So my default setting is, and has been, that no one's worth it. No one is worth losing my sense of self, the cocoon of nurturing I have set around myself. I cannot stomach the idea of sacrificing even an inch of my hard-won ground to stand on, even if it's with someone else's arm around me. No one is worth the emotional upheaval, the danger of caring too much, the months it takes to recover from a blow to the heart. I can't bear the idea of giving up something I have worked so hard to gain — my independence — even if my independence cannot always keep me company on a long night. No one's worth putting on real pants for and going out with after a long day of work. (Okay, kidding on that one. I'm sure there's a few who are worth real pants.)
There's two parts of this that bother me; one being, kay, sure, but what happens when you do meet the person who seems like they're worth it (and how do you stifle the whispers of what if long enough to find out). The other is the idea that perhaps my view of love, true love, is somewhat fundamentally flawed and in need of reevaluation. I mean, duh. I don't need a degree in psychology to tell you that there's something a bit jarring about the fact that everything I think about love seems to involve the concept of losing. It can't be healthy to believe that love only takes away.
But that's not enough. I have a fear of the dark, see, and knowing that most of the people I love don't share it isn't enough to cure me. Once, I walked into a dark forest after midnight to see the stars, and even with flashlights and friends aplenty, I was too scared to go deeper into the woods. I made my friend wait with me by the well-lit train tracks for the others to come back. It didn't matter that none of them were afraid. I knew they knew that nothing was out there to hurt me, but I didn't feel the same certainty in the pit of my stomach. So I sat by the tracks and missed a night of star-gazing that I'm sure I would've remembered forever.
It's not enough for me to know that others have been lucky in love. It's not enough to know that the issues I have with the idea of romance stem from the twenty years I spent in a home that was, at best, dysfunctional, and at worst, abusive. I can know all that, and feel all that to be true, but the list still remains. And each time I'm presented with an opportunity that looks like it might lead to love, I run in the opposite direction, shedding truth all the way.
A long time ago, I decided that it would be better to live with arms wide open than with my heart closed off. I led with my heart, and trusting it has only brought me out of a dark place and into a better life. But I almost picked wrong, when it came to romance, and now I sometimes feel like I'll never be able to know if it's right, when it is. If it ever is. Perhaps the fear of falling in love is normal for us all, or for my generation at least. But I know that for me, it runs deeper than most. It is encapsulated in a lifetime of watching the most formative figures of love in my life make each other miserable. I can still remember when he made her so angry that she had an extremely rare outburst and threw a table fan at his head. I can still remember the way it crashed against the wall and how all he did was laugh.
More than most, I am terrified of ending up in a relationship that is doomed before it even begins. But where is the balance between necessary caution, wariness, and my long list of nevers?
I have learned, I think, to live with my heart open in regards to most things. Friendships, dreams, empathy, hope. I know that the one thing I still keep myself locked up tight against is love, as if even the slightest waft of it on the breeze could infect me and ruin me forever. It doesn't help that I've been abused by men, that I've watched almost all of my friends be mistreated by men. But I think it goes beyond that — to me, love is the ultimate vulnerability. It makes you weak. It lets someone in where most don't go, and it gives them power over you. Power that can be used to make you feel good, or to hurt you, and sometimes it's on accident and sometimes it's not. In my experience, it's almost never on accident.
So what's a girl to do when her view on love is that it is a warped and twisted thing, bound to suppress and tighten, leaving no room to breathe? All I've ever seen of love is that it lets someone else get tangled up inside you until you don't have the strength to make them leave, until it's turned into twenty-five years of your life spent in a controlling, abusive relationship, one so intertwined with who you think you are that you can't even see it. It's the frog in the pot, the heat turning up so slowly that you don't notice you're being killed slowly. I am too terrified of being hurt, being controlled, being made to feel small again, to chance it. And so I see one glimpse of love on the horizon, and I run. Fast.
I used to think the primary problem was that I was unloveable. That no man would look at my body, my mind, my struggles and my strengths, and sign on to deal with it. I know now that this is not true. With age and experience and a rough tumble getting started on my own in life, I have a better grip on who I am and what I like about myself. This, in turn, has helped me to stand firm knowing that I'm a dang cutie with a sense of humor that's 90% more entertaining than most things in life and a fascinating brain and that any boy who drew my fancy would be primarily lucky to have me except for the weeks when I'm too depressed to shower.
So that's not the problem. The problem isn't not knowing anyone who's got a healthy romantic life. It's not that I feel that men can't be trusted (although this is more often true than not), and it's not that I don't know where these fears stem from. I can know all of this, and still. Still I find myself with that choking feeling in my throat when I picture a life together, where I am part of an us, where we are Mr. and Mrs. or even just a couple. I think of love as suffocation, a potential smothering of everything I hold so dear.
I want that to change. I don't know how. I hope, one day, I'll be able to come back here and tell you it did, and I do.