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My generation, which came of age in the 1980s and 1990s, was inducted into the idolatry of love through romantic movies and love songs. The film The Princess Bride captured the vibe. It’s a sarcastic fairy tale, but it’s a fairy tale. Picture two blond and beautiful individuals, detached from all family and meaningful relations, alone in the world, beset by misfortune, yet trading ironic quips and saving themselves by the power of “true love.”
Or maybe you saw the teen-bop romance movie Say Anything. If so, you remember the magical moment when the lead character holds a boom box above his head, arms outstretched, outside the second-story bedroom of the girl he loves—a Gen-X version of a damsel in distress needing rescue by her knight. She’s restless in her room, imprisoned by an angry father. The music reverberates upward as the singer proclaims himself “complete in your eyes” in a way he could not be through “a thousand churches” and “fruitless searches.” The hero’s message couldn’t be clearer: Our salvation isn’t in the church. It’s in each other. We “complete” each other.
References - Generation—millennial - Xers - Boomers - Way
Though these pop-culture references are dated, you can pick your generation—millennial, Xers, boomers, all the way back to the generation of The Scarlet Letter and before that—and each has its version of the same story. It’s the story of individualism and individualist conceptions of love.
Love stories have existed for millennia. Yet, in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, a new conception of romantic love began to arise amid a flurry of poetry and novels. Romanticism offered a vision of love decidedly set against the structures, hierarchies, and traditions of the past. According to this view, romantic love involves not just sexual attraction. It involves finding someone who “completes me” (Giddens, 44–45). It starts with looking inside myself: “Never mind...
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