I grew up in a home characterized more by fear than by love. Each week my father would scream at us, using new irrational arguments to take out his frustrations on his family.
When I was around my dad, I would strive constantly to play the part of the perfect child. I didn’t trust him enough to talk or open up about anything because I never knew how he would react. I developed a strong distrust of men at a very early age. Even my uncles and grandpas who had only ever treated me with kindness, I watched with a wary eye because I wondered when they too were going to unexpectedly fly off the handle.
It’s been nothing short of a miracle, but now as an adult I can honestly say I’ve learned how to trust men again—one of the biggest leaps of faith I have ever taken.
Despite my parents’ difficult marriage that ended in divorce, I still remember having an optimistic outlook about my own future with men. As I’ve written previously, much of this optimism came from being around other couples who showed me that a healthy marriage is possible. I knew somewhere deep down that there had to be something better than the abuse that permeated my life.
I would vowed that when I got married someday, I would never let my own children experience what I was going through. I prayed to God that He would help me find a husband who would treat me with kindness and who would be the best dad in the world.
But opening up to guys was more difficult than I thought it would be. I had grown up constantly protecting myself and my sister from my dad’s anger, so I naturally fell into that pattern when I started dating—trying to protect myself from whatever might be hiding behind a boyfriend’s calm demeanor.
I had my first boyfriend when I was a junior in high school. He never raised his voice and never pushed me to talk about anything I didn’t want to. I still remember vividly the utter fear I felt at times when I thought of sharing something personal about myself or opening up about anything that was bothering me. But my boyfriend was patient and kind. And after some time and countless conversations, I realized I trusted him.
I only felt free to open up because my boyfriend at the time had earned my trust, and I knew he wouldn’t betray it. I learned that even though it can be scary, you must be vulnerable and open to truly get to know someone. That is how you grow closer as a couple.
I still struggled to open up in my next serious relationship five years later, but I found it was easier the second time around. I saw firsthand that a man can be kind and gentle. I saw that there are men who can be trusted enough to be vulnerable with. I had realized that although no man is perfect, there are guys who understand what it means to love and cherish a woman and how to treat women with respect.
These dating experiences reaffirmed the quiet hope I carried within me as a kid that I could find a guy who would treat me with respect. I didn’t end up with either of those men. But both of them helped prepared me in some way for my current boyfriend—who I trust more deeply than I ever have before.
If I hadn’t learned how to let others in, I would have missed out on the best guy I’ve ever met—a man who doesn’t let his anger or frustration get out of hand, who is supportive and kind, and who stands by my side no matter what I’m going through. It’s the hard things in life I’ve faced and overcome that have made me the person he knows and loves today.
With him, I’m not afraid to be vulnerable—something that I’ve found either makes or breaks a relationship. I know it’s safe to open up to him about my past hurts and that he isn’t going to betray my trust. I’m not afraid to let him in.
My determination and hope from a young age for a happy relationship helped propel me through the fears of trusting men in my late teen and early adult years. Every day I’m together with my boyfriend reminds me why facing my fears was worth it.