What To Do In A Culture of “Freelance Relationships”
A recent article entitled “Sexual Freelancing in the Gig Economy” appeared in the New York Times. Its premise is this: Economics influences dating. The fact that we prefer a Netflix binge nowadays to the Leave-It-To-Beaver date night means that our economic situation has, yet again, shaped us.
And here’s where things get interesting: The article argues that dating simply “applies the logic of capitalism to courtship. On the dating market, everyone competes for him or herself.” Hold on. Is this really the way we view dating? Honestly, I think we have to own it: We do, in fact, tend to treat people as objects instead of people. But is this the way it should be?
What’s more, the article goes on to state,
“The generation of Americans that came of age around the time of the 2008 financial crisis has been told constantly that we must be ‘flexible’ and ‘adaptable.’ Is it so surprising that we have turned into sexual freelancers? Many of us treat relationships like unpaid internships: We cannot expect them to lead to anything long-term, so we use them to get experience. If we look sharp, we might get a free lunch.”
If the article is right, in spite of the fact that humanity has always thought of people as objects to be used, students might be growing up in a world that intensifies this attitude. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Think about the porn epidemic. Think about the hookup culture. Our own use of Instagram might even reflect this mindset of consumeristic relationships!
But this isn’t simply an issue with dating. We tend to treat everyone in this manner. So, as ministers of God’s children, we need to confront a worldly attitude that promotes using other people, and that includes taking each other seriously.
Take Each Other Seriously
We must help ourselves and our students to take each other seriously. People are not commodities to be used or bought for our pleasure. They are not to be invested in for the simple return they may yield to us. As always, C.S. Lewis says it well at the end of his sermon, The Weight of Glory:
“There are no ordinary people . . . it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love. . .”
Do you see what he’s getting at? We Snapchat with immortals. All people will one day be everlastingly transformed into glorious or horrendous beings. And this means that, even in the dating realm, we are to take each other seriously. And part of what it means to take each other seriously is to actually love one another instead of using and exploiting others for our own profit.
Jesus’ words are hard to hear:
- “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25);
- “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13);
- “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
In the topsy-turvy ethic of the Kingdom, true life on this planet looks more like losing an investment than gaining a profit. Love looks more like the cross than the crown. Meaningful relationships look more like the servant who washes feet rather than the master whose feet get washed.
In other words . . .
Meaningful Relationships Are Costly
We need to teach our students that meaningful relationships cost time. In an age of instant gratification and constant stimulation, simply finding the time to talk meaningfully about life is rare; it’s commonplace to see couples at restaurants perusing their Facebook and Twitter feeds. But a meaningful relationship will cost an hour here and there, or thirty minutes when you feel you need to be doing something else. And it must cost a social media-less dinner.
Meaningful relationships also cost the facade. The thing about the freelance mentality of relationships in our culture is that this constant shopping around helps us avoid the true vulnerability that comes with meaningful relationships where we are both known and loved, not simply for our accomplishments but for our failures as well. In fact, social media plays to the maintenance of our facades, but meaningful relationships will cost them.
Meaningful relationships demand the vulnerability and honesty that come from living out of the security of our identity in Christ. In Christ, we are free to demolish our facades. We don’t have to pretend to be someone we’re not. The safety that Christ brings allows us to say “I’m not okay” to our neighbor. This vulnerability is crucial for human flourishing because vulnerability pushes us toward the Kingdom. It helps us to lean into Jesus and into the identity we have been provided in Him. It also causes us to link arms with our neighbor and say, “Me too. Let’s walk this road together”.
Of course, then, meaningful relationships cost ourselves. I’m not saying that we should give ourselves away to every Jack and Jill on the street, but maybe sooner, rather than later, we ought to be thinking, How can I intentionally sacrifice for and serve this other person? How can I serve others in the lunchroom, on the football field, in the school hallway, on social media?
Let’s reorient ourselves and our students around the ethic of the Kingdom. We seek the good of others because He gave Himself away for us (1 John 4:10-11). We give ourselves away in love and service because we get Christ (Philippians 3:8-11) — because we ultimately already have Christ.
Model It For Students
How do we, then, teach and model the concept of taking each other seriously for our students? A couple of things come to mind.
Ask students tough questions. Ask them how life really is. Ask them about their doubts and worries. Ask them about how they view God, themselves, and others. Ask them to explain when they talk about life’s hardships, or how happy they are. Ultimately, ask them questions to let them know that you take both them and God seriously.
Put away the phone. When meeting up with students, let’s ditch our phones. Turn them on vibrate and don’t answer them unless it’s our spouse. Let’s not ever check our social media when we are engaging with students. Let’s be present. Let’s be with them.
Be vulnerable. When talking about how things really are, while still being wise about how much we share, let’s open up about our own doubts, fears, and failures. Let’s let them know that we are no more a super-Christian than they are.
Taking each other seriously means that we really listen to, learn from, sacrifice for, ask the hard questions of, and pray for the students that come into our paths. It is to truly and thoughtfully help each other towards Jesus.
What is the prevalent view of people we are passing on to students? Does it look more like the gig-relationship mindset that pervades our culture? Or does it look more like Jesus, who takes us and our lives seriously from the outset, who served us that we might be washed, and who sacrificed Himself that we might have life in Him?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.