There’s a lot of talk out there about what’s ruining relationships: some say its technology and not knowing how to genuinely communicate. Some argue that good people no longer exist, or at least people with grounded morals and values. While they all play their own role in the complications of modern dating. there’s an underlying issue that doesn’t seem to get discussed very much, especially online.
The real problem is that we as a people have become way too self-serving and self-involved: it seems as though we fall in love with ideas and fantasies rather than real human beings. There’s an incredible lack of grace, and I’m not just referring to forgiveness. There’s a lack of compassion toward our stories, our heartbreaks, and the kinds of brokeness that should connect us.
When I first started dating in my early twenties, there was a lot of talk involving baggage. The attitude was that the older you get the more baggage you have, and the more baggage you have, the less you’ll be able to give to another person. That kind of thinking is what breeds shallow articles involving checklists for who we should be and how we should act in order to have worth.
Everyone has past mistakes or a history that they have to live with. It’s not a question of what they’ve done or the gravity of circumstances, but how it’s dealt with and put into perspective. There are those that constantly blame or hold grudges for what has happened to them, never fully realizing that after a certain point it comes down to their own choices. In some situations, they depend on friends or significant others to take away their pain or replace what they’ve lost. And then there are those who live out a different story: they acknowledge what they’ve been through, perhaps by their own decision or at the hands of others. But they also make a point to forgive, if only for the sake of moving forward. They find a way to re-purpose the pain for good, to show others that their journey isn’t for nothing. There are moments or happenings that will always stay with them in some way, but it doesn’t determine their dreams or their future. They’re not victims, nor do they just survive; they rise and ultimately become resilient.
Having reasonable standards and deal-breakers is healthy because it shows how we all have individual needs, and that no relationship is one in the same. But there is a fine line between needs and insecurities, and one often gets masked for the other. This warrants a separate post in itself because it has a lot to do with Purity Culture, control, and other harmful ideals that do a lot of damage. But I will say this: I’m beginning to think it has less to do with someone else’s past and more to do with a mindset, a matter of the heart even. Do we want somebody to love, or do we want somebody to show off?
Baggage does not necessarily have to be sexual or even romantic. I have wrestled with how to discuss having Cerebral Palsy, my journey with mental health, and even my upbringing without feeling terrified of rejection, and feeling responsible for that rejection. I dreaded the idea of being “too much” of anything, and therefore unworthy of real love and belonging. So much that I barely spoke of therapy or anything deep unless I knew whomever I was talking with could handle it. When I finally worked up the courage to be vulnerable, it would turn out that I had little to worry about in the first place.
And while I know now that sharing doesn’t have to be that calculated or scary, the anticipation is still there. I don’t have to tell my story, but it starts to feel weird after a while if I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time with someone.
I cringe at being compared to the girl I was ten years ago to the woman I am now, only to be told that I’m still the same person; that I haven’t grown, that I’m still difficult, and I wonder why some people run. Figuring out how and when to be vulnerable with anyone is tricky, and I don’t have a concrete answer for it.
I used to believe that loving someone meant having it all together, thinking that I was the reason people walked away. Yet in the last four years I’ve seen how amazing it is to watch someone grow and evolve, and I pray that I’ve been able to bless others as they’ve grown with me. Note that walking together in life is not the same as trying to “save” another, or even each other. Saving involves codependency and the desire to be needed, and it tends to lead to exhaustion. Walking is letting each other know that you’re there, you will support them, and you’re rooting for them.
There’s a saying that only God can truly heal; not counselors, significant others, families, or even friends. On the other side, God places them in our lives for a reason and uses them to speak to us. I’ve learned how to love myself thanks to having positive and strong influences, and I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am without them.
Maybe it’s time to re-think what real baggage is, or what being relationship or spousal material genuinely means. But while we’re pondering that, let’s learn to stop being so afraid, please? At least to where cynicism gets the best of us and we close ourselves off from all that is good.
The same goes for those of us on the other side: if your partner (or potential partner) reassures you that they would never judge you regarding your past or even present struggles, believe them. Chances are, they’re not asking you to open up in order to punish you or shame you, but to learn how to love you and support you as a partner. Put aside your pride and embarassment and let them do that for you, even if it means having to figure things out as you go along.
Perception does not always equal reality. It’s not easy to own your truth, your history, things that if you had the chance to re-do them, you probably would. You don’t need to depend on arbitrary lists to tell you if you measure up; you’re a child of God and a human being, and that’s all there is to it.
Be not afraid.