The Weight of Relationships

In the movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly finds out some weird news. He tells Doc, "This is heavy."

Doc replies, "There's that word again: heavy. Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the Earth's gravitational pull?"

It's 2017, it's Valentine's Day, and when I think about dating and relationships, I'm wondering the same thing as Doc: why is this all so heavy for me?

Don't get me wrong: I'm not somebody who gets sad about being single on Valentine's Day. Or any other day. When I say dating is heavy, I mean it feels cumbersome. Like I'm wearing eight layers of clothes on a balmy summer day.

I'll let you in on a secret: I signed up for a dating site back in January. First time ever. I figured it was time to get more intentional about a relationship instead of my usual approach:  move 100 miles per hour here, there, and everywhere; do what I love, and go where I love; and if I happen to collide into somebody interesting, that's cool. Sounds ideal, but in practice, it doesn't work that well. A change in approach was due.

Here's what I discovered about online dating from about the first nano-second: it felt like work to me. It was like I was applying for the CIA or FBI—complete with a full psychological profile and background check. I half expected them to ask for a urine analysis.

There are a million questions, a million angles you have to analyze about yourself and your approach, and then a million people to sort through. I strongly considered hiring an administrative assistant to handle my dating business. At one point, I thought I might need to use Excel to be good at this, and I already hate Excel enough as it is (full disclosure: I still don't completely understand Excel—I'm 98% sure it operates through sorcery).

Maybe it's just me and my personality, but I don't want dating to resemble my email filtering workflow. I second-guessed everything I put in my profile. I resented that I second-guessed everything I put in my profile—why did I suddenly care what strangers think? I ended up not talking to a single person. I ignored the weird messages from girls who wore basically their underwear in their profile photos. The internet is such a weird place—where else would you go and start a conversation with someone in your underwear? I guess the doctor's for a physical, but you at least start with clothes on.

Anyway, I avoided the site for longer and longer stretches until I finally disabled it. I hated every second. It was tedious, discouraging work.

I don't want this to feel like work. The work will come when I'm committed and deep into a relationship and dealing with the inevitable friction and conflict that comes with love in the long term. I don't want this stage to be work. It feels heavy.

Only a fraction of that heaviness is because of online dating. Or as I now call it, the Relationship Roy Rogers, aptly named for the fast-food establishment found at certain rest stops off the highway that I've turned to when everything else is closed and I try hard to be excited about the selection of burgers and beans but I just can't do it. If you're reading this and you're offended because you like online dating, please know that this is how I feel about my experience with it, not yours. If it's great for you, great. If you're offended because you like Roy Rogers, we literally have nothing in common, and you should stop reading.

The real reason relationships feel heavy to me is because I've accumulated a bunch of weight. Not on my actual body—that's physically impossible, and you can ask anyone at every all-you-can-eat joint within a 25-mile radius of where I live.

It's a psychological, emotional weight that's grown over time.

Each mistake I make adds some weight.

Each wound inflicted on me adds some weight.

Each expectation I place on myself—and there are many—for how a mature, healthy, wise, teacher/pastor/writer/grown man should act and treat people adds some weight.

Each reason I think of not to trust someone adds some weight.

Each fear adds some weight.

Add weight after weight after weight, and suddenly, relationships are heavy.

No wonder every step is so slow. No wonder I usually opt out of the game. Let me dump the weight and take a road trip—that's light for me. Let me hike the Adirondacks or explore Yellowstone—that's light. Let me grab my board and head to the slopes for a day—that's light. Let me teach or speak or play music—that's light. Let me be single—that's light, too.

I can move freely in any of those scenarios. I can run, skip, jump, play. Even the challenging parts are fun to me. Physical challenge? I'm game. If I have to speak somewhere, I can stay up for hours and hours and dive into even the gritty work of it with a smile on my face.

Somewhere along the way, I traded out the good, light parts of relationships for heaviness, for weights.

I don't think I'm the only one.

We all do it to some degree. We bring weights into a relationship, dating or married. We bring a past hurt, an unhealed wound, and it weighs us down. We bring an unfair expectation of the other person or ourselves, and it weighs us down. We hold on to something the other person did, and it weighs us down. We choose our pride over what will make things right, and it weighs us down.

We need a little more lightness, I think. The world and outside forces will bring us more than enough weight to test our limits. Why put any more weight on myself than I have to? Why put any more weight on your significant other or spouse or kids than you have to?

I don't know about you, but I'll take a bit more fun, a bit more laughter, a bit more whimsy, a bit more forgiveness, a bit more grace. I don't need any more of that other junk.

So here's my proposition for all of us this Valentine's Day, whether you're single, dating, or married—let's drop some of the weight, shall we?

Let's exchange the somber wool coats of expectations for tank tops and sundresses and appreciation for what's right in front of us.

Let's kick the crutches and casts and slings of wounds we've nursed for too long—it's time to stretch those limbs and run and jump and climb in and over and around the places we weren't sure we'd ever get back to.

Let's close the distance, cut through the thick air of fear or distrust—move toward your person, weave your fingers like harmonic notes into the melody of his or hers, let your lips find each other like the first sip of hot chocolate after a day spent in the cold.

Let's set down what's heavy, what has weighed us down, what has held us back.

Let's rise into what's light, what's free, what lifts us and propels us toward hope.