This week I learned about a new app for your phone that seems like a curious reflection on our times.
Featured in a story on the podcast “Note To Self,” which is on NPR, the app is called “Invisible Girlfriend.”
If you sign up, for 25 dollars a month, you are invited to fill out a profile for the significant other you desire — that perfect match you dream of, the one who understands you perfectly…that someone you imagine who is the perfect company to your misery, if you will.
And then, with that done, you have access to a phone number, to which you can send text messages whenever you like, as often as you like, with the promise that someone on the other side will always text you back right away, guaranteed.
“Invisible Girlfriend” will always respond always care, always say something positive. No matter what.
Apparently, in 2015, a year into its founding, the app already had as many as 80,000 subscribers.
As the podcast describing it noted, we all need someone to tell or text our stories to, even if they are paid to text us back.
When it was founded, the creators of “Invisible Girlfriend” had another use in mind.
They had imagined all the people who get hounded by their mothers about when they’re going to find someone — boom — “Mom, I have a girlfriend. See? We text back and forth all the time.”
They imagined women getting asked out by someone at work — boom — “I’m so sorry, but I’m already seeing someone.”
When it all started, they had no sense that subscribers might use the app for something approaching actual companionship, however ultimately fictive.
Yet that’s what has happened.
If you send it a text that says, “I love you,” within moments, someone will be sure to write back that they love you, too. Without fail.
Do you know anybody that this might work for?
Because I do.
Or rather, I think that when push comes to shove, so much of what we seek in our relationships is just a sense of being heard. If that’s true, then “Invisible Girlfriend” can pretty much provide that.
Have you ever had something happen…it could have been good or bad…but you just needed to tell someone…and for whatever reason, you end up confiding in a complete stranger?
Throughout my life, I have often turned out to be that stranger, so, if this is something you’ve never done and never would, let me just say, this is something that happens all the time.
Sometimes, strangers are easier to tell — more reliable about giving us the response we’re hoping for than the people who are closest to us.
To put it mildly, to be close to someone is a complicated thing.
In the days before Liz and I met, I was in a relationship that was finally entering its terminal phase. One day I had some small piece of good news — I don’t even remember what it was, but something along the lines of a compliment from my boss — and I realized that small as it was, I couldn’t tell my girlfriend about it because she would only pooh-pooh it, or somehow try to take it away.
An “Invisible Girlfriend” would have been a lot kinder to me than that.
O.k., so it’s not love, exactly.
But it’s a fair approximation of the language of affection, and sometimes maybe a little affection is really all we need.
Of course, we’re talking about this today because, with Valentine’s Day coming later this week, we’re about to see a vivid display of what our culture thinks love is, or what it ought to be.
Affection really isn’t enough as far as Valentine’s Day is concerned.
That may be true.
But love as Valentine’s Day would have it looks a particular kind of way, and I’m not sure it’s much closer to the real thing than “Invisible Girlfriend” is.
Amid all the doilies, chocolates, tissue paper hearts and candlelight suppers for two with strolling violinists, you can see why people can start feeling strange.
The philosopher Jacob Needleman once observed that, “bluntly stated, what we often demand of others is that they be devoured by their feelings for us. We feel safe only when the other is obsessed by us. When the obvious signs of obsession are absent, we begin to worry” (The Wisdom of Love, 42).
Hallmark and Godiva and McArdles’s are counting on that worry.
But I think they count on us to perform the little rituals of affirming the banked embers of our passion, when so often, it’s the little gestures of affection that would say much more.
It’s in Genesis 2 that God seems to point to marriage — at least, the ancients seemed to think so.
Having created the Universe, God sees the man putzing around the Garden of Eden and concludes, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helper as his partner.”
God starts with the animal kingdom — animals of the field and birds of the air. It’s not enough.
Scripture says, “The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.”
And then God creates Eve.
The man says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” and the story goes on to say, “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (2:24).
But I’ve always liked the account of Creation in Genesis 1 even more, and it describes humankind created together, after all other things had been brought into being.
In Genesis 1, it reports, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1: 27).
This speaks to me a lot more than the notion of “clinging” or of “becoming one flesh” ever could.
Because it says that each of us…women and men, all of us, in any combination, joined in whatever ways we may be…joined according to whatever traditions might emerge, or joined just by being in each other’s lives…whatever that is…each of us is marked by something truly remarkable: we are made in the image of God.
Whatever else we might share, we share that.
And yet the point of that is not to say that really we are all the same.
It is to say that God finds expression — that God’s own likeness — is to be found in all the things that make each one of us unique.
Each of us expresses something about who God is — we each show something about God’s very self.
It’s our little quirks that probably say the most about the “God part” of us.
Our smile. Our posture. The fact that we might be adults, but we still find cartoons hilarious. The way we always end up blinking by accident whenever anybody with a camera says “Cheese!”
And deeper things. Our special expressions of tenderness. The things that make us cry. The songs we choose when we sing in the shower.
It all touches the divine image.
What that means for love is pretty significant.
It suggests that love is knowing these relentless particularities about another person, about learning how we notice and encounter and, in some sense, share them with other people — how we learn to trade them with other people.
You take my awful cooking and I’ll take your inexplicable fondness for beige.
You know that it’s on the water that I feel most free; I know that our daughter gets her eyes from your grandmother.
That’s what it is to have our lives comingled. It is to be anchored by those things. Even to see God in those things.
What the symbols of Valentine’s Day and the app makers of “Invisible Girlfriend” end up getting wrong about love is just this.
They seem to suggest that love is something generic…something obvious…something that affirms us by suggesting that the other is devoured by their need for us–always available, always at the ready to tell us just what we want, and to promise that they see us exactly however it is we most hope to be seen.
Genesis suggests that love is something altogether different.
Genesis proposes that love is found in the powerfully specific…in the good, the bad and the ugly about us, in the things that are just undeniably us, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.
To those who love as God loves, those are the parts of us that are nothing short of holy.
May you find ways to notice and to celebrate those things in the people you love the most this week. And may God bless you in the celebrating.