When you meet someone who comes from a broken family you probably won’t know it right away. They’ll do their best to blend in, to watch their words, to make sure they seem like everyone else. It’s a habit they’ve picked up over the years. How easy it is to look like all the rest. How easy it is to perform the same dance and routine.
Wear the right clothes. Say the right things. Don’t let your guard down. Never allude to the fact there’s something missing.
And what is missing? It’s the question that continues to haunt them. Was it losing their parent at a young age? Was it the divorce, the abuse, the memories that can’t seem to go away? Was it because they had to grow up faster than everyone else? Not every broken person shares the same story and their story lives inside of them triumphantly defiant, an anchor holding the weight of their heart down, but the hollowness feels eerily similar all the same. They don’t know how to quite pinpoint when it all seemed to fall apart. All they know is that they fell. Hard.
When you start dating someone from a broken family at first it might all seem too easy. That’s because it is. You’ll ask them about their upbringing, their background, what their family’s like, and without blinking they’ll gloss over the ugly details with just enough relevant information you’ll actually believe you’re getting the real story. It’s not that they’re trying to be deceptive or misleading. They just know it’s easier this way. For both of you.
They know no one wants to hear about the long nights spent in the hospital waiting room wondering if their father’s okay and no one wants to talk about how their mother fucked them up or how their sibling was an addict or about how the pain from a broken home still lingers in the back of their mind regardless how many times they will it away. No, none of these are great first date topics. Even second, third, fifth dates just never seem appropriate for this kind of insight into their life. They’ve inherently always felt strange, in a way they don’t know how to communicate, in a way they hope won’t make you walk away from them and deem them unloveable forever.
In the beginning they’ll keep it up – this nervous charade. Letting you in just enough to know the way their lips taste when they get drunk enough to kiss you in public but just far away you’ll never know what they’re like in the morning when their hair is messy and they’re quiet in their movements. It’s the game they play keeping you close enough to the wall but never so close you might actually get the chance to break through. It’s not fair, they know, but they aren’t sure how to love someone in any other way.
By now they’ve learned the subtle way to bite the inside of their lip and let the blood flow when you mention your family, the home you grew up in, the holiday traditions you’ve known for years. These things make them uneasy, jealous, even a bit threatened, in a way you’ll never be able to understand. They don’t know what that’s like – to know you can go back to the same address you knew as a kid. They don’t know what that’s like – to know you can go back to the same people you knew as a kid. Stability has always come at a cost to them and because of that they’ve learned to never expect anything from anyone.
They’ll keep it up and keep it up until you’re both exhausted and weary, rolling around in bed sheets, laughing about something completely mundane, when they realize in a moment they’ve let their guard down. A moment that means nothing to you can mean everything to them. They’ve been longing for this – this undividedness and sense of belonging they can actually touch. So they think for a moment maybe this is a place they can get comfortable – the space between you and them isn’t that far, really, when they think about it. They wonder for a moment if they could even call this space with you home, and if, for once, they might actually have found something real, something tangible in another human being. Immediately they push the thought away and remember they’re not good enough for something like that. A home. Love. A relationship that could actually work. No, these are not the things that happen to bad people, to broken people, to people who come from an unconventional home.
So that’s what you must remember when you love a person from a broken family – there will be days when they simply feel like they don’t deserve you or your love or this beautiful life you’ve created together. It’s the feeling deep down on their darkest days that they’ll never be enough. When you love a person from a broken family don’t try to fix their issues or understand everything about where they came from – just a little bit of space for them flourish is all they need to grow.