When #RelationshipGoals Just Don’t Cut it Anymore

I’ve had enough of romantic love
I’d give it up, yeah, I’d give it up
For a miracle drug
        -U2, Miracle Drug

In writing this post, I admit up front that I am a contributing culprit in this endeavor. As a wedding photographer, I have shot the perfect picture countless times from just the right angle so as to make the bride and grooms’ nuptials look flawless (See above…hire me). I can take those pictures they will share on social media in order to evoke emotion (or envy?) in their friends and followers.

There is so much that goes into the aesthetics of a wedding that sometimes the actual purpose of the day can get overlooked. I’ve seen it happen and can tell a difference between the fiancees who just want the wedding to look good, and those who could care less about the aesthetics as long as they get to unite themselves to their best friend.

There is a difference between something appearing to be romantic versus what I’m calling Deep Romance.

As an example, let’s look to theology in relation to the sacraments. Depending on your denominational background, there are a million ways to view them, but I like the allusion to a road sign. Imagine a yellow sign with black squiggly bacon on it, indicating a curvy road ahead. The sign points to the reality of the curvy road without actually participating in the curviness of the road.

The sign represents a physical reality.

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In the same way, the communion cup and bread point to the very real body and blood of Christ to which we have united ourselves. They themselves are not what saves us and unites us to Him, though they do play an important role.

They are elements of the relationship, not the relationship itself.

I once dated a girl in New York who, soon after our first date, told me that she absolutely needed a diamond ring before she got married.

“Not a little dinky one either… It needs to have some real diamonds in it!” she would say.

I had never planned on purchasing a real diamond in my lifetime because of the ethical questions behind their origins. Not only that, but the entire concept of gifting a diamond ring to your beloved emerged in the early 1900s as an advertising campaign from De Beers, spiking sales of diamond engagement rings. In other words, the entire notion behind them has nothing to do with real love, romance or affection in a marriage, but a cultural advertising push not even a century ago.

Yet in our Western culture, it is nearly unheard of—though it is slowly becoming more common—to have an engagement without a diamond ring. As if the covenant could not possibly be complete without the carbon allotrope atop her knuckle.

Though I never planned on purchasing a diamond for my beloved, I do plan on finding something deeply personal and symbolic to represent our love. My cousin’s husband proposed to her with a ring bearing her birthstone which happened to be her favorite color. I know another couple whose husband crafted the ring himself from materials he sourced all on his own. Aren’t those so much better??

Yet the girl in NYC was unrelenting in her persistence for a costly diamond ring. She conflated the artifact with what it represented—true love, deep romance.

To her, the symbol of the love was more important than the love itself.

And that’s exactly what this post is: An encouragement to sort through and prioritize what is real in a relationship (things like commitment, trust, honesty, and intimacy), versus what is just extracurricular (Mushy selfies, diamond rings, and small romantic gestures) because we often conflate the two.

Now, none of this post is meant to suggest that those bonus things are bad. They are important and valuable, just like road signs are necessary to alert us to the reality of the road conditions. They are ways of communicating love to one another, and creating mementos or symbols to remind our family of the love we have for them. And they’re so much fun! But often we lose sight of the line dividing what is sustaining versus what is just pleasant, but ultimately hollow if there is no substance beneath it.

Deep down, we all know that what our souls crave are honest intimacy, deep affection and nurture, and loyal commitment. But so often we settle for hoping for a diamond ring or a flashy wedding because frankly, those things are easier to attain. They are easier to point to and identify in concrete terms.

I have no facts to back this up, but I wonder if part of the reason for a continued rise in divorce in my generation is because we long so desperately for Superficial Romance that when someone comes along who seems adequate enough to supply us with fluffy feelings and expensive gifts, we leap for them. How many women have been wooed by a giant diamond ring without fully knowing the integrity of her suitor? Or maybe he was just ‘nice’ to her for a few months. How many men have been so eager to place a beautiful woman by their side that they proposed to the first one who said yes?

There is a lot of deceptive fluff in the world.

Yet when I look at people like my grandparents who are approaching 80 (after meeting when they were 14), it’s not the diamond ring, gifts, or romantic social exposure that has held them together all these years. It’s something much deeper. It’s combination of honesty, intimacy, hard work, longsuffering, trust, and a myriad of other factors which, frankly, are not as immediately alluring. Who wants anything to do with longsuffering? I’ve summed them up into the phrase:

Deep Romance.

Because that’s what I want. I think that’s what we all want: To be deeply known and still loved. To be embarrassingly vulnerable, yet accepted. To be committed to. And none of these are things that cameras can capture or money can buy, so for that reason, many people in our world overlook them in favor of easier, more superficial things like #relationshipgoals.

Deep Romance takes time. It takes painful honesty and a lot of trial and error. It takes patience.

And then it takes more patience.

Growing in this is difficult and takes a lot of experimenting and wisdom. Hang out with older couples who can help reorient your #goals toward things that are deep and lasting rather than flashy and fleeting. Look into the Word to see what God’s intent for marriage truly is: Which elements are integral and which ones are expendable or invented by modern marketing gurus?

I hope that we, especially those of us who are Christians, will continue to see romantic gestures and symbols as good things, which they are. There is nothing to make you feel alive like a first kiss or a letter in the mail.

But I hope that we keep them in their proper places: As symbols pointing to a romance much deeper than what others can see. I hope we remember it’s not the ring holding a husband and wife together, but the love, trust, and intimacy they share.

It’s the Deep Romance.

Ethan Renoe
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Ethan is a speaker, writer, and photographer currently living in Los Angeles. He has lived on 6 continents, gone to 6 schools, had 28 jobs, and done 4 one-armed pull-ups. He recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute. Follow him at or check him out on Facebook