“If you are willing to change what your definition of love looks like, you can always be surrounded by love in your life.”
I wrote this statement one week after a breakup. It was a breakup I didn’t want, nor did I see coming. I’ve never written before, just for the sake of writing, but I found myself doing a lot of it those first few weeks after.
For some reason, I kept finding myself going back to that phrase.
More than anything else I had written, I kept saying it over and over again—aloud. I even shared it with others. Why was I drawn to that one phrase in particular? When I shared it, I said it in such a way that I sounded like I actually believed it. Many people even received it such that I knew they believed those words.
Looking back now, I get it. I get why I couldn’t stop looking at those words, saying them again and again.
It was because I didn’t believe them.
Not only did I not believe them, I didn’t really want to. They sounded great—they sounded down right inspiring. However, the way I had it was this: I love my friends and family, and they love me, but I believed that there was no deeper love than the love you share with your life mate.
I let people love me, and I them, but there was a wall up. I didn’t even know I’d put it there. It was as if I had my arm outstretched, my hand out, saying, “Stop here. I let you in no further.” I was literally blocking the love in my life from getting in, and I was totally unconscious of it.
I came to this awareness suddenly at a weekend workshop in which I believed I would be the one helping others. I really believed I knew who I was and had a good handle on it. Hell, I thought I was an expert on myself. Of course I’d be amazing at helping others find out who they really were—I’d been doing work on myself for years now.
On our final day, I got a taste of what the participants in the weekend had been there for. It was my turn to go through what they had. I was about to participate in something called circling.
Circling is a group connection exercise that helps us uncover our “relational blind spots”—the places where we push away connection. It gives you the experience of being truly seen—seen for the person you really are, when you’re not wearing the social mask you’ve so masterfully created for yourself.
All day I sat back in silence, hoping my turn would never come. For those that know me, my being silent is the complete antithesis of who I am—usually I don’t shut up. However, on this day I’d kept quiet, avoiding volunteering to go and watching as everyone else bravely went.
Although I saw what wonderful experiences these people were having, I still found myself scared and freaking out inside. What was I so nervous about? I had no idea.
Finally, I could avoid it no longer. My turn came. I was shaking. Really? I was shaking? Why would a woman who knew herself so well, a woman who would gladly spill every single detail of her life, a woman happy to be having the time of her life that weekend with great friends, be shaking with nerves? I sat in the chair, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them.
Damn, still shaking. I took a moment to look at everyone also sitting in the circle. Some were new to me that weekend. Some were friends I’ve known for a long time, who know me well. What I did know, looking into everyone’s eyes, was that I was safe. Let the games begin.
For the next thirty minutes, two amazing men, the group leaders, took me on a journey to see what or who was really running my show, deep down.
I shared my story, and I knew I had them all roped into it. Yes, my story is pretty darn fascinating, but what they shared with me made me feel sad. Some people shared they felt frustrated with me. Others said they couldn’t connect with me, despite really wanting to.
That felt like a punch in the gut. I know myself to be someone who loves to love people, and loves them to love me as well. Yet there I was in a room of people who wanted to love me, and they felt frustrated and disconnected. Why? In that moment, the pieces began to fall into place.
It struck me hard that at least three people in the room could not feel me. It bothered me. How many other people in my life had felt this way? My mind raced with questions and I was blown away that people actually felt this lack of connection with me. I am Miss Emotion! I thought everyone felt me.
I took another deep breath in and closed my eyes, inhaling everything they said so I really felt it in my entire body. Then I opened my eyes with the intention to let these people connect with me. I was going to take a risk.
One of the men leading the circle began to grasp that I kept people out. I let them in, but only so far—there was one part of me that no one would get to. He understood this about me before I even did, and elaborating on it with me until it resonated. Then he repeated my past/story back to me in such a way that it made perfect sense that I wouldn’t let people fully in.
All this time I’d thought I was open—I wasn’t.
What I was actually doing was trying to control people. If I loved them and did things for them, then they’d love me back. They’d have to. Wow, that was scary. I was trying to “make” people love me. Now that is authentic, isn’t it?
He asked me to take a look around the room. I did, and my eyes stopped on a man who has fast become one of my best friends. I looked him in the eyes. I speak to this man for hours on end on the phone weekly, but I’m not sure I had ever stopped and looked into his eyes, until that moment.
I gazed into them for a long time, and I first noticed that they were kind and loving. I saw a tear run down his face. Then, when I was just about there, my machine kicked in. My chatter told me, “Oh, good, he’s letting his emotion out! He needs that.” I closed off and decided it was better for him to feel something than me. What an expert deflection that was!
I let him in for a moment, and then something in me made me slam the door. Everyone saw it. Then they asked me to look into someone else’s eyes. I chose to look into the person’s eyes that I felt closest to. She is a woman I know that I love. She is a woman I admire. She is a woman I am proud and elated to call my friend. I am lucky to know her. I’ll be able to do it this time, I thought. I just know it.
As I gazed into her eyes, I could see and feel how much she wanted this for me. Her eyes were filled with tears, but they hadn’t fallen down her face yet. She had gorgeous blue eyes. They were stunning. I could look into them for hours. I wanted to get lost in them. I wanted to feel her love, and I did, but not fully.
I tried so hard to have her feel me, too. If there was one person in the room I wanted to feel my love, it was her. And fuck, I couldn’t do it! The fucking wall would not come down. What was wrong with me? I kept thinking. I can’t even let people in that I know it is safe to.
What kind of wall had I built around my heart?
It was apparent to everyone in the room that this was not happening. And then something strange and wonderful occurred. One of the group leaders asked me to look at him, listen to him, feel him. I didn’t know him well, this man with a full beard and thick crazy, out of control hair. But when my eyes landed on his, something happened.
He also had tears in his eyes. He was talking, but all of a sudden I could no longer hear him. All I could see were his eyes. I could not stop looking into them. I don’t even know what color they were, but I could not stop looking. I didn’t want to either.
My heart was beating quickly all of a sudden. A voice in my head told me to look away, but I couldn’t. His eyes were hypnotic. I knew he was still talking, but it sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher to me. All I knew was that I couldn’t look away, and I loved what I was feeling.
What was I feeling? I had to check in to know. I felt like I was floating. Yes, that was the sensation. I felt like I was out of my body, hanging on the ceiling, watching everything and everyone below me. At the same time, all I could feel in that room was him and me, our eyes, our love.
Wait a second—did I just say that? Did I just feel that? Was this what letting someone in feels like?
At that moment, he said he felt me. I told him I felt him as well, in a voice that was unrecognizable to me. Next, he asked me what it was that I felt. My answer, “I felt you loving me.”
Oh my God. I felt him loving me. Even more amazing, I was loving him too. I was loving him freely and openly. It was safe. I heard myself saying I didn’t want to stop looking, because I was afraid the feeling would go away. That was when he asked me the million dollar question: What had me not let people in like this? Why did I resist letting love in?
What flew out of my mouth so naturally was a complete shock to me. “I’m afraid that if I can let anyone in like this, then it will be OK to be alone—and I don’t want to be alone!”
I’m crying as I write those words. I always knew I was afraid of being alone, but I didn’t realize just how much, how completely, and how dominating that fear has been running my show, ever since I was a child. “I’m afraid that if I can let anyone in like this, then it will be OK to be alone, and I do not want to be alone.” I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to be alone.
Finally, he asked me to look around the room and let those in the room love me. He gently guided me to allow myself to love them without that outstretched hand that wouldn’t fully let them in. In that moment, I reluctantly took my eyes off of his.
This is who I saw looking back at me:
Jeffrey, a new friend to me, a man I look up to. A man who is both serious and who makes me laugh.
Jae, the man who hired me to work for his company, who believed in me, my strength and my ideas. Someone else I admire.
By his side, Jenn, a beautiful strong, intelligent, confident woman.
Ellen, a woman who captures everyone’s heart, who is sweet, loving, endearing and full of love.
Pete, the man I wouldn’t let in the first time around, the person who has fast become my best friend. The man who spent hours with me on the phone making sure I was OK even though he didn’t know what to do after my breakup. Pete, who was sweet and loving.
Melanie—God, where do I even begin with her? I begin with those eyes, those blue eyes, those loving, kind blue eyes. I begin with her face, the face that could not hide how much she loved me, and wanted me to feel how much I could love her. Melanie, a woman with whom I feel such a bond, who I feel like is my sister.
Bryan, the man with the crazy hair, the man I didn’t even know just three days prior. The man who smashed my wall down, stood for me, and loved me.
Do you know what I felt? I felt love.
I felt their love and I felt me fully loving them. The wall was gone. Wow. So this is what that feels like. Once the lovefest started, I didn’t want it to end. It felt so good, so warm, so loving.
Of course it had to end sometime, but what a gift. I now knew what this felt like, and knew I was capable of having this feeling whenever I wanted—with whomever. What an empowering feeling.
When I left the circle, I felt raw and dazed, but also more whole in some way. On an emotional level, it was as if I’d spent my whole life starving, only to see that there was actually food around me—right then—that I could eat. I can eat. I can be full. I’m OK.
I’m taking away that I don’t have to control or manipulate the people to love me. I don’t have to love others to get love back. People love me just for the sake of loving me, and I can love them just as freely, just because. There doesn’t have to be a reason.
I’m taking away that if I let others in, they will let me in, as well. Most importantly, I’m taking this away: if I let others love me, and I can let anyone in like this, I will never be alone.
“If you are willing to change what your definition of love looks like, you can always be surrounded by love in your life.”
As I write this statement one final time, I see that I was writing it for myself the entire time. This time, I finally feel the strength in my very own words. It may not be how I pictured it in my head, but I will never be alone. I will always have love in my life.
I am so grateful for everyone who played a part in that day. I write my story in honor of you. I love you, and I am loved by you.
Sandy graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a degree in health and human development (family studies) and a minor in women studies. She also serves as Executive Director of an assisted living home, overseeing care and treatment for people suffering from Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Sandy is an adventure junkie with a soft-but no-nonsense coaching style, who drives her students to improve themselves even when their own insecurities are holding them back… When coaching, she applies “a strong hand in a velvet glove”.
Editor: Ryan Pinkard