Dear Catholic Girl: What about baggage?
This the debut column for a new Mountain Catholic feature called “Dear Catholic Girl…” Send your own questions to email@example.com.
Hey Catholic Girl,
So my girlfriend has been with guys before me, and I’ve been with girls before her. And I’d really like to marry this girl, but we have so much baggage. How do I overcome the baggage we both bring to our relationship?
I’d like to start by congratulating you on finding someone that you love so much that you’re considering marrying her. Isn’t it delightful to look up at her and realize “Wow! The world is better because she is here!”? Regardless of whether you marry her, you looked at her and saw that it was good she is here, and that’s rather incredible—that any person could be alive, and we could know them out of the millions of others in this world.
So your girlfriend and you have “history” and it isn’t with each other. When you say “I’d really like to marry this girl, but,” what you’re really pointing out is that your life and your girlfriend’s life before meeting each other isn’t exactly a Garden of Eden ideal. I suspect when you look around the world at how things are today, you’d see much of the world isn’t reaching that Garden of Eden ideal. And that’s deeply unfortunate. Original Sin really did a number on things.
I think a helpful start for your situation is to look at her and see the woman you love enough to consider marrying. Sure, you have baggage, but that’s the thing about our capacity to love being limited by our knowledge from experience: sometimes we make decisions we regret. Sometimes we didn’t know better, or we wished we hadn’t known better, or we knew better and just didn’t care to consider it, or loved the former other too much then to do otherwise. And perhaps those loves weren’t always expressed in the right way towards the person we were with. Perhaps we said more with our body than was right at that time or with that person.
Many of us approach relationships as if baggage is something we have to “get over.” And after going to Reconciliation, the aftershocks, the baggage, might still be around. There is a lot of baggage you and your girlfriend might not ever wholly “get over”: You both might regret, yet again, that you have your histories, or you might regret that you were a jerk to your younger brother, or she might regret that she has anxiety. But, in the person who is actually there (the person you actually fell in love with, and not some idealization of her), that baggage is a part of why she is who she is now.
See, love isn’t about deigning to overlook baggage. Love is about looking at that baggage, acknowledging the various emotions it might arouse in us, and then choosing whether we want to say to the other “I love you.” Not because of her baggage, and not in spite of her baggage. But because she is here, right in front of you, staring you in the face. Love is about taking the person before you, just as they are—and loving them. Love isn’t a scorecard of kinds. Love isn’t about dragging up records.
Love is about seeing this person and desiring the good for her as if it were your own good. Love is choosing her not because it makes you look good, but because loving her makes you want to be good. It isn’t about overcoming things with her, it is about coming towards her. I’m not sure either of you will ever forget entirely your experiences, good or bad, but I do think that where you are is here and and you are here now, and there is a girl whom you might want to marry. If you get caught up in the past (hers or your own), you won’t give yourself a fair chance to figure out if you do want to marry her. She is in your present, and it is only by prayerful discernment and practicing love in the present that you will be able to honestly learn if you love her—not because of or in spite of, but simply. And it is only through considering these questions with the person you are facing now—as she is and you are, scars and all—that you can honestly discern if you will be in each other’s future.
Best of luck with all of that!