Dear Neil: Exactly what is love? I have been hurt several times in the past in my relationships with men, so in my most recent relationship I kept myself safe and a bit withdrawn. But he rejected me, saying I was too guarded. I guess I don’t know what love is, and I don’t know how to be in love while also feeling emotionally safe and protected. Can you help?
Lost in Sydney, Australia
Dear Lost: If there is such a thing as heaven on Earth, the passionate attachment that we call love is as close as we get to transcending normal reality and lifting our hearts and spirits to a higher dimension. Romantic love is an experience that, if never reached, leaves people feeling that they have missed the secret of life.
Love is usually called an emotion, but in fact, it may consist of a series of emotions (joy, lust, attraction, fear, hope, anger, etc). These emotions may contradict each other at times, and may include negative as well as positive feelings.
Author Sam Keen says that because an enduring relationship is destined to confront the inevitable joys and sufferings of the human condition, the narrative of love can never end with the superficial “And they lived happily ever after.” It will be a Technicolor tale that includes longing, struggle, frustration, ecstasy, pleasure, pain, betrayal, fidelity, alienation, reconciliation, loneliness, communion, folly, wisdom—and every human emotion, including hurt, insecurity, need and contentment.
But here’s the catch: if you protect yourself by being emotionally withdrawn and safe, if you fear love because you fear getting hurt, you’ll approach your relationships with a “guarded heart.” And if you have a guarded heart, you won’t be able to love freely, deeply, wholeheartedly or unreservedly, if at all.
If you’re going to fall in love, you must risk your heart. You won’t fall in lover—not really—if you are too emotionally armored, defended, protected or guarded. If you don’t let a man in because you’re protecting yourself 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.
There is no way around this uncompromising, ironclad, irrevocable truth. You must give love in order to feel “in love.” If you don’t give yourself—your heart, soul, spirit, vulnerability, effort and energy—you just won’t feel very much, and then you’ll be missing out on the emotion that many would claim is the sweetest feeling life offers.
The more I give of myself, the more “in love” I will feel. The more I hold myself and my heart back, the emptier and more superficial the experience will be for me.
Here are some things you can do if you’d like to overcome having a guarded heart:
- Examine your feelings about not feeling worthy of love. The fears that if your partner really gets to know you well, he won’t want you anymore.
- Explore your fears of being hurt, rejected, abandoned and betrayed.
- Ask your mate what he would like from you in order for to feel the relationship is close, and repeatedly give him—openly and in good spirit—what the says matters to him.
- Ask yourself “How can I become a more loving human being with my intimate partner?” Then, make sure to follow your own advice.