What does romance look like in 2017?
British singer Ed Sheeran's answer to that question starts with drinking at a bar. Flirting leads to a casual-but-passionate hookup.
From there, it's off to … a first date.
'I'm the Guy You're Looking For'
For anyone looking for love (or just lust), Sheeran begins his song with this pragmatic counsel. "The club isn't the best place to find a lover/So the bar is where I go."
At the pub, Sheeran can toss drinks down with his mates ("Me and my friends at the table doing shots") and, apparently, just wait for his Jedi-like magnetic appeal to pull in an attractive, would-be hookup partner, preferably an aggressive woman who's willing to take all the risk while Ed just sits there passively waving his hand like Obi-Wan: "Come over and start up a conversation with just me/And trust me that I'll give it a chance now."
Right, Trust me.
Soon he's instructing her on what she should say to him: "Say, 'Boy, let's not talk too much/Grab my waist and put that body on me.'"
To paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi again, "I'm the guy you're looking for."
Is This Really What Women Want to Hear?
Sheeran's mastery of metaphysical barroom alchemy yields pay dirt. "And last night you were in my room/And now my bedsheets smell like you." Then there's this oft-repeated couplet: "Oh I, oh I, oh I, oh I/I'm in love with your body."
Sheeran cuts through the pretense, not even pretending interest in this woman as a person initially. It's all about her body, her smell, the way she makes him feel: "Every day I'm discovering something brand new/I'm in love with the shape of you."
Now, I suspect most women long for a man who's attracted to them physically. But I even more strongly suspect that a man telling a woman he's in love with her body might not be received quite as the compliment perhaps Sheeran intends it to be. A woman wants to be loved for who she is—as a person, as a human being—not as a … body.
Ed Sheeran may be so caught up in his own sweet-talkin' Jedi awesomeness here that he really thinks he's communicating something affirming to his pretty new lover. But what he's really telling her is that she's an object that makes him happy on his objectifying terms.
Getting Things Backwards
Given all that, I was a bit surprised when Sheeran later describes pursuing an actual relationship to go with all the sex he's so intoxicated by: "One week in, we let the story begin/We're going out on our first date." Which, apparently, means that the first week of body-loving trysts didn't count for much—and that they certainly weren't dates. So Sheeran and his partner have one of those, now, too, where they begin to discover some common ground: "You and me are thrifty/So go all you can eat/ … We talk for hours and hours about the sweet and the sour/And how your family is doing OK."
Sheeran does deserve credit here for moving past a casual, "meaningless" hookup (or several of them, perhaps) into something approximating a real relationship: talking. Eating. Sharing. Telling their stories. These are good things, natural stair steps in a gradual process of becoming more emotionally intimate with someone over time.
In the context of marriage, sexual intimacy becomes an outward, physical expression of a beautiful relational reality of love and trust that's already been forged (and hopefully tested, too) through that emotional bonding process. But what happens when things get turned around? Is that a firm foundation for trust and longevity?
Lasting Love or Train Wreck?
Unhooked from a biblical understanding of the purpose and place of sexual expression as God designed and intended it, our mainstream secular culture sees no problem with starting a relationship via physical intimacy, then perhaps moving toward the emotional kind. One's just as good as another, many today might argue, and relational growth can grow in either direction.
But Ed Sheeran is doing more than just mirroring that approach to love and sex. He's modeling it, too, reinforcing it, suggesting to his listeners that this kind of behavior is just fine and likely to lead to lasting love—rather than a train wreck of regret just waiting to jump off the tracks for one or both of these lovers should all that body-shape infatuation one day dissipate.