It Is Scary to Care

My friend R recently started a no-strings attached, friends-with-benefits type of relationship with an old pal from high school. Having been through a hell of year and in dire need of a few (or many) orgasms, she agreed to release some tension with a person she’s always sorta had a thing for, but more importantly, someone she’s comfortable with.

Though R is in North Carolina and I’m in New York, we’ve maintained a close friendship – often sharing every intimate detail of our personal lives with one another, no barrier too gruesome or risqué to cross. And since both of us are rather open, our conversations tend to be a tad dramatic and almost always wildly entertaining. Since she’s been with the Sex Buddy, I’ve received phone calls and text messages, asking for advice and describing her romps.

But this morning, the chat I received was less about hanky-panky, and more about something far more intense than any hard-on or sexual dilemma: feelings. She claimed she almost hyperventilated before they spent the night together because she realized she was starting to like him, as opposed to just liking his down under action.

Maybe When Harry Met Sally’s assumption that men and women can never truly be friends is accurate or maybe it’s another indication that sex messes up even the most nonchalant courtships, or maybe it’s a truth that dates way past either of the aforementioned: it is scary to care.

There’s always that turning point in a could-be relationship where ends stop being loosely tied and emotions connect on a level that neither can prepare for. There is a period where you can place your heart on hold and enjoy the moment, until those moments increase, along with tension and the need to let your heart off the hook, and onto your sleeve. And that’s when brevity turns into the hope of longevity; and defining what you have or what you’re working toward starts to take over those crazy-girl parts of your brain, and thus, you find yourself hyperventilating while texting your friend.

Because when feelings develop, fears and questions come along with them: what if he doesn’t feel the same way? What if I get my heart broken? What if this is all too-good-to-be-true? How does he view me? What if he cares more and I end up breaking his heart? Is he seeing other people? Do I care if he’s seeing other people? Does he care if I am? What are we????

I don’t want to count how many times I’ve entertained these thoughts with different men at different points in our pseudo-relationships. I’ve laid in the arms of guys as they play on their Blackberrys, wondering if they were texting the girl they’d share the same bed with the following night. I’ve put off “The Talk” in hopes eventually the dude would beg me to be his forever and ever, and I’d never have to have a proper conversation defining what we were doing and what we were. I’ve held everything I felt, especially what I didn’t want to feel, inside for so long that without a notice, in the middle of a sunny, beautiful July afternoon, I inappropriately exploded a fury of frustration over Cobb salads and sangria.

And that’s the worse part about being scared to care – if you don’t let yourself do it, you’ll end up scaring the person you care about away. Or worse yet, scaring yourself so badly that you never end up caring in the capacity you’re capable of or that you deserve.

There is no denying that falling in love and willingly giving parts of yourself to another person is terrifying. I have a theory that to truly be in love with someone, you have to be not only brave, but be a tad crazy, too. No rational, independent person would place their trust, their heart, and perhaps their life and future in the hands of someone who has no tangible obligation to stick through the thick-and-the-thin with you. Being vulnerable isn’t a pleasant feeling, but if you can get through the initial pang that your heart could be ripped out of your chest – you’ll find something equally scary but comforting too. Or at least it tends to be comforting for me, anyway.

When you do put yourself out there, when you do allow feelings to grow, become stronger and more connected; when you give away pieces of your soul and place work into a relationship when it faces conflict, and when you take a chance on love – you don’t know if it will work out. You can’t predict and you can’t place your bests in a space where safety is guaranteed – but you can place a wager on yourself.

And if history does repeat itself, the fact of the matter is that even if you’re scared to care – you’ve been scared to care before. Even if you deeply in love and you notice how perfectly you match with someone else – you’ve felt that way before. And even if whatever you hoped for doesn’t come to be – you’ve been let down before, too.

So you overcome the fear. You fall in love. You revel in the magic. And if you have to, you overcome the heartbreak. Because no matter how scary it is to care, it is even scarier to never care again because you’re afraid of doing something…you’ve already done.

Seasons of Security

Some used their thumb, others swaddled a mangled blanket, and a few were content on their own. For my sense of security as a child, I had Mary.

Or as my mother called her, Punk Rocker Mary.

Being the loving pretend-mother I was, I carried my prized doll around everywhere – by her hair. She’d go sledding down our snowy backyard, take dives in our kiddie pool, and she’d dig with me while I looked for buried treasure outside. I refused to go anywhere without her and though I gave her hair that stuck up 90 degrees, she was always up for the ride, and I felt safe dragging her along.

One afternoon, when my family was at one of those highly classy North Carolina flea markets (no judging) – I left Mary in my stroller to get an ice cream cone with my mom, and when we looked back, she’d disappeared. To this day, we’re not sure if she fell out or someone stole her (with her crazy locks, why would anyone want to?), but I was devastated. My mom forced my dad to go buy another Mary to keep me from hysterics, but I wanted nothing to do with the imposter: if I couldn’t have Ms. Punk Rocker, I didn’t want anything.

It’s no surprise people attach meaning to objects – it’s the reason athletes wear the same jersey for weeks or CEOs only sign documents with the same fancy pen – though it may just be another thing to most, once emotion is enveloped, it’s hard to take it away.

While Mary meant everything to me at one time, like we all do, I moved on to the next something that would give me that peace of mind. I found Sammy, a stuffed animal I slept with until I went away to school, a change purse I swore was lucky during middle school, and a pair of jeans that made me feel so incredibly sexy and skinny during college, that I only recently gave in and threw them out a few months ago. Until I actually moved to New York, I held onto the Metro card I used two summers previous during my internship, just in case I never had the opportunity to return.

And that same transitional sense of attachment has been just as adhesive in past relationships.

When a love starts to fizzle or I can feel myself strapping on my walking-away boots, prepared for the right moment to suck it up and strut away – I start to notice that ping in the corners of my heart that question: What if I don’t meet anyone who makes me feel this way again? What if I don’t feel as secure and comfortable and loved? I mean, what if this is it and I screw it up?

Perhaps I should be asking though, why is it that the thought of moving on is more difficult than the act itself? Doesn’t moving on happen naturally but deciding it’s time to leave can be more painful, more intense, more relentless than any breakup? That sometimes, we’d prefer our dolls, or our men, to just be stolen away, so there would be no gray area to navigate.

After receiving a text message from an ex who will be interviewing in New York soon, I thought back to the months we shared when his presence, his companionship, his midnight kisses on my shoulder – meant everything to me. With him and with pretty much any man I’ve shared a part of myself with, was for a fleeting moment, a huge part of my life. They were the person I talked to each day, the person (besides my mom) I called when something incredible happened, or the individual who knew the most about me at that given stage in my life. A relationship by its definition causes two people to coexist, to be together – emotionally, sexually, spiritually, or otherwise – for the time they are meant to be in whatever form, side-by-side.

And then, as all things change, all things transition, and pages turn quicker than I could ever write them – love fades. Intensity becomes extinguished. People move. We grow apart. No common ground can be found. Eyes wonder, along with hands. Stolen moments turn into bittersweet memories. And then we find ourselves, weeks, months, years – decades – down the road, not even having a clue what someone is up to. Not knowing, for the life of us, where they live, who they work for, or if they’re happy. In some cases, maybe we don’t care and can’t be bothered to send an email (or add as a friend on Facebook), but isn’t it funny how our partners-of-yesterday become the strangers-of-today? And those strangers we passed hours ago, could be the lovers we eventually never go a day without seeing?

How our security blanket of love, the stability and commitment that comes with a relationship, continuously crumbles and is rebuilt, time and time again, with revolving faces and places we can never quite predict. And though when we first turn our backs, release the protection, the safe harbor of togetherness, and sail into the single sea (where we’re told there are many fish) – we’re terrified. Yet, give us a few miles, smooth waters, and tidal waves to battle – and we’ll be fine. We won’t even see the shore we left anymore, except for those rare occasions when something triggers a memory, but rather, we’ll only see new horizons.

Isn’t that what moving on is all about?

A friend of mine once told me the people we meet – romantically involved or not – come into our life for a reason, for a season, or forever, and the point of the relationship or friendship is to determine which one this person will be. In some cases, I agree with her but in most, I’m under the belief that everyone, no matter what impression they make, comes into our lives at the right moment, for a purpose, and that lesson, that value they were designed to give to us – will forever be part of who we are.

Perhaps learning to love yourself, letting go of not only past heartbreaks and destructive mentalities, is accepting that maybe, it’s okay to remember the good. To remember that simple security that comes with a person you admired or loved and to trust that if you can feel it once, you can feel it again. That if lucky charms and skinny jeans have taught us anything – it’s that the greatest strength, the purest magic isn’t in an object or a relationship, but the credence we put behind it. That moving on doesn’t mean forgetting, it just means believing in the present and in the future – more than you do the past.

And that security we seek, in its most powerful and protective form, must first and foremost, start with being secure in ourselves. Even when we’re one baby doll, one lover, or one something-less.