“You have an open door, but don’t let people in”– a person I’m seeing said this to me. I was agog. No responses rushed to my silence. My mouth is a cavern of words that went suddenly abandoned. I ramble about all the fragile things all day long, but how many people in my adult life have I allowed to care for me while sick? Zero. When I was in the hospital, who knew about it as it was happening? three people. I tallied the times I let someone cross this threshold and be with me when I am not words or images or some projection but this deeply flawed person. It’s few and far between. I don’t owe anyone my fragility. This is not an apology for people I’ve shielded myself from. Protection was how I lived the first twenty-four years of my life. I am twenty-six now. A tempest of two years rattled every truth, grated every performance. It’s just me now.
My more recent posts have illustrated my discomfort with where I am right now: professionally, romantically. That is not to be confused with displeasure. Things are content, adequate. I exist in the most stable period of my life at present. Still, I compare and flog myself for not being “there”, despite the fact that the destination haux is real. We convince ourselves that the job, the money, the partner, the race, the weight, etc will make us happy. Then, we get there. We arrive breathless and sweating at the gilded prize only to touch it’s hollow worthlessness. Because if we aren’t working interally along the way, the victory only amplifies the emptiness. Fulfillment is an inside job. Happiness has nothing to do with WHO you are or WHERE you are but your head space along the way.
I originally sought softness as an opportunist– believing it would get me something. Like my reward for discarding my intricate system of shields is a relationship, is being valued by people. That’s not what this is about. My choice to soften, to break and open, isn’t to get anything now. It’s a visual shift from a lens of stark survival to lush abundance. What does it look like to see the good more than threats? What does it look like to respond to other people’s rejection and absence with sympathy and grace as opposed to abandonment? While I hope to level up personally and professionally, I aspire to elevate internally. I’m investing in an ascention that has no metrics or pace. It’s not about being good or perfect or right, but being whole and flawed and not thwarting people’s attempts to meet me there. I exhale into a rampant hope and utter mystery that is unlearning my guards. I soften into curiosity.
This modern time relishes vulnerability, but now everyone is an “authority” defining vulnerability. Everyone wants to put their two cents in about what is and isn’t “true vulnerability”. I think it’s different for everyone. Vulnerability isn’t an achievement or even a state. It’s a process. It’s ever wobbling in the direction of something soft. No one is an expert because we’re all human, and we’re all going to screw up it. That’s something vulnerability ensures.
I am attracted to emotionally withholding people: as friends, as lovers, in general. I don’t say thing to glamorize or romanticize my interiority. There is no martyrdom lurking in this essay. It feels familiar. My parents love me dearly. So much. But there were also a lot of kids and not a lot of money, and I, the independent second oldest, did not have the space to be a priority most of the time. It feels familiar to pine for another person. Affection is an earned thing. Attention, the gold medal I race toward in record time. None of this is love. None of it is real. I love the chase, love campaigning and trying too hard. The chase isn’t love, isn’t real, isn’t what matters.
It’s not hard to find withholding people. Most people are strangers to themselves– observers gazing upon an aquarium tank and calculating the depth with fear. I assume this because these people smell my familiarity and unleash a thousand unspoken things to me. This isn’t because I’m special. I’m just there. A pair of listening ears without judgement. I also assume more people don’t want to know themselves because a portion of self exploration is reckoning with mistakes, hurting others, poor judgement. Most folks spend their entire lives avoiding their shadows, failing to understand that the shadow is surrounded by sunshine. You need both. It is not our job to be saints but it is our job to be real. Nevertheless, I reserved space for people who I knew could not show up for me, and when I was disappointed, I called that unoccupied room freedom. In reality, it was an avoidance of being whole on my own, a self-induced deficit. It’s easier to waste time trying to force people to like me as opposed to investing time in loving myself. That can be a painful pursuit.
It feels claustrophobic to be wanted, shown up for. I sour into suspicion when I see tenderness in another person’s handling of me. I lash out, push away, beg for forgiveness I may not deserve. But I am trying. I am still learning to see myself as something other than a burden. While my sight is adjusting, my soul is sure I am everything and the sky. That doesn’t elevate me above others. I don’t categorize myself below anybody. I know I am among everyone– standing at the same level. And if we are all the same, and I believe everyone deserves to have their needs met, to be shown up for, to be loved, to be granted the grace of learning, then I need to extend that belief to myself. I love myself, but I don’t know if I felt like anyone else could love me for a really long time. I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m not comfortable writing that, but I believe it’s true.
And I’ve found that. I’ve found it in platonic love, familiar love, in mentorships and every other affection outside of romantic. It is an avoidance of the risk romantic love presents. It is all the intimacies in one place. There’s so much self-consciousness wrapped around it. Because romantic relationships house so many tiny vulnerabilities: body order, daily habits, night time routines, puking after drinking too much the night before, your actual thoughts on your job. Nothing about that is sanitized or safe or glamorous. Then again, the role of a good partner is not to be impressive but to connect, to support, to love. I offset a lot of this by dating one pool of people, sleeping with a different set, and sending all of my love to friends and family. I standby my vehement belief that platonic love, familial love, and mentorships are not placeholders or consolation prizes. They can still be crutches. In my case, they are. They are how I avoid the hurt of a romantic relationship. They are how I stay clean and safe and far away– aka the furthest things from vulnerable and intimate.
This is an anatomy of latches and locks– an open doorway concealing the intricate security system just beyond eyeshot. People touch my neck or shoulders and shudder at the tension– unaware of the universes strapped to either side. But all of that isn’t mine to carry. I can say that it is heavy. I can say that knowing that I am more than the heaviness that I have carried. My interior is bright, joyous, real– a place I want to be, and I think you want to be there, too.
I’m disarming twenty-six years of coping mechanisms and unlocking a few things if you want to stop on by.