I met someone.
Everything about our relationship is unconventional and foreign to me — from living on different continents (so, literally foreign) to the circumstances under which it ended.
Sorry, this story doesn’t have a happy ending — at least not a classic rom com happy ending that fades to credits with the satisfaction of two people in love, against all odds.
But if I’ve learned anything, it’s that there is redemption in the telling — in retracing the experience and remembering all the parts in the beginning and middle that still, and always will, matter. So, here I am, telling it.
* * *
I met someone.
He’s really great, and I spotted all the best parts of him from a mile away. I didn’t have to try to see him; I just did. It’s been a long time since I’ve had the confidence to “shoot my shot,” as the kids say, but I did it, and, as it turned out: he saw me, too.
Because it’s over now, I’ve been facing the challenge of looking back on a meaningful relationship while resisting my tendency to regret that it ever happened at all. Actually, “tendency” isn’t a strong enough word. The very fabric of my being naturally reacts to a broken heart by wishing I could go back in time and make completely different choices to avoid the situation altogether. Every time I’m hurt, I swiftly jump to regret as a way of coping — a way of blocking it out and telling myself I could (and should) have done everything differently — that it was all a mistake. It’s more than a tendency; it’s been my MO for my entire adult life, especially when it comes to heartbreak.
It’s a challenge that I have surprised myself by accepting. In processing through the beauty and the pain and the impossibility of separating the two, I’ve learned a lot about myself that makes me proud. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: life is hard. And even the good things, like love, can be really effing hard. But, you know what? I gave it a try. And I have reason to believe that I did the best I possibly could, so that’s the story I’m here to tell.
* * *
For the first time in a long time, I let somebody like me. That in and of itself is a triumph that may not sound like a big deal to anybody else, but it’s one I’m choosing to celebrate. I’ve shared a little bit about my journey through therapy over the past year, as well as my deep-dive into The Enneagram.
One of the most valuable things I’ve learned about myself through those experiences is that, despite wanting love and connection more than anything, I’ve spent a lot of my life pushing it away because I’ve believed that I don’t deserve it. Every time some well-meaning person encourages me to “put myself out there” I’m like Uhhh…I think I’m out there?
But the truth is, I’ve been so closed off that there may as well be a brick wall surrounding me from every angle.
Part of the wall is my nature as an Enneagram 2, and part of it is the product of being severely damaged by a previous relationship — one that sent a pretty consistent message that I needed to be something different, that I needed to be sorry about the way I felt/reacted/loved, that I would never be enough. Coming out on the other side of that is still messy and full of deep-seeded pain, but acknowledging that the other side actually exists, and even seeing a glimpse of it in real life (not just as a hypothetical possibility), is kind of a miracle.
So, even though I made the first move (seriously, who am I?!), allowing any affection to be reciprocated at all feels like a really big deal because it means that I’m capable of seeing myself as a person who is worthy of the love and partnership I’ve always longed for. A miracle, indeed.
* * *
Wrestling against regret is the toughest when I think about the level of vulnerability I laid on the line. From the very beginning, I made a conscious decision to be honest and actually talk about my feelings without apologizing for them. I shared my insecurities and parts of my story that I’ve spent years holding onto with the tightest of grips. It felt so new and different to have a person on the other end who was willing to know me deeply and listen to me, even if he didn’t completely understand. I would be remiss if I didn’t give him credit for making me feel safe enough to go there, for encouraging me to talk. There aren’t enough thank-yous in the world to cover that gratitude.
Being that this was my first attempt at a relationship after months of forced vulnerability with myself that has proven to be endlessly beneficial (hi, therapy!), I decided that the risk of doing it with someone else was worth it. I’m really good at asking questions and investing in another person, but it has always felt too scary to think about that person doing the same for me (Enneagram 2 alert!). But every time I felt myself lean into that vulnerability, it was like chipping away at one of the bricks in my wall. And, even better, I got to see what it looks like when I let someone else pick up the hammer and take a swing at it for me every once in a while.
One of my favorite authors, Sarah Bessey (Jesus Feminist, Out of Sorts) recently posted a Twitter thread that made me cry. A lot of things made me cry, so that shouldn’t be too surprising. But her words hit me in a way that empowered me in the midst of my pain. Empowerment and pain can coexist? What a beautiful revelation!
It’s long, so I’ll share my favorite parts (emphasis is mine):
I just want to tell you that it’s worth it to be honest. It is worth the vulnerability hangover. It is worth being misunderstood and misrepresented. It’s worth your discomfort. Because here is what happens when you finally drop the act, when you finally admit that you’re not fine, when you finally put your white flag up in the air and say you are beat: You learn that Jesus doesn’t only hang out with winners. In fact, you learn that Jesus is perhaps even more tender with those of us who are unable to keep up with everyone else who is shiny and happy and going from glory to glory endlessly. And you learn that your net at the bottom of who you are will hold. And so you are worth the relief of your own honesty. Take a deep breath. Speak your truth. Let the chips fall as they may. You will be more grateful than you ever imagined. Your feet are on the Rock, and you abide in Love, and you are worth the truth.
Have I been tempted to want to take back my honesty and bury my white flag because of the hurtful, abrupt way things ended? Of course. But I am choosing to believe that it’s worth my discomfort. I’m choosing to rest in the relief of my own honesty. I’m choosing to accept my vulnerability hangover and tell myself that I did a damn good job with the resources I’ve worked hard to develop in myself. And that’s something I can be proud of.
* * *
Nobody likes the idea of entering a relationship, acknowledging that it has a 50/50 chance of ending at some point. It’s incredibly scary, especially when, like me, it’s been years since you’ve let yourself even try. I don’t know what it will take for me to “put myself out there” again (cue intense eye roll), but I do know that one of the most hopeful things I’ve learned through this experience is that I don’t want to give up.
I recently watched all 4 current seasons of Jane the Virgin on the recommendation of my sister-in-law, Lauren. It’s a spin on Latin American telenovelas that’s whimsical and dramatic without taking itself too seriously. The main character, Jane (played by Gina Rodriguez, who is simply delightful!), is one of those people who still believes in fairytale love, even though she’s gone through some pretty wild relationship stuff. (Because she’s smart and independent, I usually give her a pass when it comes to her unrealistic, even cliché, expectations.)
On one of my most bummer evenings, I watched an episode in which Jane offers this advice to another character, which (surprise!) also made me cry:
I get it. It’s scary to have feelings again for someone. But when it comes to love, there’s always a risk, and there’s always a chance you’ll get hurt. But the possibility of it working out — that’s so worth it.
It’s so annoying when the TV show you’re trying to watch to escape from real life is like “Hey, just kidding! You’ll never get away from your feelings LOL!” Thanks, Jane.
* * *
Whether you hear it from one of your favorite authors, a TV character, your therapist, your best friend, or even from yourself, I’m here to be another voice in the chorus that sings this song: It’s completely worth it. All of it.
I will never forget that someone cared for me in a beautiful and unexpected way at a time when I was actually ready to believe it. I will always cherish what God has revealed to me about Himself (and MYself) through all of this. I will never regret that I placed my hope in that 50% chance and gave it everything I had until the very end. And I will never forget how worth it it was.
I haven’t handled everything gracefully, especially the saddest parts. I haven’t been perfectly kind to myself or completely willing to accept that it’s over, if I’m being brutally honest. I still have a long way to go when it comes to knowing myself, but seeing that as an opportunity instead of a burden is proof of just how far I’ve come. What a gift! It may be a gift that I reluctantly accept every day, but making the choice to untie the bow, open the lid, and say “thank you” is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.
So, thank you.