January 14, 2015

Be Not Afraid (Of Baggage)

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. And while they all play a role in the fact that we make dating more complicated than it needs to be, there’s an underlying issue that doesn’t seem to get discussed very much, especially online.

A word of warning that not everyone will agree on this; while I don’t believe that this is a gender-specific or orientation-related matter, I can only speak from personal experiences, and those experiences as a woman. I’m more than open to conversation regarding other perspectives, and I invite those perspectives to be shared at the end.

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. It’s something that I’m still in the process of learning about, but at the bare bones of it all, grace is the understanding (and acknowledging) that the person standing right in front of you has limitations, and can only do or give so much. And after coming to that realization, you still make a conscious effort to get to know them and walk with them.

When I first started dating (generally speaking) 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 or how bad, 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 view their pain as something that can be used for good, a repurpose, as I call it. 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 they go on stronger and wiser.

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. Being with a man of faith, compassion, and willingness to be a helper is non-negotiable for me. But there is a fine line between needs and insecurities, which seem to orbit around conversations and articles that talk about sex. 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 battled with the notion that having Cerebral Palsy, a difficult upbringing, and other aspects would be considered as such, though over time I’ve learned look at it otherwise. I still struggle with knowing when and how to talk about these things, though it has gotten easier. I dreaded the idea of being “too much” of anything and therefore unwanted. So much that I barely spoke of therapy or anything deep until I was certain the other person could handle it. Little did I realize that one of them would end up offering to go with me to a session in order for me to see that I had nothing to be ashamed of.

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 I want to; it starts to feel weird if I’ve been connecting with someone for over a year and we haven’t touched on the Tough Stuff. It’s like there’s a barrier, and one that doesn’t need to exist.

Today, in my dark moments, I experience thoughts of wanting to take off and go somewhere where nobody knows my name or what I’ve been through. 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 therefore unable to be loved. It was only recently that I stopped worrying about having a situation all figured out before saying anything. When certain friends and I aren’t able to catch up for long stretches of time, I send them raw and unedited writings in order to convey the nitty-gritty. As I said once before, I can now appreciate the messy; it’s not always pretty, but it takes a lot less energy than trying to be neat.

I’m not one to outright depend on anybody to solve my problems; I used to believe that loving someone meant having it all together, thinking that I was the reason certain 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 learned how to love myself thanks to the wisdom of some special people, and I wouldn’t be the person that I am had I not known them.

This is not about changing anybody’s minds, but rather about deepening a very loud conversation. 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 afraid, please? There’s getting hurt, and then there’s getting hurt knowing that you embarked on something amazing.

Just as well, know that perception does not equal reality; you should not have to make decisions entirely based on what somebody else might think. 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.

photo credit: Julien Söderberg via photopin cc

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