Falling in love is one of the most vulnerable experiences that one can have in life. None of us know for sure what’s coming next, and that can be terrifying… To love is to risk. There is no way around it. If you are one to shy away from failure in life, if you are someone who plays only the games you believe you can win, then you are probably living a life that is way too small and far too boring, even for you. – Katherine Woodward Thomas
I’ve been in love 3 times, or at least that’s what I tell people when they ask. I can rattle off the guys pretty quickly, actually. The first was the guy I dated on and off my senior year of high school and into my freshman year of college. He was my first in a lot of things, but by no means my first in what many would consider THE thing. I found out freshman year that he didn’t take that relationship nearly as seriously as I did. The second was a really good friend who became a lover in college and also, eventually, was the man I decided to have sex with for the first time. Things ended a month later. And the third? Well, the third was Jake.
And so even though I can quickly tell you who I’ve loved, the truth is I’ve lived what my girl S Curl calls an amor cauteloso (a cautious love) for most of my life. This cautious love has manifested in many ways, but mostly it’s resulted in me being scared that the bottom would fall out from me the moment I admitted my feelings, and thus I’ve run away from these feelings at every chance possible.
When I think about it, I realize that I’ve loved without risk. Often, my love has come reluctantly, after I’ve done all the avoiding I can possibly do, and finally resigned myself to the fact that despite all my efforts – damn it, I’ve fallen for this man. And usually, because I’ve been so focused on the bad that may come, it eventually does, not because that’s what happens – but because that’s what I put my focus and energy on.
Obviously, this is not the healthiest example of love. But it’s also just not a very good example either.
For what is love if it’s not opening yourself up to the possibility of pain? What’s love if it doesn’t include being vulnerable with someone to the point that they can hurt you, but knowing that they will do everything in their power not to? What’s love if it doesn’t include trusting that person with your heart; if it doesn’t make you happy; if it doesn’t grow you stronger? And how can you have this exciting, passionate, and yet healthy love if you’re constantly running away from the thought of being that open and that vulnerable with someone?
And so in my attempts to eliminate the chances of being hurt, all I’ve done so far is make those chances greater. I’ve hurt men who loved me. I’ve avoided my feelings for others and pushed them away before the risk became too great. And for what? The world doesn’t end when you tell someone you love them, even if that love is not reciprocated. No, it keeps going. And you keep going, but with the knowledge that you’ve done your part in being honest and open to your experiences.
For the longest time, I talked that talk. Just like with faith, I could quote scripture about love and talk about how it was a verb and not just a feeling, but I continuously ran from it. Always afraid. Always scared. Forever questioning the validity of those feelings. That fear also showed itself in other parts of my life, creeping into not just my relationships with men, but also with my friends and in my hopes and desires – because that’s what fear does. It doesn’t just stay in one part of your life. It grows and festers everywhere.
So, I continued to play it safe. I continued to take as little risk as possible. I continued to shy away from the possibility of failure, even with evidence showing that the times when I did take big chances, I was rewarded because of my leap of faith. And the truth is I’ve been running from… well, a lot for a long time. And now, it’s time to stop. It’s time to let it all go and declare that I don’t want to run any longer.
That I’m no longer afraid.