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Protecting your Heart is Keeping you Single

“Don’t text him. You don’t want to invest in him if he’s not invested in you. You gotta protect your heart,” my well-intentioned friend Abby offered while slurping down some ramen.

We were in the middle of assessing if I should text my current crush, Eric. Abby had just been burnt by her latest prospect, 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.

Analyzing and obsessing. Trying to find the exact right formula. The perfect thing to say at exactly the right time. Seduce. Charm. Somehow be yourself and hope he still likes you.

Protecting your heart is a huge part of the "game". In case he doesn’t return your affection, you have to follow the rules so you don’t get hurt. Don’t give too much. Play it cool. Don’t be too vulnerable. Don’t fall too hard. 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. Cold and lonely but damage-free. I’ve gone on a million first dates and second dates, never investing enough to get hurt, one foot always out the door.

The truth is that I’ve also prevented myself from forming any sort of meaningful relationship.

Real love occurs when we take off our armor. Vulnerability is a necessary and critical part of a 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.” When talking about love, Brown states that relationships are risky. You have to show up 100% knowing that they may or may not love you back. They might be in your life forever or they might be gone tomorrow. They might be loyal or they might let you down. There’s a lot of potential to get hurt. So instead, we “protect our hearts” and avoid vulnerability all together. 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, afraid that someone might find out that we’re flawed.

Humans are imperfect. Yet, in dating we’re so terrified of showing these imperfections. We’re afraid that these flaws will be a deal breaker. A friend of mine said it best, “When we meet someone, we’re frantically assessing them. We’re trying to figure out how we can make our puzzle piece fit theirs. The irony is that they’re probably doing the same thing.The end result is two mutated puzzle pieces that will never work because they’ll both end up going back to the puzzle pieces they started as.”

I started thinking about my last failed relationship. I wanted to say it ended because of sex (or lack thereof). But that isn’t the truth. It ended because we didn’t communicate. It ended because I was afraid to voice the truth. I was afraid to be vulnerable and let him know that I was scared. That is was a long time since I’d had sex. I was afraid that if he knew I was scared about anything real that would warrant a breakup in itself. That if he knew my secrets, he would find me undesirable. So I said nothing and protected myself.

And THAT was 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, slowly.

“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. To hit on men and get rejected, even if that meant a blow to my ego. I decided to be open and vulnerable. It was time to ask for what I wanted. 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 or too early in the day or too whatever.

“Likewise,” he responded almost immediately.

I smiled and showed the text to Abby.

“Well shit, what do I know,” she said grabbing a noodle.

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