Everything was just fine. You were content in every sense of the word. Then one day there was a knock at the door and it was your old friend, Feelings. For many of us, we’ve been avoiding Feelings like the plague. We say, “What are you doing here? I haven’t been responding to your calls or texts for a reason.” But Feelings just wants to hang out, spend a little time – do some catching up. It sounds like a dreadful idea. You know how this ended last time. It’s not that you don’t enjoy Feelings’ presence. It has more to do with the fact that Feelings always brings an uninvited guest.
You cave, allowing Feelings to come in. You’ll do a lot of reminiscing. Recalling happy times from the past, debating why you stopped being such good friends. You both know why, but you’ll dodge that discussion to avoid spoiling the positive environment you and Feelings are currently in.
In typical fashion, Feelings invited a friend. That friend’s name is Hope. Hope brought a suitcase upon arrival. That suitcase held a few clothes and some grooming products – only enough for a short stay. At least that’s how it typically works. You’re fully prepared for Hope to be in and out of your home in a timely manner, because that’s the common procedure.
You’re a cautious person, but by spending time with Feelings you’ve slightly changed your thinking. Feelings’ friend Hope needs shelter, and you volunteered your home as a temporary haven. That gesture is powerful. By willingly welcoming Feelings into your humble abode, you’ve altered the entire atmosphere in ways that aren’t immediately recognizable or physically visible. You don’t normally enjoy this.
You’ve got a security system installed because you don’t trust people in your home. It staves off thieves who try to steal your belongings for a quick fix. You don’t like people being in your home at all – much less luggage-toting strangers named Hope. In the past you’ve enforced a strict no company rule. This goes against everything you’re comfortable with, but Feelings is persuasive, so you make an exception for Hope.
Things are going surprisingly nice. You’re thoroughly enjoying having Hope around. Feelings tells you, “See, I told you Hope was amazing — you never listen to me!” Feelings will convey all of Hope’s great qualities to you, omitting the bad. Feelings ignores initial red flags and gut instincts, because right now you like Hope, and that’s all that really matters.
You and Hope snuggle on the couch talking about life. Talking about future plans. Telling stories about your teenage stupidity. Talking about guilty pleasures, embarrassing memories and your favorite pizza toppings. Talking about everything, and nothing at all.
You’re growing uncomfortably comfortable with Hope around. The typically irritating habits Hope has aren’t annoying you in the slightest. Why does Hope have to be so flawless and continuously prove Feelings right?
You’re falling. Falling dangerously deep. The lower you get, the darker it should be – but Hope is shining bright, lighting everything up along the way. Because it’s lit up, you’re able to see things you never have in the past. Lower and lower you sink, discovering brand new territories. It’s beautiful down there.
Feelings tells you to completely relax. To fall. To quit wildly grabbing for something to hang on to, and completely let yourself go. You fall and uncontrollably until finally, you land. Hope has caught you. After a lengthy plummet, you’ve found stability. It’s indescribable really. It’s as if Hope has placed you on a solid surface — yet it also feels like your walking amongst the clouds. Feelings tells you that this is what you’ve always wanted – and for all you know, it truly is.
Time goes by and as content as you were alone, you’re twice as joyful and comfortable with Hope and Feelings around. It’s pure happiness. Feelings raises expectations regularly, and Hope continuously exceeds them. How were you able to function before? It was so lonely without company. That’s not how life is meant to be, isolated and closed off. We’re supposed to share it. We’re supposed to invite Feelings over and fall until Hope catches us.
Then you wake up one morning. It may be sudden and unforeseen, or it may have been a long time coming — but Hope is gone. Hope is nowhere to be found. If this is happened before, you know the type of pain you’re about to encounter. If it hasn’t, you’re in for a miserable experience. You’ve been abandoned. You search, and maybe even try to get a hold of Hope, but it’s clear that for now, Hope is gone. You place the blame on Feelings. You didn’t ask for this, Feelings forced it on you. Feelings badgered you until you welcomed Hope, trusted Hope, loved Hope. Now Feelings has completely lost all creditability and trust.
Life appears miserable. It’s just you and Feelings living in your home. You’ve upgraded the security, installing the most protective package available. Feelings has fallen ill and there seems to be no remedy. This sluggish, hopeless version of you is in no condition to nurse Feelings back to health. This is one of the lowest lows. Unfortunately this fall is not beautiful when lit and it doesn’t feel like the clouds.
Feelings’ health begins to improve, but this stay must come to an end. You can’t see Feelings everyday, it’s a constant reminder of Hope, and you don’t want that. The only way to erase the memory of Hope and move forward is to evict Feelings and start fresh. You’re alone again. But it’s secure, and that’s comfortable. The days are monotonous, the nights are lonely, but the wounds are healing. Every once in a while a thief attempts to break in, but your security system works wonders.
You sit on the couch. You watch one of your guilty pleasure movies and order a pizza with your favorite toppings. This life isn’t glee, but it isn’t gloom either — and maybe that’s all we can ask for. Days. Weeks. Months go by. You’re stronger but you don’t realize it until later. You reflect a lot and feel a great sense of pride in managing to survive being deserted. When you fall deep for Hope and get left at the bottom, you have to pull yourself and the limp body of Feelings all the way back up. Why would you ever want to drop down there again? This is safe. Safe is content. Content is better than miserable. You’re going to be impervious to heartache. You’ll be unbreakable in the future. This will never happen aga–
There’s a knock at the door. You sit for a few moments, hoping that they’ll go away. They ring the doorbell. You remain quiet. More knocks. They aren’t going anywhere, so you tip toe cautiously toward the door, leaning in to take a look through the peephole. It’s Feelings. With multiple pieces of luggage, and a gorgeous friend.
A highly sought after, far too rare opportunity to spend time with the one you want comes – so you can’t pass it up. Well technically you could, but you won’t. You hang out so infrequently, that you’re used to impromptu invites and making spontaneous trips to talk or hang with her/him. There’s an unfortunate set of circumstances that make it virtually impossible to have concrete, calendar-marked plans with this person, so you’ve got to take what you can get. When you’re starving for their time and attention, this is an opportunity for sustenance. The scraps and crumbs of their busy schedule will serve as nourishment. Very little, but that’s better than nothing… right?
The issue that arises from this scenario depends upon how enjoyable the brief time together was. If it went terribly wrong, you’ll desperately want another opportunity to fix that and make it as awesome as you imagined it being. However, if it was mind-blowingly delightful, things are no less complex. Now you’ll be craving more days like that one, wondering when the next occasion for face time will be. The degree of emotional strain felt from this catch-22 varies – but it certainly will make its presence felt.
As clocks tick, days pass and time continues moving you’ll be left with several moments to think about this person you want so bad. In this social network heavy world, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is a fairly difficult strategy to enforce, resulting in plenty of opportunities to find out how their day is going. Just a heads up – it’ll be going great. They’ll be in good spirits, and the statuses, comments from friends and mobile upload photos will reflect their indisputable glee. Once you’ve seen that a lack of your presence has had no effect on their mood, you’ll feel dejected. It’ll seem tragically unfair that you’re thinking about them habitually, but they’re gliding through their you-free life so carefree and happily.
Even the biggest egos can shrink – nobody wants to be a nonfactor. You’ll wonder what is wrong with you. Is my jawline not square enough? Did I laugh too hard when he/she told me about his/her childhood pet’s hilariously tragic death? Did I wear the wrong pants? I bet if I wore my other pants, he’d/she’d be here with me right this second. The ‘what if’ game will be played, insecurities will rise and you’ll be convinced that you’re not enough – but uncertain as to why.
When more time is spent talking to that person, you’ll feel as if there’s a mutual connection. In your mind, you both know that you can’t be together – but it’s what you both want in the future. He/she wants to break up with their boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife, move across the country, quit their job – do whatever it takes to be with you. But that’s only in your mind. One day you’ll see that their relationship is doing great, they’re completely in love with where they live, or they just got promoted and you’ll wonder if they even considered you or your opinions at any point. Of course they didn’t, because this fantasy relationship that you generated in your mind was just that – a figment of your imagination.
You know you have no right to, but you’ll resent that person. You’ll blame them for breaking the silent, fiction, mutual connection – and maybe they really did lead you on to some extent – but ultimately you knew of their unavailability in advance, and chose not to keep your distance. You’ll probably feel unwise because you have no basis for your grudge, and humiliated because you literally created a link between you two in your mind – and that sounds rather crazy. You’ll beat yourself up about it, and those bruises will undoubtedly be more painful than the initial one he/she left.
I wish there were a specific feeling protective, meltdown preventive method I could provide folks with. Some witty, deep meaning, eloquent motto to live by — unfortunately I’m doubtful that one even exists. If there’s a person out there who you have feelings for, yet they’re unattainable — whether it be because of a boyfriend, girlfriend, distance, responsibility, restraining order (hopefully not), etc. – you’ll cope in your own unique way. You’ll get cut, it’ll hurt, the wounds will heal and you’ll survive.
You have to be close to someone to genuinely love them, so from the jump I make that difficult. It’s not intentional, but my deep feelings are guarded like a maximum-security prison. When meeting someone, I’m immediately hesitant to share anything other than the basics. You’ll learn of my name, hobbies, interests — and that’s about it. I don’t typically talk about personal issues, family, or stuff I hold close to my heart, not even after a while. I’ve mastered the art of changing topics, deflecting and using sarcasm to escape the grasps of any intimate or layered question thrown my way. It’s not a purposeful, focused defensive plan, it’s more of an uncontrollable curse.
The fact that my self-protectiveness occurs subconsciously means that a conscious effort is necessary to open up to somebody. It’s a matter of literally forcing myself to reveal commonly shared information that, for whatever reason, I don’t like to talk about. That’s a challenge because at times I’ll recognize that I’m being hesitant, but it’s difficult to stop. If you’re a guarded individual, certainly you understand.
Conversations with me are like paleontology digs. Someone will excavate for lengthy periods of time to come up with absolutely nothing, or very little on most occasions. It’s rare that they discover a valuable fossil, which can be frustrating for them. Then eventually they grow exhausted from digging to no avail, and quit. That’s when it’s most evident that you’re too protected. When someone’s willing to exit your life. When a person finds the worth of potentially awesome fossils inside of your soul less valuable than their time or energy, so they pack up and vacate the premises.
Now if you’re an even morecomplicated case like me, a person deserting you triggers a flurry of emotions. Frustration with them for parting ways. Disappointment in yourself for not being more open, or interesting enough to stick with. Empathy toward them because you know that you’re quite the handful. It’s a very disappointing, confidence-killing mixture of feelings and sensations that take a strong mind to recover from.
For guarded people, considering that someone can talk to us for weeks, months, or even years and only learn so much about us is a terrifying concept. The possibility of never learning to be open fills our hearts with worry. It’s a legitimate concern that nobody will ever dig deep enough to do anything more than scratch our surface. In an odd way, I think we want an individual to force the issue or persevere through the tough exterior. It feels good to know that someone can sense the metaphorical electric fences, barbwire and armed guards that surround your feelings and yet they still want to break through.
Anyone who feels the need to protect his or herself feels so for a reason. Ultimately the motivation for defense is not wanting to be judged. Whether it’s your past, your present conflicts, family business, or some other situation, the general fear is that our secrets will condemn us. That this is lose-lose. That even if we tell you, it’ll go terribly. That no matter what, the end result will be regret. Because someone will either get sick of our shutdown ways, or come to find that they hate the person we truly are, and the experiences we’ve had/are currently having.
So what’s the worst that would happen if we completely let our guards down? Not just a little, I’m talking about removing the entire security system. Treating the place our feelings stay less like a prison, and more like a retreat. People can go there, learn about you, be relaxed, and hopefully enjoy their stay. It’s not easy, but maybe today we can do away with the barbwire. Then tomorrow, or a week from now, we turn the electricity running through the links of that fence off. Keep the fence itself up until you’re a little more comfortable, then tear that down too. Eventually we’ll hand those armed guards their pink slips, along with a nice severance package so they never want to return, and then we’re open. When people ask questions, we’ll answer. Hell, we might even reveal things without someone inquiring.
That’s the dream of a guarded individual; to be as open as everyone else seems. To have people who are close to us. Today, I’m right there with the rest of you inaccessibly sealed vaults. At this moment, nobody, not a shrink or a persistent friend I’ve known for years is getting too far in here. But what do I really have to lose? If someone departs based on our past or present struggles, that’s not a loss. It weeds out any judgmental associates, leaving you with nothing but people who love the personality, mind and soul that you are.