Love is often perceived as this easy thing that everyone is capable of doing. I find this to be untrue. To love and be loved can create anxiety.
To have the faith that we are lovable and beautiful with our scars, not just temporarily, but permanently in our own heart, is a questionable endeavor for many. Even I am not immune to the protective armor we wear to guard our fragile bleeding hearts.
I remember sitting in my psychoanalyst’s office talking about a new relationship I was starting. I told my analyst that my mind was jumping to conclusions. “Maybe she wants children right now and I’m not ready for that,” I said to him. “She doesn’t text very often because she’s busy working an amazing job. I don’t think she has time for me.”
While these feelings may be valid, they were not reality. Those words were a story in my mind to protect me. They were sentences entrenched in the narrative that I’m not good enough to be lovable. There always has been a strong impulse to sabotage my own relationships. There’s always has been an unwillingness to risk in the unknown world of another’s heart.
Because I knew if I let myself truly be seen, I’d have to question how I saw myself.
One night, I stopped by her place to spend 20 minutes with her before she headed off to bed. After those 20 minutes had passed, I said, “It’s time for me to leave.” I could see in her eyes a lingering for me to stay. An unspoken desire for intimacy – maybe even sexual.
So what did I do?
I got the hell out of there.
I hadn’t told her about the condition I had that made my skin flake and gave me red spots all over my body. I was ashamed of my psoriasis. I thought if she knew, she wouldn’t be attracted to me.
Even with evidence of prior partners loving me despite my skin issues, I closed myself off from her in that moment. I was deeply scared of her loving me, because I struggled to love myself.
Loving Requires Risking Your Heart
A passionate and intimate relationship requires us to risk our hearts, thereby offering someone the power to hurt, betray, and reject us.
I’ve heard others complain when they are not falling in love. But love isn’t out in a man or a woman, it’s in you. Someone else, no matter how sexy, isn’t going to make you fall in love. You can be neurologically drugged by your hormones to become really attracted to them, but falling in love happens when you share yourself and offer love. Sharing your painful vulnerabilities, your hopes and dreams, and actually being interested in your partners.
Falling in love and staying connected bids you to be willing and able to open your heart, to expose your emotions (even the “bad” ones), and to share your inner world with someone else. Giving your fragile heart to someone is the only way to feel love. The risky paradox is the more love you offer, the more love and the more vulnerable you’ll feel.
The passionate emotions of love come from the risky venture of giving love and truly receiving it. Those of us who did not feel loved or valued growing up, think that to be loved in a relationship is the ultimate prize at the carnival. We end up feeling empty, disappointed, and cynical, because the magic feelings come much more from loving which opens our heart to receiving love as well.
Protecting your fragile heart may keep you safe, but at a terribly high cost. You won’t get hurt. But if you’re unwilling to love unconditionally, are you truly alive?
Our struggle to risk being vulnerable is one of the reasons our relationships have an intimacy deficit. Being vulnerable is being direct and honest with how we feel. It requires us to share our fears. To ask for what we need and be honest with ourselves about what we need.
There is no joy in holding back at the expense of being happy, passionate, and in love. The secret is that you must love in order to feel in love. If you don’t give yourself to a relationship, you won’t feel very much. You will neglect yourself of the emotion that many artists and scientists claim to be the elixir of life itself.
Here’s the paradox. When we are unwilling to be vulnerable, we lose the courage to embrace the joy of love.
What you give in your relationship defines how passionate and fulfilling it feels. Being vulnerable about your heart and opening it up to your partner is the glue that binds the passion of our intimate relationships together.
There is a valuable lesson here. The more love you give, the more you feel. The more you hold your heart back, the emptier and more superficial the relationship will be.
To Be Loved Requires Risk
It is not always difficult for us to enter into our brokenness, but it is immensely harder to accept our beauty. When you are able to accept how radically beautiful you are, even with your scars, you are now asking your heart to enjoy and delight in the glory of love from another. And for a number of reasons, that risk is beyond what most people can afford to feel.
For me to stand emotionally naked with my skin disease is an unbearable experience for me. I also know it is the very thing I desperately crave and the thing I want to protect myself from. Because I know that if I can allow someone to love me as I am, I must then accept that I can love myself; psoriasis, inadequacies, and all. And accepting to love myself enables me to truly receive my partner’s love.
Our willingness to love can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted. If we are afraid of feeling pain and loss, we will volunteer our hearts to live disappointed, rather than feel disappointed for a period of time. We never allow ourselves to be fully in love. This never allows us to truly experience the raw engagement and passion with someone else and ourselves.
Love awards the mind and body with “experiential riches denied [to] simpler creatures, but it also opens mammals up to the torment and destruction”1 that breaks our heart and shapes how we define the world and ourselves. That is why love is the centerpiece of humanity and lies at the core of the body. Love is the beating heart of life itself.
Protecting & Giving Your Heart
With all that said, giving your heart to anyone is a foolish endeavor. That’s because, “who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.” 2 If your partner is emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive, they do not deserve your heart.
This article should be taken with a grain a salt. If you are in a disconnected relationship that has consistent disagreements or experiences conflict or feelings of loneliness, this article is for you. Opening your heart and risking it to be loved and become more loving is a bold adventure.
What you will find if you’re in a safe, but unhappy relationship, is that as you become more loving and are more open to being loved, you will reshape “the bars and walls of [your heart’s] prison into a home where love can bloom and flourish.” 3
Loving is actually really simple on paper.
- By becoming more mindful of the moments your partner is seeking connection, the quicker you can turn towards them and build trust and intimacy.
- By asking open-ended questions that expand your understanding of your partner, you build new levels of appreciation for them.
- By discussing conflict in a healthy way, you can use conflict as a catalyst for closeness that allows both of you to get to know each other better. This will deepen your love for one another.
All of these, while simple, require risk.
- Being mindful of connection requires the risk of missing moments of connection, that when happen, as they do in every relationship, requires the risk of being vulnerable so you can repair the relationship.
- By asking open-ended questions, you may learn things about your partner that may surprise you and cause you to change how you see them.
- By discussing conflict, you enter into the risky world of hurting your partner. Yet, it is this very risk that is needed for both partners to truly love each other so they can grow together.
The courage to love starts with opening our hearts to be truly seen and to truly see another. And that my friend is a risky, yet beautiful adventure.