Well, some may not want to read this – but I hope you do. I think there’s a huge treasure trove of wisdom in others’ failures. Some of the greatest teachers in my life have been experiences that haven’t panned out.
I write this now, a couple months after the end of one of the major relationships of my life. A lot of the things I mention might be embarrassing, but it’ll have been worth sharing if I can help even one person avoid the same mistakes I made.
Well, me and my ex have known each other for a couple years now. We met on a weekend-long trip for a meditation club. The whole weekend was fun, affirming, exciting, engaging. I went into it during a depressed period of my life, but meeting so many genuinely nice people breathed life into that dark season. Among the pleasant new faces was a Chinese international student, who I’ll call “Jasmine.” She positively radiated both energy and zeal for life, which so charmed me that I just had to get her number.
She was the first person I ever shared my testimony with. I told her how Jesus had saved me from a life riddled with guilt and meaninglessness. She came to church with me one day, and, over the course of a couple months, found the character and love of Jesus to be mesmerizing. She was the first girl I’d ever met who shared the same kind of passion for God as me. I instantly fell for her love for God, yet I sensed that she was still too new in Jesus for me to ask her out.
Two years pass by…with tentative flirtations, worship nights, and various invitations – love for spiritual things brought us together again and again.
One night, it snowstorms hard and my church cancels its services. I decide to host a church meeting at my house with an open invite. Remembering that she’s never said no to anything spiritual, I invite her to my meeting. She comes. The same thing happens the next week, with the same result.
That night, driving her home, I let her read a letter of encouragement I wrote about how much God loves us. A quiet silence falls over my car, the air thick with hidden tension. As I drop her off at her apartment, she asks me if I have anything to tell her. Nervousness and excitement together band together and form a lump in my throat. I almost tell her, but after a long pause, I say “God loves you, Jasmine, so much.” That clearly wasn’t the right answer. *sweatdrop*
Yet I end up telling her I liked her that night anyway. Later that week, we go on a date to a tea shop together, which was everything I dreamed. I, being romantically unromantic as I am, pull out a list of deal-breakers and make sure she doesn’t meet any of them. Then, we get to talking about the real stuff – hopes, dreams, aspirations, life goals. We find out that we have incredibly similar values and missions in life. We even share values about how to use money and how to raise children, which are two of the statistically most likely thing for married couples to argue about. I couldn’t believe my eyes. We were perfect. I believed that God had chosen us for each other.
We spent the second half of that evening just holding hands and gazing into each others’ eyes, eyes filled with mutual acknowledgement, understanding, and hope.
We go to our mutual friend’s party together, but after the party, Jasmine begins to have serious doubts. She expresses to me that she just sees me as a brother and can’t be attracted to me. I’m confused and disbelieving – I saw the attraction in her eyes at the tea shop! Regret, fear, and uncertainty fill her eyes now, though. Confused, I still manage to reassure her and ease her doubts.
Over the next couple months, we fall into a pattern. Though we had many good times together…hosting people for dinner together, evangelizing together (which was my favorite thing with my favorite person), even having long walks and deep talks together…she never seemed to be able to stay in love with me. We’d have a good stint, making me believe that all was fine and we’d stay on a positive trajectory, but something would always happen to make my extrapolation fall out from under my feet. The positively-sloped projected line for the feels train ended up being more like a sine function. Up and down, up and down, slope up and curve down and upturn and back into a maddening cycle where our intimacy and attachment to each other grew more and more but our certainty and feelings in the relationship went around and around like a dizzying merry-go-round.
Long story short, she kept falling out of love with me because she was disappointed in me. She couldn’t be naturally attracted to who I really was. She was only attracted to the very best in me – me living my life empowered by the Spirit. This was partly her personal preference, a vast cultural gap, and overly high expectations. The worst part of it was that when I put my foot down and decided that I couldn’t live with the emotional turmoil of being blindsided by my relationship being in jeopardy over and over – when I set a firm boundary to break up and not talk for a week – she was so certain that she wanted me. So certain, I gladly accepted her back.
And yet, she would always seem to fall out of love with me. Worse still, sometimes, she seemed to even have contempt for me for not living up to who I was supposed to be in her eyes. She stonewalled me when I hurt her feelings, and somehow, kept pulling me back in – I genuinely wanted to believe she could change. We both loved God, and genuinely put him first in our relationship, which was bathed in prayer and both of our best efforts to follow God in our lives. Now I don’t think that she was intentionally manipulating me into a toxic relationship. She was sincere at every point of it. She loved me. I just believe that her way of being in a relationship was just such a toxic fit for my way of being.
So, let me list out the mistakes I believe I made, so you can avoid them. Now, I never disproved these theologically, but from my practical experience, I don’t believe that they are true – as, they brought dysfunction into my life.
I believed that the spiritual aspect was all that mattered:
I wasn’t bothered by her only being attracted to the Spirit in me, in fact – that’s who I was! A new creation empowered by the Spirit. I wanted to live in the Spirit at all times, and I believed I could do it continually and indefinitely.
Unfortunately, you can’t always be acting like the Spirit. The love of God is amazing and impossible to replicate on one’s natural strength. There was only so many times I could get my heart broken, change myself, and persevere before resentment dug its way into my heart. I couldn’t express my true dissatisfaction because I thought it would end our relationship. This was unhealthy.
I changed myself to fit her preferences:
This one is especially egregious. I took pride in who I was. I’m an INFP, for heck’s sake! Before the relationship, I was constantly growing and evolving, and changing for the better. Yes, I resculpted my identity and tried out new versions of me to determine what fit and what I liked, but it was still by my choice, as I chose.
The saddest part of our relationship was that, just as you can slowly turn up the heat on a pot until you’ve cooked a frog alive, the pain of someone’s disapproval and the yearning for their respect and admiration can slowly make you change for the other person, eventually even the things most close and core to you. It can make you not like who you are. I never believed that I, self-confident as I was, would ever fall victim to this. But anyone can. Get out of relationships with people that make you feel less than you are.
I believed that I could only leave a relationship if God explicitly told me to:
I kept praying for God to show me if I should stay. But I kept not receiving a clear answer. And I believed that the default response to not hearing from God was to stay in the relationship and try to make it work, no matter what. Please, follow wisdom: if the relationship is unhealthy, if it’s toxic – don’t stay. There’s stuff in 1 Peter about persevering through difficult relationships – but those are marriages. If you are just dating, please leave. I tell you this, having crawled out of the hole of misery I just kept digging myself into, believing that I could change. Believing that she could change. Believing that if we just changed enough, we could meet each other in the middle.
This relationship was not either of our faults. I don’t blame or accuse either me or her for the toxicity and the unhealthiness that occurred. We were both sincere people, trying to follow God, trying to love each other.
Please, learn from my mistakes. Leave toxic and dysfunctional relationships. Healthy love will uplift you and bring value to your life.
It took me a long time to recover from breaking up with Jasmine. My self-esteem was damaged, and I didn’t believe people could love me as I was anymore. I had to retreat within myself, cancel obligations and responsibilities, and just heal. By myself. If you’re the type of person who heals with others, I definitely encourage you to do that, too. To each, his own.
But, my identity is in Christ. It can’t be taken away from me. People can’t disapprove of me out of being a son of the Most High God, chosen by Jesus, worth HIS LIFE to him – preciously taken care of in the hand of the Father, who works all things together for my good. My identity is in Christ.
And he, he always makes me feel bigger than I’ve been.