Growing up in a dysfunctional family is a double whammy. On one hand, you learn poor strategies for maintaining and nurturing relationships. On the other hand, once you realize these are working, you realize you also haven’t learned any strategies to replace the poor ones. Besides all of that, coming out of a dysfunctional family, until you realize you have learned such poor strategies, you tend to find people you feel comfortable with, in which case, you wind up with people who have also learned poor strategies and who may never wish or desire to develop new ones.
This is where I found myself at the ripe age of eighteen when I went off to Bible college in St. Bonifacius, Minnesota to study to become a missionary, but of course, I didn’t have the wisdom of the following twenty years of mistakes to guide me, so I found a woman who made sense to me in terms of the climate of my childhood home. Within those parameters, for anything or anyone to make sense, I think a healthy person would have run away, and quickly. But I plunged into a relationship that, even after it has officially and legally ended, still continues to create ripples of hassle and degradation in my life.
Coming out of that relationship, I didn’t wait three months before I found another woman who made sense. While I’d grown and learned much in twenty years, I hadn’t learned enough to smell neurosis and personality disorder. She waited until our first date to tell me she had a boyfriend that she lived with and on our second date, she left thinking I was a serial killer. Part of this was that I’d told her of some of the struggles I had in Ethiopia, and part of it was the fact that Jin-Sang thinks there is a serial killer on every block in America, and everyone of them probably hates Asian people also. I floated through that relationship, seeing the warnings, experiencing the disorientation and confusion of living with someone who constantly vies to control the world in order to avoid all the fearful things in it. Horrible fights interspersed with tender moments, jealous rages interspersed with adoration. I was surprised the day she broke up with me and flabbergasted seventeen months later to learn she had married the Korean man she’d broken up with me to be with. Time to see the world in a new way.
I’ve spent two years now developing new filters. As I meet new people and involve myself in new routines, I see differently. I’ve learned my place in the world, at least to a degree, and I know what is my responsibility and what isn’t. I see strange behaviors from afar. I can accept a person for who he or she is, but I don’t have to invite that person into my life. It’s been wonderful to see this unfold and I can appreciate the difficulty I’ve been through. The road ahead won’t be easy, but at least I have a new way to see it, and the people who make sense will hopefully be people who want to do good in the world and find the abundant life that awaits.