We sat on the floor in the dark, facing each other, knees touching. I was crying – it seemed like that’s all I could do anymore. He was comforting – always comforting. We talked about the deep things of life, the hard things, and nodded in solemn agreement that joy isn’t always easy to find.
It was a humbling moment – the kind that leaves you feeling exhausted and wet as mascara stains your cheeks. But it was one of my favorites because it was one of our most tender.
Getting to know someone is a painful, humbling process. To know of someone, or to see someone is fairly easy. Neither of you is required to risk much. But to know – to really know – well that’s another thing entirely.
At the beginning of our relationship, I wrote an article about vulnerability. It was an article based on a whisper, a hardly formed idea of vulnerability breeding intimacy. It was a theory about our relationship that I had barely had time to test.
I wrote of the depth that comes when the makeup has come off, when that person is close enough to see your scars, close enough to be able to reject you for the things that you can’t seem to ever change.
And I talked about the love that comes from that kind of trust – the depth and the breadth of the real, honest-to-goodness love that comes when you know someone loves you for the real stuff.
I was putting my own words to a whisper of a truth, but the truth hadn’t become ours yet.
And then it did.
In the last seven months I’ve watched and squirmed as another person helped me peel back layer upon layer of who I thought I was supposed to be, to reveal the raw and fresh truth about who I really am. I tried to wiggle away often, preferring to show my shined-up side, the side who is tall and endlessly confident, always knowing the right thing to say and flawlessly dressed. I didn’t want to be tearstained and vulnerable, revealing insecurities and fears that were too ugly for even me to see without cringing.
But over the last seven months I’ve watched a total stranger become my best friend and greatest love. I’ve been the recipient of truly great love, watching with total amazement as a man sees the mess in my heart and moves closer instead of away.
I would have preferred intimacy without the tears, but no great thing comes easily.
But Carl and I haven’t been the only ones getting to know each other.
Over the past seven months, I’ve been getting to know myself all over again.
I’ve always prided myself on being a joyful person. It was the greatest thing that defined me – or so I thought.
And then one day, moving across the country, starting a new career, being far away from my loved ones, making all new friends, and starting a new relationship all proved to be a bit too much, and my joy took a hit. I didn’t feel like myself – positive, joyful, happy – and I panicked.
There had to be a root, a cause, something broken, something neglected. I must be broken, fundamentally flawed, I must have done something horribly, horribly wrong to not feel that worth-defining joy. I searched everywhere for a cure, tears in my eyes, insisting that this just isn’t me.
I’m not sad, I’m not this girl. There are certain emotions that are ok for me and these just aren’t them.
I’ve fought myself for months, refusing to allow myself a bad day or a moment of doubt. Grace be damned.
But months and buckets of tears later, my soul has finally taken a breath.
That’s what Carl whispered to me on the floor that night. “It’s ok, and my love for you is not contingent on your joy. Not today, not ever.”
Carl has spent seven months giving me grace and space and permission and love – reminding me over and over that his love for me won’t increase once I’m “all figured out.” But I couldn’t say the same for myself.
I had a tight definition of who I am and what is ok, and anything outside of that definition was unacceptable.
And the last seven months have been a stretch and strain on that narrow, conditional love.
What if I have a full range of emotions? What if I have hard days, weeks, or seasons? What if I cry and don’t have a good reason? What if I’m afraid?
God is not scared of my “what ifs” and neither is Carl. And now, neither am I.
For the first time in my whole life, I’m beginning to accept myself as I am – full and varied and complex. I’m giving myself the grace and the space to experience the fullness of life, not just the pre-approved emotions. I’m getting to know myself without the façade, without the makeup, and without the perfection that I’ve been demanding for so long – a painful and beautiful process.
And the person I’m finding isn’t half bad. She’s joyful, certainly, but in a way that’s richer, deeper, more weathered. She’s deep and full like a relationship that has seen more than a honeymoon season – better for the hardship she endures. She thinks and feels deeply, experiencing all of life with hands wide open. Sometimes she cries, but always she soaks in the fullness of the world – like the vibrant green of a rainy day.
I’m learning to love myself for the real stuff. And for the first time in my life, I’m willing to sit with myself in the dark and say, “it’s ok,” and “I love you anyway.”