Pay attention for just a short amount of time and it’s easy to spot many ways pop culture glorifies and normalizes infidelity. It’s in our music, movies, shows, social media, and cultural narratives. While the message is often mixed and confusing because disloyalty is seen as taboo—ultimately, the tilt is clear: infidelity in all of it’s forms, from a lustful gaze, to lighthearted flirting, to physical touch is depicted as inevitable, exciting, and worth the risk. The story being told is that the long-term costs or downsides of such behaviors are tolerable in comparison to the temporary upsides. Simply put, the message is this: you can handle it. The pain, fall-out, and consequences of disloyalty are depicted to be an acceptable trade off for what is gained. It is understood that there may be consequences, and people may get hurt, but, in the end, everything will work out ok. You can handle it.

Our society seems to have embraced and normalized the idea that people get hurt in relationships, it’s expected as part of what happens when you’re looking for love. Somewhere along the way, the search for love or the feeling of being wanted has in our collective conscience, justified whatever damage is done in pursuit of these goals. While there’s nothing wrong with seeking a lasting, loving relationship, what seems to be particularly amiss has to do with the assumption that the journey is unavoidably fraught with dishonesty and chaos.

When we accept these dynamics as unavoidable, acts of disloyalty are falsely framed as “learning experiences.” Lust and/or physical, sexual contact arising from a spontaneous casual connection at a party are rationalized as being true to oneself or even more brazenly, “getting lucky.” The damage caused by casual hook-ups or commonplace small acts of unfaithfulness like flirting are seen as things that simply come with the territory of looking for “the one.”

Yet, if we look beyond the narratives being circulated by pop culture and get honest about our actual experiences, we know there is something terribly wrong with these ideas. Actual experiences involving disloyalty result in excruciating pain. These experiences actually tell us that we can’t handle it, that unfaithfulness has a toxic effect on our wellbeing. Rather than intimacy and trust, these situations create distance and cynicism between people. Instead of preparing people for an eventual life of commitment, this way of life erodes our capacity for loyalty. The haunting and enduring sadness of both the betrayer and the betrayed speaks the truth—we have badly misjudged the true cost of unfaithfulness. Real, enduring love is based on trust, honesty, and faithfulness far more than following the thrills of momentary physical attraction.

We’ve been deceived by one-sided, dishonest stories that tell us we can handle or manage the cost of casual approaches to relationships, sex, and dating. The truth is that dishonesty and unfaithfulness, in all of their forms, have a corrosive effect upon all of one’s relationships and actually breed unhappiness. The irony runs deep. The very thing being sought out in the secret sexual or relational encounter is in the end, nowhere to be found. The glittering moments of excitement suddenly vanish and impart not lasting satisfaction and connection, but rather, insecurity and loneliness. The consequences of unfaithfulness are not quickly shaken off, they are more like burns that leave lingering pain and lasting scars.

The costs are not private and tolerable but public and severe.

Along these lines, the ancient wisdom of the Proverbs speaks a timely truth we badly need to hear. In Proverbs 6 we are asked some simple yet powerful questions. Can you scoop fire into your lap without being burned? Can you walk across hot coals without being scorched? Startling images of serious injury are used to illustrate the actual cost of infidelity. The one who is unfaithful is portrayed as one who brings destruction upon themselves and their livelihood. The costs are not private and tolerable but public and severe. In bold and creative terms, the wise teacher calls the young person to shed their illusions and come to terms with the reality of the situation. Look beneath the thin veneer of excitement and face the facts. Here’s the bottom line: You can’t handle or manage it… it won’t make you happy …the consequences of disloyalty are lasting and harsh. While this instruction is very different from what we often hear or see in our movies, shows, and music, it seeks to awaken us to the reality of how things really work and leaves us with a choice. Will we be duped by false, one-sided narratives, or will we seek what is real, good and true?

People don’t work their way into love, into healthy, happy, long-term relationships by doing whatever feels exciting in the moment. This way of life actually brings pain, regret, and delay. In truth, the one who is honest, the one who learns to say no, the one who learns to lay their life down for their friends is the one who creates a life of love. The irony runs deep here too. In saying no to what seems momentarily exciting, we say yes to the possibility of building something satisfying, lasting, and true.

The one who is honest, the one who learns to say no, the one who learns to lay their life down for their friends is the one who creates a life of love.

If you’ve grown tired of trying to find love through the norms of pop culture and you’re looking for something real, we have very good news for you, the community of Northeast is a great place to call home. If you’ve made mistakes in this area, you’re in good company. We are a community that welcomes broken people to find healing and redemption in Jesus. We begin by coming together, opening up and being known. In being totally honest with each other we begin the process of learning together what it means to say yes to the life of love offered by our Father who is good and only wants what is best for us. Let’s discover together how a life built on honesty, discipline and connection is far more rewarding than a life spent seeking fleeting moments of excitement. None of us were made to handle a life of dishonesty and pain.

A different way of life is possible and this is very good news.