“Don't text him. You don't want to invest in him if he's not invested in you. You need to protect your heart,” my well-intentioned friend, Abby, offered while slurping down some ramen. We were both in the middle of assessing whether or not I should text my current crush, Eric. Abby had just been burned by her latest short-term romance, so perhaps she wasn't the best person to be giving me advice.
I've played the dating game for as long as I can remember. When I say game, I mean game. It's a game of analyzing, obsessing and trying to find the exact formula for your words.
You want to always find the perfect thing to say at exactly the right time. You want to seduce and charm -- yet somehow, still be yourself -- and hope that he likes you.
Protecting your heart is a huge part of the game. In the case he doesn't return your affection, you have to follow the rules so that you don't get hurt. Don't give too much. Play it cool.
Don't be too vulnerable. Don't fall too hard. You need to care less than he cares.
For the past two years, I have successfully protected my heart. I haven't spent a single night crying about a boy or listening to Adele on repeat. I haven't sobbed drunkenly in a bar bathroom.
I've walked the streets of New York totally unscathed. I'm cold and lonely, but I'm damage-free. I've gone on a million first dates and second dates, while never investing enough to get hurt. I like always having one foot out the door.
The truth is, I've also prevented myself from forming any sort of meaningful relationship. Real bonds occur when we take off our armor.
Vulnerability is a necessary and critical part of any relationship. Brené Brown, one of the leading experts on vulnerability, states, “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences.”
She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” While talking about love, Brown states that relationships are risky. You have to show up and give 100 percent, knowing that the person may or may not love you back.
That person might be in your life forever or gone tomorrow. He or she might be loyal or let you down. There's a lot of potential to get hurt.
So instead, we “protect our hearts” and avoid vulnerability altogether. We make up impossible rules that we have to follow. We never let anyone get too close, while carefully curating an image of our own perfection. We are afraid someone might find out we're flawed.
Humans are imperfect. Yet, while dating, we're so terrified of showing these imperfections. We're afraid that these flaws will be deal breakers.
A friend of mine said it best: “When we meet someone, we're frantically assessing him or her. We're trying to figure out how we can make our puzzle piece fits his or hers. The irony is, he or she is probably doing the same thing. The end result is two mutated puzzle pieces that will never work because they'll both end up being the puzzle pieces they started out as.”
I started thinking about my last relationship. I want to say it ended because of sex (or lack thereof). But that isn't the truth.
It ended because we didn't communicate. I was afraid to be vulnerable and let him know I was scared.
It had been a long time since I'd had sex. I was afraid that if he knew I was scared about anything real, it would warrant a breakup in and of itself. I was scared that if he knew my secrets, he would find me undesirable. So I said nothing, and "protected myself."
This caused the end of our relationship. I looked at Abby, considering her advice. “I think I'm going to do the exact opposite,” I said thoughtfully.
“What do you mean?” she asked, looking confused.
“I'm going to stop protecting my heart.”
In that moment, I decided it was time to put myself out there. I'd hit on men and take rejection with a grain of salt. I decided to recklessly jump in the pool and love fully. I decided to be open and vulnerable.
It was time to ask for what I wanted. It was time to communicate clearly and honestly.
It was a tall order. I'd start with baby steps.
I pulled out my phone. “Would love to see your sexy smile soon,” I boldly texted Eric. I didn't analyze if it was too much, too early in the day or too whatever.
“Likewise,” he responded almost immediately. "Are you free tomorrow?" I asked.
Normally, I'd wait for him to make plans. "Yup. Let's meet at Bryant Park. I know a great restaurant. I'm looking forward to it."
I smiled and showed the text to Abby. “Well sh*t, what do I know?” she said, grabbing a noodle. "I guess protecting your heart just keeps you single."