Have you ever heard someone say, “Love is risky?” Well, I’m thirty years old, and until recently I could hardly remember what the risk of love felt like.
A Stroll Down Memory Lane
In 2009, I was still in school and living in an apartment with a friend named Jordan. Miracle of miracles, my life collided with a girl whose presence evoked nothing short of an earthquake in my chest.
We use the word “attractive” to describe someone with sex appeal, but I was pulled toward this girl. I told Jordan, “She is the most attractive girl I’ve ever seen in my entire life!” and I meant it. “Look at her!” I’d say to Jordan, pointing at the Facebook album on my screen, as impulses vibrated through my body. I knew I was in for a wild ride.
The gift of this girl’s presence more than paid the cost I had to pony up for the next step: asking her out.
Anyone who has ever felt afraid to ask someone out knows the fear isn’t about the act, it’s about how risky it feels to put your heart in the light. The risk feels like your very life. It feels like a lion is hunting you, licking his teeth, preparing to pounce. It feels like you’re about to jump from an airplane or shoot the game-winning three-pointer in a playoff game. It is no trivial matter.
Self-Value and Others-Value
Asking someone out makes a statement about how we value the other person, and inconspicuously makes another statement about how we value ourselves. Since we are often not sure what our value is, when we approach someone we perceive as “high-value” and they say no, we hear, “You’re not as valuable as you thought you were.”
If our self-value is at stake, our life can feel like it hangs on a thread. These are scary moments indeed.
It’s not the actions we are afraid of. It’s the feelings that accompany them. Searching this out reveals much of our struggle with mystery. We learn to anticipate and expect, rather than tolerate and permit the uncertainties in our lives. In the context of this post, this struggle is deeply threaded into our love lives. The uncertainty we have about our own self-worth, the mystery of someone’s answer to our proposal, and the risk of rejection are not matters to be taken in jest; they hold in their hand's answers to our deepest longings and questions about the universe, about God, and about Love.
In these spaces, we anticipate winning or losing, dying or living at the very Colosseum of our being: our hearts.
I was afraid to let my feelings come into the light. I loved the concealed safety of my inner world, but if I wanted to continue enjoying this gift of beautiful form, I had to step out of my shell enough to admit that I wanted this girl. And if she said no, I knew it would hurt. It would affirm my fears.
Fearlessness Vs. Courage
My opinion is that people who say they have never felt afraid to ask someone out (because they are so confident) are bullshitting either you or themselves. They claim, “I’ve never felt fear [in this area of life],” but if that was true then it would indicate a need for psychological help rather than indicate the presence of courage.
Back to the Story
So, without walking you through every step of my relationship with this fine-looking woman, let me speed the story up a bit. She said yes. Then she said yes again, and became my bride on March 5, 2011.
Since I was showing her some level of vulnerability, it felt good to be accepted. But if I’m really open with you, I was still acting 99% of the time. I was putting on a show and concealing most of the “real me”, staying camouflaged, burrowing things I suspected would meet rejection. I wore a mask. But then I started to think… “Maybe she likes the masked version of me more than the real me?”
Ouch. That hurt and I ensconced those tender parts of myself even further.
Abandoning Risks, Ignoring Fears
I had taken the risk to ask her out, then to ask her to marry me, but I wasn’t prepared to continue making choices day in and day out that affronted my fear, allowed my exposure and risked my rejection. Honestly, I kept feeling like I’d won the lottery. It didn’t feel like I deserved what I got; it felt like I got lucky. Deep down, I felt sad.
As I avoided the liability of openness, in hindsight, I now see that I also hid from my feelings. It was a decision.
The decisions we face to either allow risks, uncertainties, and mysteries… or not to… hold life and death in their bellies. They are saturated moments. Your very essence cloaks itself within “the unknown” and smuggles along your life-giving feelings.
To be honest, I don’t know if they have any separation at all— the “mystery” and our feelings (our reality). The energy tethering them together is such an intensely powerful force. They are magnetic. I can feel that energy pulsing through my body even as I write this. It feels like a giant waterfall, or a geyser of strength welling up from within. It is cool and pleasant, yet powerful, an inner spring flowing through the veins, movement, motion… life.
It’s as though the nucleus of mystery watches the motions of our emotion. The energy, the dancer, orbits around the center… yet we call “it” an atom, and respect its essential unity. We know what happens when you separate the nucleus from the electrons. These things belong together.
What "Real Men" Do
I started hiding when I felt pain (because “real men don’t feel pain”), I started disconnecting from fear (because “real men don’t feel fear”), and I began putting on a show more and more. But the show is one that hides emotions, so it isn’t very dramatic. In fact, it’s quite boring. Lifeless. And as I hid from others, I hid from myself. They happened simultaneously.
Earlier I pointed out that our fear isn’t fear of the actions themselves, but fear of the emotions that accompany those actions. We’ve forged a mental attachment between a certain behavior or action and a certain feeling. I had formed an attachment between feelings of rejection, shame, and inadequacy, and the action of asking a girl out.
Let’s get back to the story again.
Even though Julianne said yes and opened herself up to me in many ways, I still felt insecure. I still cared about her opinion of me more than I cared about living authentically. I had anxieties. I wanted her to think I was worthy of her. I wanted her to believe that I was good enough, strong enough, and physically attractive enough for her.
Do you know why I wanted her to believe those things about me? Because I didn’t believe them about myself. Earlier in my life, girls had rejected me (or at least, I believed they did). Silently, at times. Openly at other times. Some of my pain came from simply noticing an attractive girl, and then not feeling noticed by her. Have you ever felt that pain?
I sold out on my true self again and again and again. I handed my trophy to the goddess; the trophy that represented my self-approval, my enough-ness, and eventually my self-care and my love. I gave it away. In large part, I gave the trophy to beautiful women.
Something else happened along the way that I didn’t expect. My actions, my choices, my hiding, began influencing my wife. They closed her up. She consented to that. It was her choice to be closed, but I am beginning to see the way that my actions (or inactions) rejected her, and convinced her to diminish herself in a similar fashion to my own inner secrecy. I rejected her every time I didn’t choose her. And choosing her is somehow intermingled with being honest with her about my feelings. It’s connected to my fear, to my pain, as well as my joy and delight. It’s threaded together with trust, love, and vulnerability.
My shame and embarrassment are about me, but they influence the people around me who deserve Love. It’s up to them to decide if they deserve Love, if they’ll expect and anticipate it, or whether they’ll step up and give it to themselves because they know that they’re worthy.
The grace of fear
A few months back, an attractive man in his 50’s said to my wife, “You are a delight.” It lit her on fire. She wept. She kept repeating it to herself and threw it up as her banner over her life for a little bit. I felt a little envious when I saw how her face brightened, turning those words over in her heart. It reminded me of the way she used to turn the engagement ring I bought for her again and again in her hands, letting the sunlight hit it from every angle, admiring the gift and the refractions of light bouncing off and through it.
A few months back, another man in his 30’s told my wife that everything about her was good, radiant, and then… he really crossed a line. He told her that her emotions, all of them... were sexy. Her fury. Her disgust. Her fears. They are all sexy. I’m not even going to tell you what I did to him that day in my imagination, but it wasn’t pretty. Watching my wife absorbing and receiving the juiciness of how those words made her feel felt like a knife in my chest. Thank God. I needed something to cut through the stone.
A few days ago, my wife told me about another man who, while she was filling up her car with gas at the station, walked up to tell her, “Ma’am, I can’t help myself. I must tell you, you are unbelievably beautiful,” then he proceeded to look at her again. And then a second time and a third. I wanted to punch him, but I wasn’t there.
The Present Moment
Let me bring you into the present moment in my story. A few days ago, I really started to feel afraid again. I feel scared right now. I feel the possibility of rejection. I feel pain. It hurts.
I feel my wife’s openness, her vastness, her depths. I feel the threat of that trophy of mine being shattered. The one that tells me that I’m good enough, man enough, that was meant to be my self-approval, but turned into the approval I sought from others, namely, The Beautiful Goddess.
God, it hurts. But you know what? I also feel like the 22-year-old boy who first gazed upon Julianne, heart pounding in his chest. I feel more drawn to her than I have in years. I see her now, more clearly, colorfully, and vividly than ever.
So let me tell you my plan. I was going to keep it a secret, but it’s too good for all you (perhaps men, perhaps women) out there in the world to not get in on this secret.
This might not be what you expect.
The plan: I’m going to do something different this time. I’m going to take a different “Step One” and fix the root of this problem.
Here’s how it goes. I’m taking my trophy back and putting it on display in front of my own eyes, in MY ROOM. The room in my own heart. And it’s never leaving again. No one can take it from me. That baby is my prized jewel.
Specifically, I mean I am going to love myself by taking care of myself. I am saying “yes” to me. To my feelings, in particular. I am saying yes to the parts that I’m afraid of, ashamed of, scared of, embarrassed about, insecure about… all of me is going to be welcome with me. The devil, the saint, the crucified, the crucifier, the dark, the light. Come one (feeling), come all. I’m done being dead, stone-hearted, and lifeless. Bring the mess. Let’s have some supper together and work it out. It’s ok if it gets a little frisky up in here; bring it.
Here’s Step Two: Starting now I am going to love my wife with open eyes. I am not going to close my eyes to any part of myself, and I’m not going to close my eyes to any part of her. I am even hoping to show her parts of herself that she has lost touch with, to quicken her energy and awareness of herself through my seeing her, enjoying her, awakening her with my presence and attention. Not with my fearlessness, oh no, with my fear. I am drawing near to her, as I draw near to myself.
It's time to take care of yourself
Ladies and Gentlemen, the time is now. Right now. It’s time to speak into your hearts. The doves are cooing. Tell yourself to come out from the clefts of the rock. Show yourself that lovely face. Let you hear your voice.
It's time to be honest
And show yourself to your partner! Step through the fear; don’t pretend it isn’t there. Beyond the fear is the truth, along with freedom. How can we know any real love without freedom?
It's time for Freedom
I don’t own Julianne, and she doesn’t own me. Every day that we put our rings on, we make a choice. It’s just a ring. But it’s a symbol that we can choose consciously, with intention, with awareness, presence, and feeling.
It's time to Risk for Love
So today I’m taking a risk. The risk to Love myself. And the risk to Love my bride. She could leave me one day. She could leave me today. Or tomorrow. She’s a free woman.
Why did I ever pretend to want something different?
Shout out to all the people who have put themselves out there to a girl or a guy not just once, but again and again, relentlessly pursuing them even in the midst of their doubts about themselves. For those who have been rejected and chosen to turn away when a girl had doubts about you--- let her have her doubts. You doubt yourself, and you allow yourself that freedom, don’t you?