Guarded Heart

Being willing to risk hurt is key to deepening a relationship

Dear Neil: I am an attractive, single professional woman in my early 40’s. I have a good figure, no children. I have been divorced for ten years and have dated a lot of different men.

So why am I still single? My relationships with men never seem to really get off the ground. They stay at a rather superficial level until we both just lose interest or find someone new.

Several of the men I have dated have hurt me. One I was serious about, and I got hurt badly. Since then, I have been cautious and guarded about falling in love because I don’t want to get hurt again.

I have very low self-esteem and self-confidence. What am I doing wrong? How do I deepen a relationship? I would like to fall in love again.

Single in London, England

Dear Single: I’m sorry to say this, but if you protect yourself by being emotionally armored and guarded, you’re not going to fall in love. Connecting with someone, deepening a relationship, bonding and falling in love is not a safe process, and it absolutely requires you to risk getting badly hurt.

Loving requires surrender. As threatening as that sounds, surrender is also what makes the experience magical and even life-transforming.

People grow by stretching their edges and by challenging their fears, not by being safe. We grow by risking ourselves, not by being protected and guarded. People get close to each other when they risk themselves.

So if you’re going to fall in love, you must risk your heart all over again. You won’t succeed if you are too armored, defensed, protected or careful.

But here’s the real catch. Without feeling good about yourself, you will never actually let someone else in. You will not deeply confide in another person, and therefore risk your heart. Thus, you’ll never fully bond, you’ll never let someone else really know you, and you’ll never deeply love.

If you fear love because you fear getting hurt, you’ll approach your relationships with a guarded heart. But you won’t be able to love, either.

The only solution is to quit hiding and to allow someone else in. It should also be noted that you have to make sure that the man you choose is letting you in as well.

Work on connecting and having a more open heart. If you don’t let a man in because you’re hiding and being safe, you’re not going to feel close to him no matter how rich, good looking, attractive, charming or sexually appealing he is to you.

You don’t do this alone. It’s two people doing it together. Two people opening up, revealing themselves, connecting and bonding. It’s two people risking their hearts—and risking hurt.

In the end, love is about connection and bonding, not safety and protection. This doesn’t happen every day, and when it does happen, it’s powerful.

Do what you can to change your low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem fear that as soon as someone really gets to know them, they won’t be liked, loved or wanted anymore. This becomes very self-defeating, because then you won’t let someone else in very much, and you’ll again be stuck with superficial relationships, which aren’t satisfying at all.

“The journey is really about losing yourself, giving yourself to another.” —Joseph Campbell

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