A month into our relationship, my now-husband asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
I didn’t hesitate.
“As a nun in a third-world country doing missionary work,” I said.
Somewhere around that time I also told him it would be five years before I slept with him. It was the quickest five years of my life.
I had a few issues.
Major abandonment and rejection issues from a dad who, according to my mom, left “us” because the birth of my twin sister and me was two too many girls. That warm fuzzy was compounded by a few bad sexual experiences in high school, which I’m sure I haven’t resolved completely because I blacked out and don’t know what happened.
This left me a relationship moron, someone who would freak out if a relationship lasted more than four weeks.
I still don’t understand how Eric calmed me down enough to enter week five, let alone pass 20 years this October.
I’m still awkward when it comes to love and sex and anything related to a relationship because, even though I have spent the last 20 years with a man who loves me unconditionally, I still feel substantial cavities in my self-worth that make it hard to trust and be vulnerable, to be naked without being self-conscious.
According to shame expert Brené Brown, “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” So I guess courage is what I need to pray for, even over love.
I often wonder if I would be so depressed had I chosen to be a nun in a third-world country or in some peaceful cloister — if family life is meant for people with more solid footing in the world. I spend way too much time fantasizing about an imaginary existence, like in the movieAvatar, where I can live inside somebody else’s body and be free and naked — completely uninhibited — as I ride those exotic mammoth birds. I cling to certain people, places, and things where there is an intensity that I mistake for intimacy.
Of course, the third-world country and the convent would be hiding places for me, an appropriate ducking spot for a person with my kind of baggage. The Avatar fantasies are cop-outs, as well. They merely flood my bloodstream with dopamine to provide me an escape from my reality, which is full of work.
“Love hunger … is the God-given need to love and be loved that is born into every human infant,” explain authors Robert Hemfelt, Ed.D, Frank Minirth, M.D., and Paul Meier, M.D. in their bestseller, Love Is a Choice. “It is a legitimate need that must be met from cradle to grave. If children are deprived of love — if that primal need for love is not met — they carry the scars for life.”
I think those of us with depression issues and addiction problems, or, God forbid, both, have to be mindful of this unmet need that is constantly fishing for things to fill the cavity in our souls or at least make it pipe down. We easily mistake the excitement of a new project or an infatuation with the lasting emotion that is love. And when the initial exhilaration dissolves, we’re left with an even bigger chasm in our hearts.
It’s difficult even for people without love hunger issues, depression, and addiction to recognize that doing the family dishes each night after dinner is love, that folding each other’s underwear is love, that offering to pick up a relative from an airport two hours away in the middle of the night is definitely love.
Raising kids with a partner is not the adventure of missionary life nor is it the serenity of a convent. It’s definitely not the dopamine rush of flying — naked and uninhibited — on a cool, gigantic bird or the equivalent sexual fantasy. It is mundane and wearisome and maddening. It can feel like a nightmare from which you never wake up.
Life may be like a box of chocolates, but love is like a box of Rainbow Loom, the cool kit to make bracelets and necklaces that toy stores couldn’t keep in stock for months last year. If you work a little bit at it each day, you’ll have something beautiful before long. And that will outweigh the frustration you feel when you find those tiny rubber bands all over your house. If you let the box sit, the rubber bands are in place, but all you have are some fantasies in your head of how it could be if you did something else. You have nothing real, and your arms are bare.
Love is hard for me, but I am blessed.
I have a bracelet.