Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sense in suffering, Part 2

I know I’m not the only girl from a divorced home who wondered if she had what it took to make a relationship work. We wonder this quite naturally: We’ve seen relationship failure up close and personal. Then add in the low expectations of others. Children of divorce are supposed to be far more likely to get divorced. (That’s based on old data, by the way, data based on kids from divorced homes when divorce was not so common and harder to obtain, homes that were generally high conflict and uncommonly troubled.) Folks whose parents are still together are sometimes reluctant to get involved with us. One of my friends vowed she would never get involved with someone whose parents were divorced. She’s married now, to a guy whose parents are divorced. I hear it from prospective beaux who want to know whether I’m “from a good family.” I know that’s euphemistic for “not divorced.”

After awhile, a girl can begin to doubt her own ability to make the grade, especially a girl who is 35 and single. But dating, I’ve learned, is an opportunity to learn more about myself. (Yes, it took a special kind of genius to figure that out.)

I’ve had two pretty serious relationships as an adult. The first was lovely and ill-timed. I was young, he was younger, neither of us was ready to get married. When we broke up, my heart was broken. His was broken too, but I didn’t know that until later and it really didn’t do anything to ease my pain. I’ve dealt with minor depression off and on since I was a teen, but this was different. It was like walking on the bottom of the ocean floor, the pressure and depth crushing in its force—and then suddenly falling into the Marianas Trench. I couldn’t eat, I could only sleep because I exercised and worked so hard that I was physically exhausted, there were times when I literally thought I would lose my mind. I would go to my parents’ house on weekends and Mom would rent 5 or 6 movies without saying anything. I would spend the whole weekend on the couch, wrapped in an afghan, watching movies. The dog would sympathetically nudge me and rest his head with its sad eyes on the sofa next to me. I struggled to claw my way of that depression, succeeding only through the passage of time and the faithful prayers of a dear friend. There was no making sense of romantic tragedy at the time, but now, with eight years gone by, I can look back and see the lessons learned. I learned that I was beautiful and treasured, that a man could pay so much attention to me that he could know how (sugar) and when (after dinner) I take my tea, and he could anticipate my every move (necessary for chivalry—if you’re going to hold a ladies’ chair, open every door, help her in and out of her coat, you have to be one step ahead, anticipating what she’s about to do). I gained confidence in myself as a woman, no small feat for a girl with an absent father.

The second relationship was less lovely. We dated for two years and in the end I don’t think either of us was particularly sad to see it end. I know none of my friends or family were sad to see it end. And it makes me sad that I spent two years of my life on something I don’t regret losing. What I can say is that I see sense and meaning even in this far from ideal relationship. God let me be in a difficult relationship, one that required patience and longsuffering and perseverance. Why? To show me that I do have what it takes to make a relationship work. I didn’t give up, I didn’t walk away when it got hard, which it did often. Part of me wishes I had walked away at the first fight, a harbinger of things to come; but I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad I had a chance to see that I could stick it out, that when the going got tough, this toughie didn’t get going, she stayed put.

Pain is a bitter pill, and I’d rather taste sweet success any day of the week. But pain doesn’t have the last word. Sense does. When I make sense of my suffering, the suffering isn’t so bad.

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