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Email Excerpt: On Dating, Breaking Up, and Having Hope

One of my lovely friends recently went through a break-up, and asked me about the things I've learned from dating, breaking-up, etc... I don't feel like an expert, by any means, but it was encouraging to process and articulate a thought or two in this realm. And now I want to share those thoughts with you!

Some thoughts on dating and breaking up and hearing hard things and learning and contentment and loving myself:

Thought A: the one most non-negotiable for me in a relationship is that the other person WANTS to be in it with me. I refuse to try and convince someone into it. And I won't waste my emotions on someone who has chosen not to be with me - I am allowed to feel sad/disappointed, but the "pining" for intimacy, love, etc is directed forward, to a future-unknown person, rather than back to what was. I've become convinced that I deserve to be loved as I am, who I am.

Thought B: you can't MAKE things work without two people. For me, previously, this meant admitting the seed of relief when a relationship ended, and that it wasn't "normal" to have to try SO HARD at intimacy and vulnerability. There is definitely a spark between M and I, but it is something that is growing and deepening with time - a good relationship is surprising and relieving and strange. I am still surprised by the ways M cares for me and communicates with me, that in stressful conversations there is consistently more space and freedom than I expect. Last night we had (yet another) conversation about how he wants me to tell him what I'm thinking and feeling, even when I think it will stress him out or create conflict. The fact that we are committed to talking through stress and conflict, and being vulnerable even when it's scary is far more important, I think, than any "spark." Actually, it feeds the spark. The spark was there at the start, and we have made choices to build a fire (so to speak), through vulnerability and honesty. You can't force those things, either with yourself or another person. But you also can't build a relationship without them.

Thought C: I liked my life before M came along. I was happy. There were good things, and good people, and I was proud of the trajectory of my life. All those things are still true. As I've been thinking about marrying him, I asked myself, "Can I live without him? Do I NEED him?" For some reason, this seemed like the right question to ask. But I realized it wasn't. Because the reality is, I CAN live without him. I can live well without him. Do I want to? Not anymore. But here's the thing: this is the first time that even the thought of a relationship ending hasn't made me completely panic. I know I would be immensely sad and deeply hurt if we broke up, but I also know that I would be okay. Eventually. And this is something I'm proud of. Because it has to do with who I am as a person, and the progress I've been making in learning to love myself, to trust Jesus, and to know that my worth/identity is not dependent on a man.*

Thought D: Hope is a scary thing. For you, hope that there will be a man to love you well. For me, that this won't fall apart. Hope that somehow, by the grace of God (I mean that quite solemnly), I can partner with another human being for decades of day-to-day living without destroying each other...even making each other better! That is terrifying. But hope persists. Hope keeps poking us and prodding us and speaking to us. I'm reminded of Romans 5:3-5, where it says that trials develop perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope...and hope does not disappoint. I wrestle with how this seems to say that more trials = more hope. And yet, I find in my own life, that the more of this messy ol' life I live through, the more deeply my hope-roots seem to go. There are a lot of lesser hopes that have boiled away (to mix metaphors), but the essential hope - that there is good ahead of me, that Jesus is real and loves me deeply - is somehow, against my expectations, growing.

Well. Those are some thoughts. Sorry it's taken me so many days to compile them.

Ps. One other thing I've come to believe is true is that it is OKAY to have needs. And a good person (a healthy relationship) will freely allow you that space, or have those conversations with you. For those of us relatively well-adjusted, committed to self-knowledge and maturity, we can rest reasonably well-assured that we are not being "needy" or "unreasonable" and that healthy people aren't threatened by other healthy people's needs. (does that make sense?)

*when I asked M about sharing these thoughts, we had a good conversation about this particular point, about what it means to need someone, and what is "healthy" in this realm. It's hard to articulate, but for me, it has been an important piece to own and accept my autonomy and my ability to live life fully as a single person. And now, the longer I'm in a relationship, the more I come to depend on and want his presence in my life. I'm gunshy of the word "need," but I do think a healthy relationship has a level of interdependence to it (though not dependence or co-dependence). Maybe it's most easily summed up in what M said during our conversation: "You don't need me, but you have needs I'm going to help meet."


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