“every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied”

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on relationships lately. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Josh Ritter, my favorite singer-songwriter. For some reason, during a routine listening session recently, the following line in his song “Kathleen” stood out to me, more than it ever had before: “Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.” Though I had heard this song countless times before, I finally really listened to this line, and I stopped what I was doing and thought, Damn. This guy’s got it completely right.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been struggling with a few of my own personal relationships lately, or maybe I’ve just never fully understood the weight of Ritter’s words before now. But I started thinking about the knots that had been tied around my heart and who had tied them. Beginning a relationship with another person, be it romantic or just a friendship, involves a certain amount of trust. You are agreeing to let them see the vulnerable sides of you, the ugly sides that you sometimes can’t control. You are also agreeing to let them have a permanent impact on your life. You will make memories with them, you will be connected with them in some way for the rest of your life. Yet when we form relationships, we don’t think of it in this deep, heavy way. When I meet someone new, my first thought isn’t You are going to make a lasting impact on my heart, am I ready to let you? That would be weird. But it is funny to think about how seriously our relationships with other people impact our lives. For some people, one failed relationship can mean a whole string of other relationships that lack trust and honesty. For others, a solid relationship can make the rest of life seem to fall into place. For me personally, a couple rejections and “friend zones” have given me many insecurities about entering into relationships.

When I love someone, I love them completely. I invest so much of myself into the relationships I make with people, romantic or not, and sometimes, I let my feelings dictate my actions more heavily than I should. I can’t help it, I just love deeply. But that sometimes complicates things or leaves me disappointed. Not everyone can commit so fully to relationships like I do — it would be weird if they did. It’s how I love, and I can’t change that about myself. I think sometimes I feel stupid about it because we are often taught not to be the one who loves the “most” in any given relationship. It means you are weak, or clingy, or dependent, or any other negative adjective that describes a person who can’t function without others. I hate that. Just because I really love someone, I’m the weaker person in the relationship? I agree that there is a healthy level of attachment for a human being to have, and when you become too fixated on yourself in relation to someone else, then something needs to change. But I don’t believe we should ever think less of ourselves based on how much we love.

When you love someone, you are allowing them to tie knots around your heart. You are also, in turn, tying your own knots for them, but blindly. You don’t know how your knots are going to affect the shape of their heart or the ability for them to love others. You just do it anyway. I don’t think a heart can ever be a perfect package, with a single string tying it all together simply. Maybe, depending on the nature of the relationships you form, the knots on your heart aren’t very tangled. Maybe they are, but someone else will come along and be able to slightly detangle them while gingerly adding their own knots on top. Maybe you’ve closed your heart off enough so that no one else has been able to tie any knots in a long while.

I think right now, my knots are a mess. I’ve tried to untangle them with my mind, analyzing and criticizing my own relationships, each knot in relation to the others, but it just made the problem worse. And maybe someone else came along and tried to untangle the mess I had already made, but the knots just turned into a bigger, more condensed knot. It won’t ever go away — it’s like the knots are tied from some permanent material — but I can choose how I’m going to let those knots affect the rest of my relationships. It doesn’t matter that it’s not all a nice, neat package. All that matters is that I have space for new knots to be tied.

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