Opinion | Pop Culture

Ryan Gosling, Romance Novels, and the Dangers of Fantasizing

The problem isn't that we long for something better. It's that we long for too small of things.

It's 5 o'clock and you're stuck in traffic with hungry kids in the backseat, and no dinner waiting for you once you get home.

Hey girl. It's cool that you made a three-course meal for the mom in your co-op that just had a baby—then hit the drive-through on the way home to feed your own family. I kinda like room temperature fries.

Or maybe it's only 11 o'clock on Tuesday morning and you've already gotten three urgent projects you hadn't budgeted time for, and the coffee machine is broken and you're afraid that guy on the train who coughed in your face gave you a cold because now your throat feels weird.

Hey Girl, I know you ain't feelin' it today. That's why I'm so proud to see you at that desk, doing what you do best. Cheers.

Whether you're a homeschooling mom, a feminist, a knitter, a literary agent—or one of many other types of women—there's a message from indie actor-heartthrob Ryan Gosling meant just for you. In each blog post, Gosling is there to be handsome while he offers understanding and consolation for your mundane but particular drudgery or disappointment.

In some ways, the online meme is fairly innocent. And in their tendency to highlight various frustrations and minor grievances common to particular subcultures, these faux Goslings can even create a sense of shared experience, along with the release of laughter and pleasure of seeing the handsome Canadian actor in various poses.

But if even one of those wishes came true, and Gosling suddenly stood beside us, actually saying what we wish he might, would it put doctors out of business, stop all earthquakes and volcanoes, suck up all the venom beneath our tongues?

Of course not. And that's one of the problems with escapist fantasies. Though we almost always turn to them when life's brokenness has reasserted itself, such fantasies represent the wrong kind of change.

Don't get me wrong—to sense that the world is not as it should be is the right response to sin and the fall. And it's right and good to long for restoration. But fantasies like Ryan Gosling addressing you as "Hey girl," or the newest romance novel topping the NYT bestseller list, or the Lucky Vanous Diet Coke breaks of yesteryear, don't do anything to help advance the change that's really needed. They just fleetingly numb our individual pain.

The first time I indulged a fantasy of this sort toward the end of high school, as I waited for my ride home from a job at the mall. As I sat there on the cold cement curb, fending off the advances of loneliness, the thought came to me: Oh, if only my crush were to drive by, see me here and offer a ride.

Just one little wish, but it ushered in a habit that I've fought ever since, of tying any and all dissatisfaction with life to my lack of a romantic partner. Doing so has not only caused me to burden love with expectations and needs it could never satisfy, it has also nurtured in me a habit of longing for too little.

Yes, you read that right: too little.

Admittedly, it would be a pretty big deal if Ryan Gosling actually showed up in your living room or mine—even moreso if that conversation surpassed a discussion of possible autographs or Facebook photos to reach the subject matter of personal needs. That would be extraordinary.

It would also produce a merely fleeting buzz, fail completely to address any possible failings in you or me that contributed to the circumstance behind the escapist fantasy, and would do absolutely nothing to help those facing far more serious problems in life.

In his famous sermon "The Weight of Glory," C. S. Lewis said that the problem with our desires is not that they are "too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

I'll be honest: I'm writing this on a night when cooking projects took much longer than I expected them to and didn't go as well as I had hoped. Because of that, I'm now working at an hour when I hoped to be fast asleep. The temptation to fantasize about other scenarios, shared with a man, is especially strong.

By God's grace, I've made a lot of progress in changing my instinctive habits of thought when I'm feeling discouraged or alone. Even so, the number of times I've turned to a fantasy of some kind far outnumbers the times I've prayed, Come, Lord Jesus.

for a long time I was honestly scared to pray that prayer. Between a distorted view of the afterlife (heavy on new heavens, light on new earth) and a scarring childhood viewing of the end-times thriller A Thief in the Night, I feared Jesus' return would be more disruptive than welcome. But the older I get, the more I realize that his return and the coming-in-full of God's kingdom is the only way that all that is broken in me and the world can be healed and restored.

"They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
the work of their hands.
They will not labor in vain,
nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD,
they and their descendants with them."

That's from Isaiah, which I've found a pretty good book for helping me enlarge my desires beyond mud pies and Ryan Gosling. Best of all, it's not a fantasy, but a description of what will be. So the next time you're discouraged and weary, why not press into your God-given longing a bit more and cry out for full-fledged restoration of the brokenness you're presently encountering?

Anna Broadway is a writer and web editor living in the San Francisco Bay area. She is the author of Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity and a regular contributor to Her.meneutics.

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