Once upon a time a young woman dreamed about being married to a guy who loved her unconditionally. The type of love that Keith showed Watts once he finally realized Amanda wasn’t really the girl he loved in Some Kind of Wonderful. Remember that? (if not, check. it. out. Classic 80’s.) Keith and Watts were best buds, hanging out, encouraging each other to pursue their dreams, until the day came when Keith decided to pursue the girl of his dreams, but it wasn’t Watts.
It was Amanda Jones.
I never felt like Amanda Jones, I felt more like Watts. She dressed up as a chauffeur, willing to drive her best friend around on a date, longing to help but never measuring up to Amanda Jones. I never felt like I measured up, either, but I also never really wanted what Amanda had.
I wanted what Watts and Keith had: the fun and laughter, thinking the best no matter how ornery or broken. While I never really wanted to play the drums like Watts (okay, okay . . . I secretly did), I wanted that kind of relationship.
What I got instead was a broken heart and a broken marriage. Through my first marriage, I quickly learned that it was tough, way more difficult than receiving a pair of diamonds from a guy I secretly loved who finally realized he really did love me back. I learned it was more than saying I do and promising to stay together forever. It was more than love and respect, more than giving 100%. It was hard and full of potholes and pain. My marriage became about sickness, death, and loss while shattered pieces sliced away at our tender hearts.
Nothing like Keith and Watts and their joy-filled smiles by the time the credits began to roll.
It was during my first marriage that my baggage collection grew. By the time of our wedding, I had a carry-on of insecurity and a backpack of low self-esteem. Who doesn’t get hurt living in this world? As the years past, I accumulated the whole shebang: the garment bag and make-up case, small, medium, large, and extra-large suitcases with every ancillary add-on possible.
Loss. Distrust. Death. Grief. Loneliness. Shame. Brokenness.
I needed a U-Haul to carry it around. Maybe not the 26-footer, but definitely the one made to carry enough stuff to fill a one-bedroom apartment.
Now add my life-in-the-middle status and I felt like the winningest loser possible. The one who received an award simply for showing up. A cliche. Forty and divorced. The thought plagued me: who would ever want me and this packed-to-the-brim U-Haul full of brokenness?
Since I’m pouring it all out in complete honesty here, this life-in-the-middler would only attract another life-in-the-middler, if anyone at all. What kind of baggage would he have that I’d be willing to add? Certainly anyone I met at this stage in the game would have his own set lugging around.
No wonder marriages fail, especially second ones. No wonder there is so much heartache and sorrow, disillusionment and grief. We long for love, for companionship, and acceptance. But we know our baggage, we pack it every day. We think if someone else sees it, we’ll be rejected. Again. So we hide it, repurpose it, or pretend it doesn’t exist.
So, if you’re a life-in-the-middle gal like me, you have baggage. There’s no denying it, no pretending it doesn’t exist. Well, I suppose you could pretend that, but you’ll find yourself even more frustrated and broken.
I knew this. I knew I not only had a complete set luggage, it filled an entire U-Haul truck. But I also wanted wholeness and a healthy relationship, so what’s a life-in-the-middle gal to do?
Sign up for a dating website, of course. Put myself out there, baggage and all.
I mustered enough courage and began to fill out my profile. I tried so hard to figure out how much baggage to reveal and how much to keep safely tucked away. At this point I figured less was more but, honestly, I didn’t think anyone would notice me, anyway.
Imagine my surprise when soon after I uploaded my picture, I started to receive smiles. Yes, a smile. I guess because certain websites think winking is too forward, or too flirty. I started my search to see if we had anything in common, trying to catch a glimpse of their baggage. Would it resemble mine? Was there more? Less? Did the colors at least match?
Those were the exact thoughts stirring about when I looked at a picture from one man in particular. I leaned in and peered close, not because my life-in-the-middle eyes were failing me. No, I wanted a glimpse of the story behind the smile. Blonde hair. Dark eyes. Hmm . . . I wasn’t a fan of blonde hair but as I gazed closer, something else caught my eye.
A child’s hand settled on his shoulder. My mind spun. This man who sent me a smile felt the best about himself when he was holding a child. Huh, I kind of liked that.
And yes, I’m that analytical.
Taking a risk, I shot a quick email back. Thanks for the smile. Within minutes, I received a response. How’s your experience been so far?
Well, that was unexpected. And kind of nice. But the blonde hair . . .
I know. I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover, just by the amount of luggage he’s carrying.
A couple of pleasant exchanges later we learned we shared a love for Mustangs and graduated from rival high schools in the same year. I found out his hair wasn’t really blonde, but gray. Rather, salt and pepper. (Phew) And then came the dreaded question.
How many children do you have?
How was I going to answer that one? He just pointed out the biggest piece of luggage in my U-Haul truck.
For most people it’s a simple answer. 1. 4. None.
For me? Well, I don’t do simple.
I could say 4 – but 2 are my step kids whom I didn’t talk to anymore. I could say 2 but in all reality, I did raise 4. Then I could say one. Because one is all I have left since my youngest daughter died in a fire that destroyed everything.
Oh, there’s that massive piece of baggage, too.
I sat there, staring at the screen and realized I had a choice. A choice to walk into any type of relationship with every piece of luggage in tow, and throw it in this nice man’s virtual face in absolute self-protection. Or I could hide it, give a numbered answer and hope he didn’t care for details.
But then, another thought tickled my mind. What if this became something more? Sure, we’d only exchanged a few emails. Sure, we were still absolute strangers. But what if? Just, what if? What if that relationship I longed for, the one like Keith and Watts, what if that were actually possible? Is this something I would want to hide?
Breathing deep, I typed my response.
Four. I’ve raised four children. Two by birth and two by choice. But my youngest? Well, she died in a house fire when she was five.
I hit send and went about my day. Heart pounding, palms sweating. I had dared to show some of my baggage pretty early in the game. What in the world was I thinking?
Later that evening I received his reply. Well, more like one o’clock in the morning.
Well, it looks like we have something else in common. I have four kids, too, but my oldest died when he was four. He drowned in our swimming pool.
I was stunned. As I read about the details of his son’s death, I kept searching for the joke. Was this real? Was this possible? Could God have led me to someone who shared the worst thing I’ve ever experienced?
I don’t believe in coincidence, but I do believe in redemption.
Oh, and finding someone with matching luggage.
And while I wasn’t so sure about being anyone’s girlfriend at this point, I couldn’t help but wonder if this might be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Just like Keith and Watts.