This past weekend marked eight years since I thought it was all over. I had been dating him for just a few months, but my heart was fully invested in him and in us. When I called him that afternoon, though, he had a tone in his voice that I recognized but did not like. It was familiar, for sure. It was the tone of distance. It was the tone of someone who was not as happy to be talking to me as I was to be talking to them. It was a tone I knew too well because I had heard it too many times and had endured the heartache that inevitably followed far too many times. When I heard the tone, I knew – I was certain – that the end of the relationship was coming.
I did what any highly educated, sound-minded twenty-something would do under those circumstances: I moped. I cried. I took out my impending rejection on anyone who dared cross my path; for my family, with whom I was still living, this made for a bad day.
My parents were used to this behavior from me and, in a particularly selfless act of parental grace, invited me to dinner and a movie that night. I tried to pull myself together, but as we sat in the cozy Italian diner and I tried to choke down my lasagna and garlic bread my parents made me talk through whatever was going on.
“I love him but he doesn’t love me. He’s going to break up with me and I don’t know what to do and I really thought he was the one and that this was going to be different and actually work this time but I just know that he’s not happy and he’s about to end this.”
The tears flowed in embarrassing abundance as I tried to explain why I was convinced of this. I blubbered and sputtered as I wept, desperate for some fort of comfort but not really thinking anything would make me feel better. As I talked, I noticed my parents exchange a glance across the tiny table. I interpreted their looks and smirks as insensitivity, only further deepening my anguish and loneliness.
What I didn’t know, though, was that that very weekend, my boyfriend was announcing to his parents that he planned to propose. He had the ring and, more importantly, my parents’ blessing already. He was just waiting for the right time. It came quickly, and four months later we were married.
He and I can joke about the whole misunderstanding now, but at the time it was no laughing matter. He – a longtime loner – was simply needing an evening to himself that night. I – an overly analytical girl desperate for acceptance – misread his tone of voice and became convinced of something that was altogether untrue.
As I thought about all of that the other day, I remembered something my counselor told me a couple of years ago. In the midst of my most severe anxiety, we were discussing a particularly stressful relationship in my life at the time. As we talked, she said something that has stuck with me: “If someone has a problem with you, it is their problem to tell you so. You cannot go on creating problems that aren’t there.”
I wrote those sage words on a post-it note or two, plastering them in prominent places where I would see them at just the right times. I’ve repeated them to myself over and over: “If he/she has a problem with me, he/she must tell me. I will not create problems that aren’t there.”
The thing is, this is one of those things that will forever be difficult for me – an avowed people-pleaser. There are a lot of things I don’t know, and most of those things I could find out, when needed, from someone else. But knowing just what someone else thinks of me? That little tidbit of information is forever beyond my reach. I can never know for sure what someone is thinking about me. I can never know for sure what their opinion of me really is. I can never know with certainty that what they say to my face is really what they think once I turn my back. Even if I asked, I can never know whether or not I can take their words at face value.
And for me, that is honestly one of the hardest things about relationships. I have always wrestled with the enigma of others’ opinions, and I suspect that I always will to some extent. What I am learning, though, is that this kind of mystery isn’t unlike any other of life’s mysteries. It, like every other uncertainty I face, is securely balanced by the one and only absolute certainty I know.
For every unknown that life throws at me, I have the promise of who God is. I have what I know about Him. I have what I know He says about me, and that is enough. It has to be, because it’s all I can ever be sure of.
He has no problem with me, and I cannot create a problem that isn’t there. I choose, however, to fully dwell in what is there.