Two drinks in and we were standing out in Brooklyn’s cold night air, taking a breather.
We’d been dancing ironically and irreverently to some DJ pumping 90’s rap music for hours. It was my birthday. As we huddled together, I could sense he was opening up; it always felt so good when he’d let me know what was going on behind his many defenses and armoring. I felt excited at the idea of getting closer.
He started to say quietly, “I saw this girl standing at the bar. She looked so put together, with her white coat and expensive purse…so perfect, and so very boring. It made me think just how grateful I am to be with you; you’re so sweet, so beautiful, and just cool. But I never tell you when I think these things. I always hold back. I’m afraid of giving you too much power.”
Gut punch. A truth I didn’t necessarily want to hear.
For some people, they keep their intimacy casual. They only “let you in” because it’s no big deal. They let everyone get close without ever really getting close. And if you could hear the subtext of their words, of their conscious thoughts mixed with subconscious secrets, they might say:
“Meet my family, stay for the holiday, let’s take a vacation, make love with our eyes open, move in…but don’t try to really know me. I mask the parts of me I can’t bear to love with nail-biting, weed, nicotine, and alcohol. I can’t trust myself not to stray because I get bored when I know I finally have you—then it’s time to move on. I always believe my urges; I take my drives at face value.
If I let you be in my life, it’ll be the only kind of closeness I can feign that allows me to seem like an emotionally available person, one who’s capable of choosing.
But I don’t invest myself. Oh, no. I won’t betray myself that way ever again. I don’t truly let people in. I don’t really let anyone leave their mark because entanglements get messy, and I want to keep it clean. Which is why I hold back, which I why I don’t let you in, which is why I can’t show you empathy. This love will have you pulling at threads, anchored to nothing.
When you leave, there will be no evidence that you were ever here and I will go on—a serial lover who objects to love. No photos, no social proof, no belongings. I keep it neat. Uncomplicated.
If you love me more than I love you, that works for me. I’ll spend our relationship in resistance and claim that you want too much, but I’d never planned to give you anything anyway. I don’t know how to give without feeling obligated. I will just give enough to keep this thing afloat but don’t ask for more because I won’t offer it.
I’m sorry, but I’ve been hurt. I can’t look at you without seeing her, and her…all of them. The narcissist, the liar, the man-eater, the bruised therapist, the free-loving artist. I see all of the women who came before you. I don’t see you; I see my mother. I see her control and manipulation. I don’t see you. I never really saw you.
Because I never breathed you in. I never looked upon you with curiosity, only with suspicion.
You were so sweet. I just knew if one of us was going to get hurt, it’d be you. It would be you. And maybe you’d call me a coward, but it’s how I prefer to live. It’s a dull razor in comparison to the sharp devastation of a heart’s broken edges; that, I cannot abide.
So, this is my self-fulfilling prophecy. I never let love take root, so it can’t grow. I joke about being that weird, old man, living all alone in a cabin in the woods to make light of the person I’m likely to become if I stay on this path of denial, but more than anything, I want love to stay, despite my protestation.
My deepest fear is being abandoned, so I make sure I leave first; better yet, I make sure I’m never really there at all.”
This was an important lesson in love.
It takes loving someone who won’t invest in you to look at where you’re not investing in yourself. When you decide to choose yourself, you learn how to choose better; you learn not to be seduced by charming, evasive lovers.
Once you’re full of love for yourself, you’ll never fall for another who’s empty.