He wanted to keep himself pure for his future wife. Not just sexually but emotionally as well. He didn’t want to give away parts of his heart to relationships that would end in breakup.
As a young adult, he met a young woman in whom he became interested. They began a Courtship, but things didn’t end up as he’d hoped. He eventually asked her to marry him, and she rejected his proposal. They broke up. Yet as painful as that breakup was, there was another layer of pain and fear on top of it:
I’d given my heart to a girl who rejected me. I was damaged goods. Who would want such a terrible person? 1
This story is one shared by Thomas Umstattd Jr. in his book Courtship in Crisis. Tom isn’t the only Christian who’s felt like damaged goods after the end of a romantic relationship. This phenomenon has put down roots in our Christian matrimonial culture.
Why Some People Feel Like Damaged Goods
A lot of dating relationships follow the pattern of getting emotionally attached and then severing that attachment when a breakup occurs. But severing an attachment isn’t. A strong attachment can linger in a person’s psyche for a long time, even years, as the person’s brain rewires itself.
When Christian critics of dating saw Christian young people following this pattern, the critics were afraid the young people were losing bits of their emotional selves with each breakup. So Christian authors started writing about how important it is not to “give away parts of your heart” to someone who wasn’t your future husband or wife.
Thomas Umstattd Jr. was one of the Christian young people who read that idea and believed in it. He wanted to give his whole heart to his wife. But when he went through that first breakup, he believed that he lost something he should give to his wife. Since he believed he was no longer whole, he felt like damaged goods.
Is it true that if we have an emotional attachment to someone and then lose him or her that we’ve lost something we should have given to our spouse? Are we damaged goods? Here are five reasons why the answer is no.
#1 – “Giving Your Heart Away” Is A Bad Metaphor
The beginning of Joshua Harris’ book I Kissed Dating Goodbye opens with a dream sequence where a young woman named Anna is saying her wedding vows with her husband-to-be. But as they share their vows, other women rise from the audience and come take her groom’s hands.
“Who are these girls, David? What is going on?” she gasped.
“They’re girls from my past,” he answered sadly. “Anna, they don’t mean anything to me now…but I’ve given part of my heart to each of them.”
“I thought your heart was mine,” she said.
“It is, it is,” he pleaded. “Everything that’s left is yours.”
A tear rolled down Anna’s cheek. Then she woke up. 2
The point of the story is that a person should save his or her heart for his or her spouse rather than give parts of it to others. The problem is that “giving your heart to someone” is a bad metaphor because it’s very unclear what it means. As near as I can tell, to “give your heart” to a person means to become emotionally attached to or involved with that person. It seems to carry the idea of emotional investment.
But the truth is that we don’t have one source of emotion or love that can only feel or love some finite amount. If you emotionally invest in someone and later reduce the amount of emotional investment, that doesn’t mean your capacity for emotional investment has somehow been reduced.
While “giving your heart away” sounds poetic and romantic, it actually doesn’t teach us a proper understanding of how our emotions work. I wish everyone would stop using this “give your heart away” metaphor because it’s so misleading.
I wish everyone would stop using this “give your heart away” metaphor.
#2 – Emotional Attachment Can Be Rewritten
Emotional attachment is a powerful thing. It’s supposed to be. Attachment is like a psychological glue that holds two people together. That’s a good thing when you’re planning to spend the rest of your lives together. But does that mean if you breakup with someone instead of marry him or her that permanent damage has been done?
Attachments are hard to break. After all, the whole point of an attachment is keeping you with someone. But breaking an attachment and moving on is possible. It’s not easy if the attachment is strong, but it’s possible. It may take time, even a lot of time. You may even need to find some healing along the way.
When I lost my first love, it took about three years to fully get over her. But the first of those three years saw no forward progress because I had a number of issues I hadn’t dealt with. Losing someone we’re attached to can bring to light any number of emotional, relational, or spiritual issues we may not have noticed before. If you suspect you have any issues that are holding you back, invest in yourself by talking with a counselor who can help you process what you’re going through.
Also remember that because attachments are so powerful you should never dive into them carelessly. Many people get into an emotionally charged relationship for the fun of it and are left having to break a strong attachment once they break up. The healthy way to pursue a romantic relationship is to keep a reign on your emotions so they keep pace with the relationship.
The good news is that, while attachments are sticky, they don’t have to be forever. It’s possible to go through a breakup, take time to adjust, and find a new relationship that’s healthy and whole.
#3 – Your Spouse Can Have All Of You
If you’ve had multiple significant others then they’ve all received part of you to some extent. They’ve known at least some of your personality, hopes, desires, weaknesses, etc. They’ve received affection from you. As relational beings, it’s natural for us to share ourselves with others. But just because we share some of ourselves with one person doesn’t mean we can’t share that same part of ourselves with another person. Your spouse will know your personality, hopes, desires, weaknesses, and affection like your former boy/girlfriends did. But your spouse will (or at least should!) have even more of you. The parts of yourself that are shared in other relationships don’t disappear. They remain a part of you. Your spouse can fully share in those dimensions of you.
One thing to note, however, is that regret after a breakup often comes when you share yourself with a significant other too deeply. When emotional or sexual sharing becomes greater than the commitment level of the relationship, you may end up sharing intimate parts of yourself with someone who may not be with you for a lifetime. However, that still doesn’t mean you can’t share those parts of yourself later with your spouse. It means you should be careful what you share and how soon you share it as a relationship grows.
#4 – Healing Is Real
Sometimes romantic relationships end in a healthy way. But sometimes they end in an unhealthy way or with regrets about what was done during the relationship. Many people do carry emotional or relational wounds from past relationships. The good news is that healing is real. God can take those parts of you and bring healing to them. I’ve known people who have come from very broken experiences, received God’s healing, and entered into joyful marriages. You’re not damaged when God has restored you.
#5 – Love Is Infinite
If you have ten slices of pizza and give two to a friend, you only have eight slices left to share with someone else. Love isn’t pizza. You can love thousands of people and still continue sharing an endless supply of love.
To clarify, love is different than emotion. That’s why I explained earlier that we need to be careful how we develop emotional attachments with people. It’s really not possible to have deep emotional attachments to thousands of people. While love is infinite, emotion needs to be guided with wisdom.
But just because you showed godly love to a past boy/girlfriend doesn’t mean you have less love to give to your spouse. Love isn’t an earthly commodity that’s expended with use. It’s a heavenly gift that multiplies as it’s shared. Showing true, godly love to a significant other now won’t take away from loving your spouse later. Love doesn’t damage love.
Can you think of other biblical truths that we’re not damaged goods? Please share with us in the comments!
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1. Umstattd Jr, Thomas. Courtship in Crisis. Stone Castle, 2015. Page 13
2. Harris, Joshua. I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Multnomah, 1997. Pages 17-18