The term romance is used to describe styles of literature, situations, and certain languages, such as French and Italian. But, for the purposes of this article, the word romance will be limited to the emotional excitement or attraction that a specific person or situation elicits in another. That kind of romance is a popular topic in our culture. Music, movies, plays, and books capitalize upon our human fascination with romantic love and its seemingly endless expressions. In a Christian worldview, is romance good or bad or somewhere in between?
The Bible has been called God’s love letter to humanity. Although it contains harsh imagery and warnings about God’s judgment, the Bible is also filled with creative expressions of love between human beings and God (Psalm 42:1–2; Jeremiah 31:3). But love and romance, though intertwined, are not identical. We can have romance without real love, and we can love without feeling romantic. While passages such as Zephaniah 3:17 describe God’s emotional love for His own, other passages such as 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 detail qualities of love that have nothing to do with the emotions of romance. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Dying an agonizing death on a cross for ungrateful sinners was in no way romantic, but it was the ultimate expression of love (1 John 4:9–10).
The Song of Solomon is a book filled with romantic demonstrations of love between a bride and groom. Because God included this book in the canon of His inspired Word, we can safely say that romance is acceptable and even applauded by our Creator. Romance in the context of a pure and committed relationship can enhance that relationship and increase the enjoyment of married love as God intended.
However, romance for the sake of romance can be destructive. Most romances begin with the delightful sense of “falling in love,” which can be intoxicating. The act of “falling in love” produces a chemical deluge in the brain similar to that experienced with drug use. The brain is awash in adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin (the feel-good chemicals), which cause us to want to return to the source of that feeling. But, because of our brain’s response, romance can become an addiction. Feasting on “emotional porn” such as romance novels, chick flicks, and sexually themed TV shows sets us up for unrealistic expectations in our real-life relationships.
Researchers estimate that the human brain can only sustain that intense “in love” feeling for a maximum of two years. Ideally, a couple has worked on deepening their love and commitment during that time so that, when the intense feelings of being “in love” taper off, a deeper love takes its place. However, for those “addicted” to romance, this tapering-off signals that it is time to find another person who will induce the same euphoria. Some people diagnosed with “relationship addiction” may, in fact, be addicted to the feelings produced by “falling in love.” Thus, they attempt to recreate that feeling over and over again.
With that description in mind, it is easy to see why love and romance are not necessarily the same. The Bible gives several examples of couples who experienced romantic love and the results of those romances. Genesis 29 tells the story of Jacob falling in love with Rachel. He was willing to work for her father for seven years in order to marry her. Verse 20 says that those seven years were “like a few days to him because of his great love for her.” Although Jacob’s story continued with deception, heartache, and frustration for everyone, his romance with Rachel is not condemned in Scripture. However, romance got Samson into trouble when he let his emotions rule him. Judges 14 details the beginning of Samson’s downfall when he let romance dictate his decisions rather than follow the Lord’s direction.
Romance can be either negative or positive depending upon whether we let those emotions rule our lives. When we are pursuing our feelings, we can get into moral and marriage trouble. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” The popular saying “follow your heart” is terrible advice. When we follow the passions of our hearts, we are easily led into deception, sin, and regret. Instead of pursuing romance, we should pursue the Holy Spirit’s leading in our relationships. It is always wise to pursue love (1 Corinthians 14:1). Then, when in the pursuit of showing love someone special rises to our attention, godly romance can be a gift from our heavenly Father (James 1:17).