I decided to break the seal on a box of notebooks I wrote when I was in my early 20s (that I had packed and taped up in 1996). Reading my 22-year-old self fervently swear that she’ll never fall in love again makes me feel sad, mostly because she didn’t. Almost, but not really.
At 22, I was intensely passionate about many things—not eating red meat (the hormones! The red dye!), writing, feminism, literature (I had just discovered Anais Nin and Henry Miller, if that tells you anything), and love (again, the hormones!). I believed everyone had a soul mate just waiting for them out there in the world, and it was up to me to find him. Over a five year period, I recorded the turbulence of my love life in painstaking detail on page after page. I wrote about infatuations, crushes, obsessions, attractions, and love. Every time, it was the “real thing.” And every time, passion became my poison.
If these notebooks are an accurate depiction of what my I knew then, I can say I have learned a few things in years since. I no longer believe that everyone has one soul mate; I think we have many, and that people are drawn together by fate and circumstance. I no longer believe that such thing as an easy relationship exists or that the level of difficulty has anything to do with love.
I’ve also learned how to protect myself. After putting the pieces of a broken heart haphazardly back together time after time, I decided that spending the rest of my life shielding a heart of glass wouldn’t be a wise move. And I stopped letting other people in.
Suppose love came knocking on your door. Would you turn it away with a “sorry, all stocked up on that here?” Pretend like you weren’t home? Chase it down the street with a baseball bat? Or would you open the door, smile, and thank it for being so punctual?
What I did was design a complicated mess of a barricade, complete with traps, skill tests, checklists, pulleys, ropes and, I think at one point, even a moat. If someone wanted in, he’d have to run the gauntlet, suffer the proving ground, navigate the emotional land mines, and pass every test. Should he make it through unscathed, I’d make certain he was sorry he even tried.
What I got for my efforts was a series of superficial relationships that never developed any depth or longevity. Or intensity. Or passion. And when they ended, I felt no more than a twinge of regret…a far cry from the anguish I experienced over breakups in my twenties. My thirties were not as melodramatic, but I sacrificed passion for peace.
I am not certain what I expected to find by reading the angst-ridden messages from my 22-year-old self. I hoped to discover that I am better off now than I was then, but I don’t think that’s true. I do mean it when I say I am happy being single, but I’m beginning to understand exactly what I’m missing out on by protecting myself so carefully. Without heartbreak, love and passion are watered-down versions of the real thing. Until now, I didn’t even realize that I missed the full-strength version.
There’s a reason it’s called “falling in love.” At its core is an element of letting go, even if you know there is turbulence ahead, that you’re signing up for an emotional roller coaster ride, and that it might end in tears. The only thing gained by crawling into your shell is, well, a really comfortable shell.
I’ll have to find a happy medium between being head over heels and in over my head if I want to experience the kind of intense emotion the 22-year-old me knew all too well. As for the happy ending, just consider me “in production”—I know that this movie won’t have an ending until I find a way to take heart instead of losing it.