Love is one of the more complicated concepts that we deal with. Even defining it proves a challenge, and the dynamics, emotions, and social interactions that accompany it only grow more complicated from there. The broken nature of our world has corrupted what was once a beautiful expression of selflessness, turning it into a power struggle. Who can be the less caring one in a relationship? Whoever cares less has less to lose, and holds all the power. The show ‘Kaguya-sama: Love is War’ describes the result perfectly in its opening sequence:
“You fall in love with someone, confess that love, and become a couple. Everyone would say that’s a wonderful thing.
But they’re wrong! Even among sweethearts, there exists a distinct power relationship! A side that exploits and a side that’s exploited, a side that’s devoted, a side receiving devotion, a winner and a loser! If you’re trying to live a noble life, then you mustn’t become a loser.
Love is war! The person who falls in love loses!”
This show, though a comedy, falls under the category of ‘funny because it’s true.’ Though the show dramatizes the concept considerably, relationships today often do struggle with power dynamics and manipulation.
How did love turn into this? What should a relationship look like from a Christian standpoint? What can we do to have a loving, romantic relationship that honors God without falling into these pitfalls? The answers- as they often do- lie in the bible.
First, it might be good to consider (briefly) what the original intent for love is. In Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good that man should be alone,” and creates woman. We know, then, that man is not made to be alone, and that the nature of the relationship between man and woman, husband and wife, is meant to save us from loneliness. The next time we see the word ‘love’ used in a romantic context is between Jacob and Rachel; Jacob spends seven years working for her hand in marriage, yet ‘they seemed to him, but a few days because of the love he had for her.’
What a striking difference this is from the ‘love is war’ perspective- not only does he quickly and immediately confess his love without thought of appearing ‘weak,’ but he happily works for seven years for it. Love, at least in its original, pure form, is about self-sacrifice—something many of us have heard before, but rarely sinks in. Romantic love, like any love, is a reflection of God’s heart towards us. 1 John 4:19 says that “We love because He first loved us.” And how did he love us? Selflessly and unconditionally. Not because we deserved it, but because he chose to- best seen in the ultimate expression of love. John 15:13- “There is no greater love than this—that a man should lay down his life for his friends.” And he did.
But humankind is broken. Not everything is as it should be! In our fallen nature, we are selfish creatures, quick to find ways to benefit ourselves at the cost of others. This is where the problem starts. When both members of a relationship are selfless, loving each other without a thought for their benefit, it works. But what if one person takes, letting the other give to them? Because there can be a lot to gain from a relationship. Emotional support, money, power- and that’s only the start.
Sometimes the benefits of a relationship go far beyond what your partner gives you or does for you. If they’re particularly attractive, or smart, or popular, just being in a relationship with them is enough to give you social prestige—not to mention pride. It’s been said that pride is the root of all sin, and it’s easy to see how it could tear apart a romantic relationship. Pride is the desire to feel better than another person- and what makes you feel better than someone confessing their love for you? Do they love you for being beautiful? Intelligent? It hardly matters- we’ve gotten it ingrained in our minds that to have love confessed to us means that we are better than others. True love is undeserved and selfless, but pride tells us that we are loved because we deserve it. That we are so good, so much better than the peasants around us, that, of course, everyone loves us.
Is it any surprise, then, that Kaguya-Sama is about two students full of pride? Kaguya, daughter of a wealthy, high-class family, who thinks her wealth and talent puts her above the other peasants she has to deal with. Miyuki, student council president, who believes his hard work and academic achievements puts him above those who are too lazy to succeed. Both are entitled and prideful, to the point of believing a love confession beneath them. They are far from Jacob and Rachel, a humble farm worker and his shepherdess crush. The tension between their pride and love that makes the show so entertaining to watch.
Perhaps we all secretly root for love to win out, hoping that at some point, one of them will let their pride crack and confess their true feelings. Not just out of hope for a fictional couple to fall in love, but because that’s what the world needs more of—selfless love that puts loving others before pride and selfish desire.
I feel obliged, here, to remind the reader that this is still a broken, sin-filled world. To love selflessly is a beautiful thing; love can and does make significant changes in people. But it is not your job to ‘fix’ someone who takes your love and gives nothing back, who makes you feel empty even as you pour out everything for them. God may be able to love infinitely, but we are finite- there are times that we must continue to love healthily, and set boundaries in our relationships. It can hurt, and sometimes we must even cut off toxic relationships entirely (whether temporarily or permanently). Just know that despite what some may say, to separate yourself from a relationship that is hurting you is not selfish. In the long run, it will heal both you (from being manipulated and drained) and them (from their pride and need for affirmation). Love selflessly, but do not exhaust yourself by providing for someone’s emotional needs and neglecting your own.
But I loathe ending this article on such a sad thought. In the end, though none of us are perfect, we all can agree with Genesis 2:18 that it is not good to be alone. And with some help from God, we can love like he does today, without pride or selfishness to hold us back. Love may be war, but we’ll never win it until we recognize our pride as the real enemy.