To love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you.
-Mohsin Hamid, Exit West: A Novel
Why are so many people so afraid to love?
Love is an open door. Love is a battlefield.
Love is the connective tissue of humanity. Love is a reason to live. For many, it is the only reason to live. Thousands of people have killed others and themselves in the name of love.
What is there to fear? Is it a fear of the open door? Of the unknown? Of the battlefield? Of fighting?
Or is it the fear of losing? That the emotional high will tumble into an addict’s abyss?
To fear love is not to fear the open door, but to fear the moment the door closes. It’s not to fear the battle, but to fear defeat.
To open our hearts to love is to expose ourselves to loss. We hand others a knife, point to our weak underbelly, and say “please be careful.” By putting our hearts in the hands of others, we endow them with the power to break us, to hold us hostage, or to imprison us at will. No wonder we’re afraid.
Not many can fearlessly trust others like this. I can’t. Not now. I want to feel safe. I want to feel secure. So I remain a self-appointed jailer. I hold my own keys to my own heart. And as long as I hold these keys close, no one can hurt me.
But a guarded heart does not remain in an ever-youthful stasis. It hardens and ossifies. Mistrust habituates. Conditions like “if I open my heart to him, he will hurt me” generalize. Like a virus, fear consumes our mind with overarching, indefensible, yet to us, completely rational statements like “women will hurt me” and “I cannot trust anyone.”
Throughout our lives, our hearts are either hardening or softening. We either reap the joys of love today for potential pain tomorrow or we accept a constant, low-grade numbing ache as a hedge against future disappointment.
Whenever we close off our hearts, we must consider the price of that protection. We have one life. Is the risk of getting hurt worth the risk of an unexplored life?
Among the 5 regrets of the dying, number three is “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.”
This works in two ways. On the one hand, many people fear rejection and consequently pass on opportunities to open themselves to others. We want to preserve a positive self-image and steer clear of situations that could threaten that image. So we detain our hearts in Schrodinger’s realm of “not accepted nor rejected”. Feelings remain unexpressed, ships pass in the night, and regrets mount.
On the other hand, others remain in unsatisfying relationships for similar reasons. These fears serve as two sides of the same coin.
“What if this person does not love me back?” I don’t want to find out.
“What if no one can love me more than this person?” I don’t want to find out.
Whether it is a positive emotion, a positive self-image, or an intimate connection, love exposes us to loss. We put skin in the game.
We must accept this inextricable link. We must realize that losing what we love is not a possibility. It is an inevitability.
“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”
Fortunately, even if we lose, life presents us with limitless opportunities to win. The only way to lose indefinitely is to fearfully harden our hearts indefinitely. We must continue to push forward in spite of that fear. We must rise in response when love knocks us down.
Some people play to win. But playing to win means to accept the possibility of losing. Others play to not lose. But playing not to lose dooms oneself to indefinite (though less volitile) losing. Take that chance.
Open your heart. Because permanent defeat is voluntary.