Young love. Whether it was something you said about a couple, or it was something an adult said about you, I’m sure you’ve heard that saying before. It’s how adults describe two teenagers who are infatuated with each other.
Most young adults or teenagers experience this young love or even a first love and it shapes who they become as adults. It shapes how they handle relationships going forward. But what if, you never had a young love or even a first love? What if you spent the better part of your teenage and young adult years fashioning walls so impenetrable that you couldn’t be yourself in front of anyone. Not even you?
We’re not born mistrusting of people. We instinctually trust that whoever is taking care of us will provide the things we need to survive. But, over time little things chip away at the trust and security we’ve so beautifully been given at birth.
You did something wrong, so your mom is mad at you and won’t treat you the same way as your brother.
You shared one of your life’s aspirations with your friends and they made you feel stupid for even thinking about it. They laughed at you.
Your dad left when you were a kid and you thought if you’d only been smarter or if you’d only behaved better, he would’ve stayed. It’s all your fault.
Chip. Chip. Chip.
Before you know it, the invisible field of security around you that was once smooth and complete, starts to look like the ragged old blanket you used to carry around with you when you were a kid. The edges fraying, stiches giving way, random holes dispersed throughout. That sense of security and trust toward anyone, including yourself, is so depleted that a strong wind could blow it away completely.
What do you do? You start building. It starts with a few foundational bricks – things like keeping thoughts to yourself when you feel inspired to do something you’ve never done, or blindly agreeing with someone’s opinion at the expense of your own, or even stopping yourself from taking your shot. Then you graduate to full blown people pleasing mode where you forget what boundaries are for yourself and you just do whatever is needed to make others happy. Again, all at your own expense. Years and years go by until you’ve built this protective wall around yourself that is so high, so thick, and full of layers that nothing is getting through that sucker.
Then you wake up in your thirties and realize you’ve never had a serious relationship. You’ve never been in love. You never had that young love or first love experience that so many around you share stories about. Why would you? To be in love with someone, don’t you have to share yourself with them? You have to feel seen and heard and you have to see and hear your partner. You can’t do any of that when you’re sporting protective proverbial Kevlar.
That’s me. In my thirty-three years, and I’ve never let anyone in. There is not one person on this earth who knows me: the real me. Hell, I don’t even know myself. I’ve spent so much time erecting these walls and keeping people out, that I haven’t allowed myself to open up to anyone. I won’t even allow myself to be the real me in the privacy of my own mind or quiet time.
I’ve been proud of these walls. These walls are aggressive with deterrents interspersed along their borders. If my contentious sarcasm didn’t keep you out, then – SURPISE, my constant over-analyzing and questioning your motivation would. I might even throw out some toxic projection just for good measure. If the walls were tangible and visible, I’d be standing in front of them with my arms crossed, marveling at my beautiful and crafty creation.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about change. And there’s this woman, Alison. She seems good for me. Her behavior shows me that she cares and the feelings I get, well… let’s just say they’re making me reconsider a layer or two of my creation.
I’ve started to notice that I share little bits of myself with her that I didn’t even realize about myself. Like, did you know I always wanted to be an archeologist? Yeah, me neither! I figured that out because I absolutely love Indiana Jones and while I understand that real archeologists don’t actually dodge booby traps while stealing golden relics – it’s just something that, in my heart, I’ve always been interested. I’d love to be knelt next to a partially exposed skeleton of some creature that lived millions of years ago, brushing away the debris that would soon reveal some clues about its life that was separate from ours. I didn’t realize just how much until it came out while I was talking to Alison.
I never knew this about myself. Even if I did know it, you can’t go to your parents, who are in unimaginative lines of work, and tell them you wanted to study fossils for a living. Not only would they not support you, but they’d probably laugh too.
Instead, I used my walls. I kept this aspiration to myself and settled for a life of mediocrity as a bank manager. I’ll never know what it’s like to be covered in dust or sand, digging in the desert for some unnamed and unstudied species. I’ll never feel the intense heat, sweat pouring down my back as I drink water out of a canteen while taking a break from the excitement of discovery.
Aside from missed opportunities, I would love to be able to just spew all the things I’ve been thinking over the years. I can’t though. If I share things, for instance my very unpopular opinion that Game of Thrones was terrible, and I get judged or ridiculed for it, then another chip comes out. Instead, I just avoid conversations about it, and this keeps my walls strong. I’m safe.
And now there’s Alison. She makes me think that things are possible. Aspirations are possible. Being myself around someone is possible. Even love is possible. But then I get a wave of uncertainty. Can I trust her? Is she going to hurt me? If I let my walls down, is she going to crush me into crumbs so tiny I’d never be able to be put back together? I don’t know the answer. Then I think, you’ll never know unless you try.