Have you heard the myth of the guy who fell in love with his own statue?
As his marble goddess glistened in the sunlight, Pygmalion smiled.
Both stood speechless. Unlike the rabble he found littering the streets, here was a beauty worth admiring. After months of chiseling, carving, and crafting, there she stood: his idol, his beauty, his beloved.
He named her Galatea.
When I first heard the story of Pygmalion, I laughed. A man, disillusioned with real women in his city, went off to build a statue and then fell in love with it. Ridiculous.
But then I did something dangerous: I thought about it more.
The myth bothered me. I could not shake the pitiful image of a man shutting himself off from real women in order to fall in love with a fake one. Where had I seen this before? As I mused, the image became clearer. In the foolishness of Pygmalion, I saw a reflection of myself. I was in love with an idol goddess I created.
For me, Galatea was a collage of ideals. She had the smile of a cover girl, the mind of a scholar, the godliness of the Proverbs 31 woman, the physique of a model. Her smiles would always soothe, her cooking always delight, and her company always entertain. She was the ideal by which all mortal women of flesh and blood were compared.
And when women didn’t compare (because they couldn’t), I added another bolt on the door, and assumed that I would be lonely forever.
The sad part was that loneliness with Galatea was preferable.
A perfect love just out of reach was better than an attainable, imperfect love.
C.S. Lewis captures the essence of this preference in Shadowlands: “The most intense joy lies not in the having, but in the desiring. The delight that never fades, the bliss that is eternal, is only yours when what you most desire is just out of your reach.” A just-out-of-reach love glistened compared to a love touched by human imperfection. I wanted the just-before-the-credits-roll romance.
So, I was left with Galatea. She was invulnerable to decay and disease — a plastic plant’s leaves do not wither.
A relationship with godly women in the church seemed too earthly for me. As Peter Leithart diagnoses,
In classical romance, the man does not really want fulfillment of his love. To consummate his love would mean getting married and having to cope with the grind of daily life together. Marriage is much too earthly for the romantic. The romantic revels in obstacles. He wants to suffer feelings of love without allowing love to come to fruition in a permanent, covenanted relationship. . . . A man who believes his beloved to be the ideal of perfection cannot tolerate any hint of imperfection. This is one reason the romantic does not want to get too close to his beloved; deep down he knows if he gets too close he will discover blemishes and imperfections. (Brightest Heaven, 255)
As a classic romantic, I reveled in obstacles. I wrote in my journal years ago,
I sing to the beauty in the windowsill,
Armed with roses for my flower.
I love the chase, the distant face,
. . . But am thankful for the tower.
I desired love — just not a blemished one found in a fallen world. I was tormented by echoes of Genesis 1 and 2, without being able to cope with Genesis 3 — with the the fall of man, and with him, marriage. So, Galatea became a refuge from the inevitable: a marriage with tears, fights, and frustrations. A marriage lived largely in the mundane and ordinary. Galatea stood as a marble fortress warding off general disappointment, just as Jane’s absence did for Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice.
[C]ould she have included Jane in the scheme, every part would have been perfect. “But it is fortunate,” thought she, “that I have something to wish for. Were the whole arrangement complete, my disappointment would be certain. But here, my carrying with me one ceaseless source of regret in my sister’s absence, I may reasonably hope to have all my expectations of pleasure realized. A scheme of which every part promises delight can never be successful; and general disappointment is only warded off by the defense of some little particular vexation.”
I dated Galatea because she provided hope. Maybe, just maybe, she — in human form — was just around the corner. Maybe, just maybe, she really existed. The reason I am discontent, I thought, is because I haven’t found her yet.
Court Galatea and she will become brutal towards real women and earthly relationships. Holding onto Galatea is not merely naïve; it is costly. Continue to date Galatea and you will
- crush your significant other/spouse with undue expectations,
- linger in loneliness when God puts wonderful options before you,
- casually date without ever committing,
- continue in idol worship.
Dump her (or him), I beg you. I’ll lead the charge.
My fairest Galatea,
How can I part from you?
Your smile radiates heat warmer than desert sand.
How can I break this orbit, escaping my every thought of you?
Be left holding this glass slipper in my hand?
Immaculate Galatea, how you have wrecked me so.
Your gaze more entrancing than the shooting stars above.
I am atrophied; dimmed at years before your marble glow.
I’ve starved myself of bread to taste your love.
Bewitching Galatea, I must divorce from you.
Go from perfect marble feet to that of clay.
I confess, my heart gives way at giving up on you.
But I must break from your spell or waste away.
Royal Galatea, I cannot keep you crowned,
Ruling my heart’s warmth from far off lands.
I searched for you — the fairy tale I never found.
Now I must dash the marble idol of my hands.
My fairest Galatea, I must now part from you.
No longer will I drink deeply of Cupid’s wine.
I see now, that every pant and aching thought of you,
Was nothing less than thirst for the Divine.
Galatea: Thirst for the Divine
But there is some truth in the myth.
Over the years, I realized that Galatea was largely a misplaced thirst for God. I had, what theologians call, an over-realized eschatology. I expected heaven-on-earth now, so I was searching for the great Romance to be found with a mere mortal. But God is a better storyteller than Disney. The Galatea of the galaxy came to earth to love his unfaithful, weak, broken, fallen, ugly, unclean, and rebellious people. And by his death, the one made his bride beautiful. Jesus died for the godless.
And he is coming again. He alone is Galatea. All frail, weak, and imperfect spouses point to him.