McKee has taught me a lot about a lot, but he has caused a major paradigm shift in my idea of romance.
I've read Joshua Harris and Cloud & Townsend and heard from a dozen other older, probably wiser men and women on how romance should be done. I think it's a very important issue, and should not be so often dismissed as some type of adolescent angst. Romance is, essentially, the process of answering the second most important question you will ever face: Should I marry someone, and if so, who?
How you decide to answer this question will define the rest of our life more dramatically than anything else, save your relationship with God. Therefore, deciding the process by which we find the answer is neither trivial or childish, but serious beyond most other activities and ultimately life defining.
McKee doesn't really offer advice about romance, but he offers some profound insights about human nature, and it's rocked my world.
In making decisions about friendships or romantic relationships, most people are entirely trait focused. What are their spiritual gifts? What are their personality traits? Are they introverted or extroverted? What are their goals? What is their calling? Are they Complimentarian? Calvinist? What is their character like? Are they honest, ethical, compassionate, genuine? Do their know the Bible? What are their flaws? What are their strengths? Do I enjoy spending time with them? Do I trust them? Do I think they are attractive?
Knowing someone's traits probably has some degree of importance, and answering questions like those is probably worth doing before you dive in head first, but that used to be my primary basis for deciding if I should date someone, as I believe it is for most people. Then I read McKee.
People's personality changes. They have new life experiences, they have hormone changes, and their personality changes. People's character changes, both for the better and for the worse. People make moral compromises, God convicts and changes people's hearts. For these reasons, everything about a person that is in any way trait based is perpetually in flux, and fundamentally unreliable. As such, personality or character traits are not a good basis on which to make a lifelong commitment.
There is a difference between knowing someone and knowing about someone. As a rule of thumb, everything you could possibly explain to a third party about someone is what you know about them. What you could never explain or articulate, is you knowing them. Everything you know about their traits is stuff you know about them. This is mostly unrelated to whether you actually know them or not.
If you are a Christian, you were predestined before the foundation of the world to be a child of God (1 Peter). You were known intimately before you were created, and you, like everyone else, where created in the Image of God, (Genesis 2) but we were each created in the Image uniquely. That is, you bear a slightly different angle of the Image than I do. We are all created by God with the greatest intentionality, containing at our very core a reflect of the nature of God, but each of those cores is slightly different, showing slightly different aspects of God. (See Grudem's "Systematic Theology")
Furthermore, we each are in the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, which is a process of perfection of our own unique natures. When we have all been perfected, we will all still be different, because God has made us all unique, yet bearing his image.
Beyond your traits and goals and gifts and calling and talent and masks and history and all the layers we all have, you have a core to your being, and inner most self. This is unique and created specifically by God. It may show differently as your character and personality changes, but your inner most self never changes. God does not alter it. It is who you are at the most basic level. It is the epitome of the unique image of God inside you.
People have many desires, both conscious and unconscious. Your unconscious desires are unconscious mostly because they are too fundamental and too complex to be articulated, even to yourself. McKee says your unconscious desires are always stronger than your conscious desires, and that as you grow as a human being, your conscious desires will more closely compliment your unconscious desires.
McKee also as you have one unconscious desire that is stronger than all the others, and in the end, it rules your life. Perhaps you have heard "Character is destiny." I think this is what it means. Not character traits, but who you are at the most fundamental level defines what your life will be, in the long run. The longer you live, the more this "controlling desire" dominates your life. You will, ultimately, make decisions out of your most fundamental and compelling part of your nature.
This controlling desire is generally too deep to be aware of, too fundamental to analyze, and too complex and multi-faceted to understand, let alone communicate to someone else. It is too deep in your inner self to be observed, but I think you can know a little bit about it by seeing its effects.
If God has designed you to get married, your innermost self, your controlling desire, has been designed to compliment and be complimented by the innermost self, the controlling desire of one other person better than any other person. You are designed to fit together at the deepest level with one other person, like a lock and a key, you are made for each other. I believe this predestination to compliment one another applies only to your deepest, truest self, and not to the multitude of personality and character traits, goals and gifts, that are closer to the surface and forever in flux.
Granting all of this is true, the question of romance then becomes how to discern whose innermost self most compliments your own. This is, I think, going to be different for different couples, but I have a few ideas.
- Know yourself, or else everything else is useless.
- It is impossible to discern the character or true self of a person who is not genuine, honest, and, at least to some degree, vulnerable. Someone who is not this way may be a wonderful person, but you have no way of knowing. Ergo, this person is not ready to date. Period.
- Experiencing someone's controlling desire takes a lot of time spent together. I think it is a good idea to spend a lot of time with someone as a friend (both one on one and in a group) before you decide to invest romantically.
- Judgment is clouded in a vacuum. It's important to be close friends with several members of the opposite sex so that you can tell the difference between infatuation based on superficial traits or the thrill of getting to know someone deeply, and the potential for lifelong commitment between someone who is deeply compatible with you.
- The best measure of compatibility is the effect you have on them and the effect they have on you. Are you closer to God because of the friendship? Are they? Do they merely make you feel good, or do they facilitate holistic growth as a person, not because they are trying to, but just because it is naturally how they interact with you? Do they edify you the way you might most mature Christians to, or do they seem unusually designed to build you up in particular, and you them? You can't see their controlling desire, and you probably won't ever be able to quantify or describe it, but you can see its effects. Do the effects you have on one another suggest you are designed to fit together. This does not mean you get along or make each other feel good as much as it means that you help each other grow.
- Watch what actions the other person takes. Actions tell you a lot about who a person is. The more pressure, the more significant the choice, the more the choice tells you about their true self. Pay attention, people make more significant choices than you may realize.
"Life teaches this grand principle: What seems is not what is. People are not what they appear to be. A hidden nature waits concealed behind a facade of traits. No matter what they say, no matter how they comport themselves, the only way we ever come to know characters in depth is through their choices under pressure." - Robert McKee