for you.”

    Word, Jack.

    This “romantic satisfaction” is really “romantic salvation”. This quest for the “feels” of idolatry completely RUINS the journey.

    I refuse to be stressed out, in my feels, consumed with this “quest” to where I simply can’t live.

    And I will not make another person my Idol, expecting them to do and be a plethora of things that I already have the capacity to be for myself.

    The “all better” syndrome is merely the symptom of societal Oneitis and basically says that Paul, In Phlippians 4:11-13 was just “coping” when he said he learned how to content.

    If we can’t be content in an empty bed, without the orgasm, without someone looking over our shoulder, without the daily validations and affirmations of others, without the status conferred to us when we have a ring on our finger, or trophy on our arm, as opposed to His joy being our daily strength, then we are lost, stressed, and way too pressed as believers.

  5. shadescale says:

    “Churches’ role in matchmaking may have declined for many reasons, but the likeliest seems our growing lack of interest in religious groups altogether.”

    I would argue that the Church does try to matchmake, but it now consists of “Man up” rants. Also when the women in the Church are no different (in general) than the culture, what’s the point?

  6. Elspeth says:

    I think we’re wired to want to be with some one who feels like home, and our fallen natures twist this healthy desire into idolatry. It’s hard to know if you’re in the grips of all better syndrome when emotions are intense. Who doesn’t want someone who they believe is going to make their life in some ways better?

    My brother (52) shocked us all by announcing his impending marriage. A lifelong bachelor whose one and only child is fully grown, he still felt compelled to get married. She’s a sassy something or other, and the siblings and I figure he’s going to have his hands full, but he says this is “the one”. After 52 years. We’re passing the popcorn.

    And praying. A lot.

  7. Pedat Ebediyah says:

    I think we’re wired to want to be with some one who feels like home, and our fallen natures twist this healthy desire into idolatry.

    I concur.  I’ve noticed that lately I haven’t really listened much to my favorite old slow jams or love songs in quite a while, unless someone happens to be in the car with me, and wants to sing out loud.  I have no one to sing for or about…that ship has flown.  I do know that I have a sentimental attachment to some songs, and sing I can sing my ass off, I might go freestyle occasionally…but what’s clear is that Love Songs are definitely all about idolatry and pedestalization.   But you can’t get tingles listening to System Of A Down…or Egypt Central…so I’m good.

    Jennifer at My Little Lambs penned a quaint little post for the youth (hell, adults too) that touches on this and other manifestations of idolatry.

    My brother (52) shocked us all by announcing his impending marriage. A lifelong bachelor whose one and only child is fully grown, he still felt compelled to get married. She’s a sassy something or other, and the siblings and I figure he’s going to have his hands full, but he says this is “the one”. After 52 years. We’re passing the popcorn.

    Well he’s only 2 years old then I am, and I’m going Monk Mode for a couple of years, so keep us posted on what happens.  If, by the time I’m his age, you all haven’t taken Ms. Sassy out back to meet with Jesus or scattered her parts from the Sea of Japan to the Cliff of Dover, then maybe there’s hope for me.  🙂

  8. Looking Glass says:

    Not often you see a reference to Egypt Central. Though “White Rabbit” really is a well constructed song.

    On the topic in general, we’re not wired to “do” life alone. That’s what so much of the dysfunction, in all societies, ends up pointing to. Life without God is all on you alone, and it eventually wears you down. And that’s before Death comes for you.

  9. Elspeth says:

    That music you referenced…not my thing but sounds a lot like the kind of thing my husband would listen to, especially when he’s working out.

    ‘Course he listens to just about everything. I’m partial to Jazz and blues myself when I can’t find decent Christian music, as you probably figured out from my music posts.

    I don’t anticipate any issues with my SIL because I hold sassy women at arm’s length. She’s too old to change without a serious come to Jesus moment (she’s saved so it could happen), and I’m younger than her, if only by a little bit, so the whole Titus 2 thing is invalid. His wife, his problem.

    I took a minute last night to check out that post you linked to. I agree with a great deal of it, at least 90%. The only thing I think she missed is that some of the stuff she mentioned are women’s half-hearted attempts to build community through online relations and interactions.

    For example, I had a woman from our church see my fitbit this past Saturday and ask me to link up with hers to help her stay accountable to get her steps in. I don’t even know where my computer sync up thingie is. I use mine to count my steps for the day and keep moving, but I don’t link up. However, I’m going to link up to help her out. Stuff like that.

    The problem is that online “community” is far, far below anything that can be a long term benefit to anyone involved in it. But everyone is so isolated that they think it’s better than nothing.

    Which brings us back to the OP: People think that at least if they find someone and get married, they won’t be alone anymore. They think that’s gonna make it “all better” but wherever you go, there you are, with or without a spouse. The problem remains.

  10. Pingback: Bisschoppensynode omtrent het gezin | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  11. Exfernal says:

    More realistic than ‘soulmate’ would be seeking ‘someone who understands me and still likes me regardless’.

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