As I was driving to my boyfriend’s place the other night, I realized something significant. The nervous butterflies that usually fluttered through my stomach before a date weren’t there. We were past the point where I was concerned about my appearance or about saying the wrong things or about being accepted for who I am. In a romantic setting, I’d never experienced this feeling of safety before.
Dating is scary.
Dating means handing over my emotional security to another person, and I like control. Having a relationship means trusting someone else with my feelings, and I like keeping those to myself. It means allowing him to love me — and sometimes that’s the hardest part.
When I started dating, I was afraid he wouldn’t accept me. But I was also afraid he would. I literally had a panic attack a couple weeks into the relationship because it was going well. I wasn’t used to being cared about in return. Dazed by the fact he liked me and so scared I would somehow wreck things, I was overwhelmed.
Fear can be disabling. It works as an alarm system, and in our relatively safe society it often overreacts needlessly — and for me it tends to do so regarding emotional attachment. I’m afraid of getting hurt. And that’s not an unfounded fear because having close relationships means I will get hurt. It’s not even a maybe.
Protecting myself from fear was one option in this romance: I could have distanced myself from the relationship and given up because the whirlwind of emotions was uncomfortable. But the other option was love, and I wanted it.
I didn’t hide my fears and anxieties from my boyfriend. For one thing, at 28 years old, what’s the point in beating around the bush and playing games — if something about me is a deal-breaker we might as well face it early on. For another, honesty is one of those great building blocks of a healthy relationship. I imagine it as a giant Lego piece that fits perfectly with love, self-sacrifice, and all that other good stuff.
So I threw my fears and deficiencies at him, one after the other, and he didn’t throw them back at me. Instead, he was patient and caring and assured me he wasn’t going anywhere. And now I’m not as afraid, even though I know there will be bumps in the road.
I’m guessing the Bible has so many verses that basically say “don’t be scared” because being afraid is so common. We’re not supposed to fear anything this life has to offer, including romance, because God is for us. But it’s hard to not be afraid of getting hurt because God doesn’t always protect us from negative emotions and experiences.
But by acknowledging that God is present even through times of suffering and by continuing to trust Him, I understand more and more that broken emotions — the ones that come with an unhealthy or a healthy relationship — don’t mean the end of life.
Perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18), and though human love isn’t perfect, unconditional caring is the closest thing we’ve got. In this passage, John is not referring to romantic feelings but to the love God bears for us, which is reflected, however imperfectly, in our human relationships. While confronting my fears, I also saw the love of another as a complement to the love of God. Even though our human reflection of love is imperfect, it’s also beautiful because it mirrors something eternal. The better I get at loving God and accepting His love for me, the better I am able to love and let myself be loved in a romantic relationship.
I may be afraid, but accepting love is not only worth the alternative of isolation and self-doubt, it’s part of the two-way equation for which we were created.