do not enter love

Everything I study tells me to change my story—to boldly stand up, declare what I deserve, allow myself the space to heal and courageously enter relationships with a legitimate belief that two people can be trusted to care for one another without fists or flings with pretty girls in dive bars, while everything I’ve lived screams:

It’s dangerous here.

do not enter love

When I’m afraid to feel, I drink. It’s a family gift—an impeccable capability to hide ourselves and hold our liquor.

In the moment it feels like handfuls of pretzels and belly-laughs, my legs tucked under me on the barstool, going drink-for-drink and joke-for-joke with the boys. With enough vodka and bar-talk, no one will know what’s really happening behind my glazed eyes.

But before I take my first sip of coffee the next morning, inevitably what I’m running from catches me. Seven AM doesn’t offer a sweaty glass and a flirty bartender to stop it in its tracks, and I’m forced to sit with it, cotton mouth and all.

Last night I did the whole song and dance—dodging the bombs I’ve buried for months. I shouldn’t have been surprised by what this morning had in store.

Pink and red hearts are plastered across the coffee shop windows for Valentine’s Day. You won’t find me singing the praises of the season of love any year, but today the theatrics are really adding insult to injury. I’m thinking about exactly what the candy hearts and teddy bears want me to be thinking about.

The coffee is kicking in. My brain is just getting started.

It’s his birthday. I ran away unannounced to be with my best friend the day before. For 22 years she’s had the power to ease my aching by simply occupying the same space as me. The Arizona sun starts to heal the tension built in my body from weeks of sleeping on a cot in my office. I can’t believe this is happening to me.

It’s Thanksgiving. I’m  gripping the skin over my heart, certain the pain is killing me—the loneliness, the shame, the fear of starting over, the frustration of figuring out how to get my goddamn flat tire changed in the middle of nowhere-Wyoming.

I’m perched on my therapist’s couch—smiling, nodding, keeping myself composed as the words swarm around me.

“You weren’t kind-of abused. You were abused.”

“He didn’t kind-of cheat on you. You were betrayed.”

She has to spoon-feed me my emotional trauma because I’m too stubborn to say the words out loud. I hide behind the smile and talk in circles, avoiding anything declarative.

“Your heart was broken, over and over again, and it hasn’t healed.”

Living by the logic of my 28 years, I’m protected from the pain if I refuse to speak of its existence. If I don’t give it a name, I don’t have to do the hard work. I can sit comfortably, aware of my brokenness, tip-toeing around any conversation that blows my cover.

Get another round. Crack another joke. Smile and nod.

I watch the couple sink into the chairs across the room from me. They’re young. They probably think they’re in love. She leaves to order their food and he creeps into her chair to grab her phone, taking his moment alone to scroll. I knew what he was doing.

What a jackass.

He whispers in her ear, kisses her cheek, squeezes into her chair. He knows what he’s doing. She cocks her head when she smiles at him. She’s losing her footing—slipping further into her bliss, flushed cheeks and tingling knees—positioned perfectly for catastrophic heartbreak.

There’s graffiti on a “Do Not Enter” sign in my neighborhood that say “Do Not Enter LOVE.” I smirk at it every time I walk past, hanging onto the idea that some force in the universe is getting a kick out of this game we play with each other.

I wish I had it with me to flash at these two.  

I was 19 years old when I gave up on love.

I locked eyes with myself in the mirror as I tapped concealer on the broken blood vessels around my temples. He’d pin me against the wall—elbow in my chest, hand on my neck—pushing his thumb into my throat until I stopped fighting. He had to watch me give up before he’d fall apart.

He’d always fall apart.

And I’d always clean up the pieces.

At 23, my claim to fame was that the man I married didn’t abuse me like him.

Two years in, I darted awake, troubled by a question I couldn’t loosen my grip on. The next night I cornered him in the kitchen while he cooked dinner and asked, “Was there someone else?”

He didn’t stop cooking and I didn’t cry. We poured two more glasses of wine and I stared into space. Lucky for him, the belief that a man could love me exclusively, keep me safe, and respect me was choked out of me years before.

I didn’t take care of the relationship the way I was supposed to.

I wasn’t enough.

Of course he found some girl to supplement my love.

It always crashes, and I’m always ready.

Everything I study tells me to change my story–to boldly stand up, declare what I deserve, allow myself the space to heal and courageously enter relationships with a legitimate belief that two people can be trusted to care for one another without fists or flings with pretty girls in dive bars, while everything I’ve lived screams:

It’s dangerous here.

We’ve done our research and we’re certain this place is far too unsafe for your sensitive soul.

Sweet girl, don’t you know you’re broken?

Do not enter love.

I constantly waffle between the idea that our hearts were meant to be protected and that hearts, like the rules, are meant to be broken—challenged and cracked open in order to grow bigger and better. If I keep mine locked away, cloaked in heavy armor, it will stay unmarred. It will be efficient, focused only on maintaining life, beating away without interruption. But, if I throw it to the wolves, challenging it to keep up, leaving it vulnerable to attack, presenting every opportunity for it to wear itself to its own demise, it stands the chance of becoming more than it once was.

Do we stay safe and small or do we accept the uncomfortable that comes with growth?

I know what the tacky, doily valentines want us to believe: Love is a gift. Love is beautiful. Love is pretty flowers and candlelit dinners and sexy underwear and Lionel Richie and sticky-sweet Instagram snaps.

But that’s bullshit.

The cynic in me says love is dangerous. Love is standing naked and open to the elements. It is being seen­ in your entirety­—handing your weapons to the person in front of you with careful instruction of how to destroy you. It’s unpredictable and ruthless. It wraps you up, gives you a warm, safe place to lay before it stabs you in the chest and watches you die.

But that’s bullshit too.

Perhaps love is the ultimate vulnerability.

It is standing naked, allowing another human being to see you and love the shit out of you for who you are—for your mind and how it works, your heart and how it nurtures, your scars and how they’ve shaped you. Love is laying down your weapons and walking, unguarded, into a human experience, accepting risk and allowing for the unexpected to happen. Love wraps you up, provides a safe place from whatever may be threatening you, nurtures your spirit and brings you joy. It breaks whole and happy hearts, yes, but it heals broken hearts.

Love is wild. Love is breaking the rules.

If a life of the wholehearted is what we desire, whether in the spirit of cupid’s wily bullshit or a legitimate pursuit of authentic happiness, we can’t cherry-pick our vulnerabilities. We either enter love with reckless abandon or we don't enter at all.

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