why kids from broken families are afraid of falling in love
One of my all-time favorite songs is Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons.
The ballad is rhapsodic by nature – it stutters along in both arcs and parallels, crescendoing in and out, almost mimicking the breathing pattern of ocean waves slapping at the shore.
This flow continues until around halfway through the song, at which point the band reveals their ringing climax:
Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free.
Be more like the man you were made to be.
I absolutely love this line. Every time the words leave my lips, I find myself very badly wanting to believe that they are true.
It’s a really nice idea – that love will never betray you, dismay or enslave you; that love will set you free from a prison you didn’t know existed, actually helping you become more like the person God originally intended you to be.
Author C.S. Lewis echoes this idea of love not as risk management, but liberation (man, what a beautiful word):
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
It’s a powerful warning – that love is the only thing that can free you from yourself.
“Love, it will not dismay you, betray or enslave you, it will set you free!”
But I personally find it really hard to believe what Mumford & Sons and C.S. Lewis are saying about the beauty of (falling in) love – while I can only speak to my own story, my personal experience leads me to believe that love will betray you, will dismay and enslave you, and will absolutely not set you free.
I was talking about this with my little sister the other day.
Almost everything my siblings and I have seen in terms of romantic relationships has been unhealthy. Nearly every familial experience we’ve had screams that love is the opposite of freedom, that it can ruin everything – that Mumford & Sons and C.S. Lewis are pretty much full of it.
Others who come from broken homes can tell you that there’s a phrase folks like us sometimes use when we’re being truly open about our fears.
We say that we’re afraid of “marrying the wrong person.”
We’re afraid of meeting someone, falling in love, getting married, having kids with them…and then watching everything fall apart.
It’s not that we fear commitment – we just fear it going south.
Because we’ve seen this before, from a front-row perspective. The tearing apart of a family has had an enormous impact on our own lives, and the last thing we ever want to do is replicate that same trauma in the lives of our children.
Kids from broken families are afraid of falling in love because we know that no one’s parents woke up on their wedding day and thought “well, this whole thing’s gonna end in screaming matches, bitter years in divorce court, and alimony.“
That’s probably the scariest thing to us, that our parents were once deeply in love and now they barely speak to each other. We’re not quite sure how to sit with that or how to make sure love lost doesn’t happen to us too.
So we flee from the possibility of romantic love.
Folks like us dread more than anything the spark of attraction that flickers up in our gut when we discover that we feel an abiding romantic connection to someone who has up to this point been “just a friend.” We usually react by hardening our hearts against the risk of possible erotic attachment and shoving our feelings down, pouring black water over the hot flames of attraction until they’re all but drowned in a soggy, repressed mess.
We flee because living alone and never opening up to the chance of finding that Special Someone seems much safer than potentially creating a family situation as devastating as the one we survived.
We strangle love before it can take root because we fear it will someday enslave us, betray us, dismay us, and trap us in a prison of misery.
Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, reflecting upon the meaning of life, said that “love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire.”
Again, I want to believe that he’s right.
Underneath our blaring pain and fears, we who come from broken families really do want to believe that there is a deeper frequency operating in secret. We love the idea that love’s call is the fullest fate that humans have access to. We daily strain to spurn our doubt and hear the humble buzzing of a most precious truth that insists we were made for and by and through love.
I don’t know if I buy that yet.
But what I can say is this:
We who come from broken families must either continue to hide from our destinies as creatures made for relationships and community, or swallow our fears and take a step of faith, daring to risk at love and loss.
At least until I’m proven otherwise, I guess I’ll keep nodding along with C.S. Lewis and singing the words to Sigh No More.
Meanwhile, my fingers’ll be crossed that this whole love thing isn’t a scam – that romance is ultimately worth it and that love really is liberation.
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What do you think? Can you relate? How may I have mischaracterized those of us who come from broken homes?