The harder, beautiful bit of relationships – also known as staying

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Packing suitcases remind me of all the pieces of goodbye and staying, and how they hook into one another. They share the same body, opposite ends of each other, friends yet enemies, elements that are together  yet separate.

Maybe it is the action of standing in front of my wardrobe and deciding which pair of pants I will take. Which sweater and dress? Which scarf?

I imagine my clothes excitedly jumping up and down: pick me, pick me. It is a vulnerable moment as my hands reach out for my favourite bits – the ones that wrap around me with comfort and warmth, the ones that mold to my body in perfect lines, displaying my curves but also hiding them. At the end of this process when my hands finish grabbing at garments and I survey the damage, some clothes are chosen, some are not.

If my clothes were living things they maybe would feel the stab of not being chosen. They would lower their eyes in disappointment and settle into that heaviness of  heart. They would feel things just like I feel things as I pile my suitcase with pieces of myself to take to another place.

I have to get onto a plane next Tuesday. Flying is not really my thing at the moment. My best friend would tell you that I haven’t yet recovered from the careless way planes have been falling out of the sky lately. That I am still hang over from the incomprehension of the unexpectedly random loss of lives.

But much more than that, it is the way I have been thinking about what it means to stay.

We know alot about leaving. I think we do. About packing bags and walking away. The world never lets us forget that it measures our strength in relationships in chunk sizes of self-empowerment – of not taking nonsense or not letting our heart be smashed on by the other human in the relationship. There are even songs about that. Wonderful songs that make us fist pump the air and deliver courage to our shaky legs to walk away.

It is the age of self definition and somehow self definition has come to mean not letting people step on our toes. We are masters of our souls. And so we are schooled in the art of goodbyes when boundaries are crossed and love breaks. Yes, goodbye is still painful but we are more afraid of being forever known as those people who didn’t love themselves enough to walk away when things broke into pieces.

There are books about getting over people. They come in bold, beautiful covers that ensure you bury yourself in them. They want you to emerge out of their pages feeling victorious.

We all have stories about getting over people. Stories like mine. The one about that first boy I really liked when I was 16. The one who made my breath catch as it tumbled allover itself within the four walls of my chest. I didn’t know how to do it, the whole walking away thing. I turned the thing this way and that way trying to find the perfect way to walk away. There was no perfection in that exact moment. Instead it was messy and  full of ugly cries. But I walked away. And in walking away I became more of the woman I am today.

So, yes, there are times to walk away. To leave old things and places behind.

Staying is much, much harder. Maybe this is why there are no books on the bookstore shelves with bold titles like How to Stay. And maybe deep down we all just want to stay; to stay in love; to stay in that relationship. Maybe deep down we all just want to keep each other forever. But sometimes we don’t exactly know how.The ups and downs of being human beings in relationships is at best unravelling, sometimes confusing and often exhausting. The skill to know when to stay and when to go is not easily acquired. It takes discernmanet. It takes knowing ourselves and how we fit into other people, and how they fit into us. We map ourselves onto them and project from a distance all the places that may or may not align in all our relationships, good or bad.

But in staying we choose the harder, beautiful bit. Because it means showing up for the relationship time after time, again and again. It means taking a chance on our heart and giving a little piece of it away to those we love.

As much as I respect people who walk away from things I’ve only ever wanted the ones who stay. I find them inspiring in the totality of how they sit in relationships. Their fingers curl tightly around your fingers finding spaces to draw close and occupy. And all the goodness they can find in themselves they pour into the relationship. They are not perfect – and maybe this is the most beautiful part of all  – but they never use that as an excuse not to try and not to love you. It is never a reason for them not to deeply desire to learn how to be properly human in relationships.

Maybe these people understand what I have learned, what we all learn at some point:

Apart from growing a love that is visible in action, real, true, strong and godly there is no formula to staying in relationships. There is no mystery. People stay by staying because the only way to stay is to stay.

**Photo by Jo Chin**

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