By Patrick Dunford | Guest Blogger
Photo Credit | Jenny Haas Photography
She was perfect. That probably should have been one of the first signs of trouble.
Maybe it was because I was a late-bloomer to the dating scene and she was the first woman I’d ever asked out. Maybe it was because we met through a campus ministry retreat and I thought that showed we were clearly meant to be. Maybe it was simply because she said “yes” to a date with me, period. Whatever “it” was, I thought she was the most perfect female human being I had ever met and I let myself be completely taken in by that feeling.
I even went to buy a pair of date shoes with a friend. I settled on a brand new pair of Adidas Sambas, because in the mind of a college man there’s nothing like full grain leather and suede indoor soccer shoes to win a lady’s heart. She had to pick me up because I didn’t have a parking spot on campus (read: car at all), I wore the only articles of clothing in my closet that weren’t a t-shirt and cargo shorts.
I hope, I did, anyway.
I remember a lot from that date: the restaurant we went to, some of what we talked about, even the chicken wrap I ordered and was too nervous to finish eating (c’mon younger me, a chicken wrap? Really?). I remember the friends of mine the waiter randomly seated next to us, and the admiring wink one of those friends shot me over my date’s shoulder. There’s one thing, though, I remember most about that date and what led up to it.
The moment I realized she didn’t exist.
Now, I’d gone out with a woman that evening. No Russell Crowe “Beautiful Mind” action going on here. That woman is a wonderful, good, holy person who is real, one I’ve been blessed to know. The “she” I’m talking about is the “she” I never called back after that date. An image I had projected over the true self of the real woman in front of me, loaded with unrealistic expectations and assumptions. An image which led me to a year of emotional unavailability, hung up on a relationship which never could have been because the person I hoped to be in a relationship with never was. (Granted, part of this feeling can be blamed on the depressing German Lit. course I took in the same time period. In German Lit., everyone you love dies.)
This is the objectification even good men and women find themselves a part of perpetuating. We don’t want to call it that, as if it were “A Sin That Shall Not Be Named.” Objectification reminds us of shameful things like cat-calling and pornography, the obvious diseases and usual suspects. It is painful admitting we could fall victim to something like this ourselves, when our motive seemed so pure. We only had a positive image of that person, didn’t we?
In the definitional sense, objectification simply means to treat a subject as an object. If we allow our expectation of who the person is (subject) to supersede reality, we are creating a “something” (object). We turn the individual in front of us into a Dorian Gray, only seeking to see the positive characteristics and hiding the wounds of their soul as if it were a portrait in storage. I was “in love” with the idea I’d formed of the woman I went out with, in the sense of a strong emotional bond to it. I couldn’t have truly romantically loved the actual woman in front of me in the space of time we’d known each other, and willed her good in that sense. I simply didn’t know her well enough. I allowed her reality, and thus the fullness of her beauty, to be obscured by idealization.
It wasn’t her fault. In fact, I don’t think any of the responsibility fell to her. Most often our own wounds cause us to place others on pedestals. Or even to rip them down from their rightful place.
This excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, written as he mourned his recently deceased wife, paints even more clearly this concept. Lewis realizes he must not give in to the mistake of loving the idea of God, his wife, or his neighbor, but love the person in theirreality. After all, he says,
“…don’t we often make this mistake as regards people who are still alive—who are with us in the same room? Talking and acting not to the man himself but to the picture—almost the précis—we’ve made of him in our own minds? And he has to depart from it pretty widely before we even notice the fact. In real life—that’s one way it differs from novels—his words and acts are, if we observe closely, hardly ever quite ‘in character,’ that is, in what we call his character. There’s always a card in his hand we didn’t know about.”
Lewis makes it very clear why he thinks this occurs, telling us his “reason for assuming that I do this to other people is the fact that so often I find them obviously doing it to me. We all think we’ve got one another taped.”
There’s risk in loving a real person. It means we don’t have them “taped,” it means they’re unpredictable. It means you might be able to hurt me, and I might be able to hurt you and there’s no way to plan exactly when or how to defend myself. I have to allow my brokenness and your brokenness to become our brokenness. If we desire authentic love, people cannot exist to us as a solution to our sufferings and insecurities. They must become a companion in it.
Companion. From the Latin companis. To break bread with one another. Our human relationships are inseparable from that which is broken. Venerable Fulton Sheen said:
“Broken things are precious. We eat broken bread because we share in the depth of our Lord and His broken life. Broken flowers give perfume. Broken incense is used in adoration. A broken ship saved Paul and many other passengers on their way to Rome. Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.”
If you want to love for the sake of covering your wounds, date gauze and ACE wrap. There’s not enough bandage in the world to cover the wounds of a soul, to allow it to heal. The wounds can only be healed in the presence of the light, the open air. This is where I was afraid, and where I still find myself afraid at times as I strive to accept the truth of having to love broken people. To allow someone to fully love me, they have to see my brokenness.
We all want to fall in Love. Few of us want to admit our love is fallen. To admit how far we must fall from our pride, or more appropriately how far we must rise from our pride to authentically love another. If I am granted the gift of a wife, the gift of marriage, true love will demand our mutual admission of brokenness. And not just an admission on the broad scale, but an intimacy within our weaknesses. I will need to choose to invite her into my own insecurities as she invites me into hers. To show our portraits to each other with their own imperfections. No edits. No Photoshop.
I’ll have to bare to her the insecurities that might make me reluctant to highlight my facial profile in our engagement photos. Reveal depths of my battle against feeling inadequate for a lack of worldly achievements. The fact that I’m an open-mouth sleeper.
She might have struggles with her body image that won’t just go away, even when I tell her she’s deeply beautiful. Or believe she’ll never live up to that sibling who’s achieved so much. Or there’s that obscure obsession with having the toothpaste on one side of the sink at all times.
We might both believe we’re not what the other deserves.
And as far as what we deserve, we’ll be right.
At a friend’s wedding, the very same friend who let me buy Sambas for a date, the priest caused a moment of nervous laughter in the congregation with one of his homily lines. He turned to the bride and told her she doesn’t deserve my friend. She doesn’t deserve his self-sacrificial nature, his humor, going on and on. Then, turning to my friend, he continued: “and you definitely don’t deserve her!” The following list was clearly much longer.
Father J was dead on. My friend doesn’t deserve his wife’s qualities or her love. Nor her, his. Not because they’re not loving or faithful, but because we don’t “deserve” Love in the first place. It is the gift most freely given by our Creator, what we were made from and for. We don’t deserve a Savior whose greatest gift came at His most vulnerable and apparently broken moment. We don’t deserve to fall in love. The word “deserve” as we most commonly use it hardly factors into real love at all.
This is the overwhelming truth of loving broken people, that our beauty is revealed within brokenness and not apart from it. Beauty is found in who a person truly is and as they truly exist, as they were created and as they are continually allowed to exist by their Creator who loves them enough to sustain them just so.
As C.S. Lewis knew “All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality.”
In his or her foursquare and independent beauty.
It is true God wants us to become perfect. We are called to a perfection we accomplished by His grace and unity with Him. So brokenness does not translate to justifying sin or choosing to stop allowing Him to make us great. It is Love which banishes the excuses of brokenness. All of this is in the true sense of reality, the reality of failings which will not hold us apart from our purpose but are transformed into that which helps us achieve it. The truth of brokenness redeemed.
If we buy into the lie telling us we’ll find love with someone who’s not broken, we’ll never fall in love with a “someone” at all. We’ll only ever be in love with something, only possess an inferior love for that which can never exist in this iconoclastic reality. In the lines of Vance Joy, we say “this mess was yours, now your mess is mine.”
With few exceptions, God has only loved weak and imperfect people. And with those same exceptions, so He asks us to love. As for who to date? Who to join with in the process of intentional choice and wild intangibility that is falling in love?
They’ll be broken. That’ll be one of the first signs of something good.
P.S. You are enough