Vulnerability, Freedom, & the Past’s Lips: OMG, Did I Really Fall in Love? ~ Tara Rose Crist

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on Jun 14, 2012
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“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”


Have you ever fallen in love? Like, really been in love?

I’m a little ashamed to admit I haven’t.

Not exactly, anyway.

Recently though, I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life—one that I had previously challenged myself to learn, but always seemed to fall short of actually getting.

You can ask just about anyone who knows me how they would describe me, and they would say I’m “sweet.” Although I can have an edge and intensity that some find intimidating at first, “Sweet Tara” and “Angel Tara” are monikers that I have frequently received over the years. I’m compassionate. I mother people, and am often called “Mother Tara” at work, because I make sure my coworkers are taken care of, especially the girls who are a few years younger. Strangers frequently tell me of their deepest sorrows, and I am a receptacle for their pain. I receive it and bring them a measure of solace. I listen. I’m quick to smile (or make goofy faces), and quick to put a smile on the faces of others. I am known to be honest and capable of talking frankly about my life and past.

I believe I know something about love and loving others. Yet, I’m beginning to understand that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The poetry of Rumi and Hafiz frequently speaks to the necessity of vulnerability, the responsibility inherent in an individual to allow for love.

The modern day researcher Brene Brown, however, is the woman to bring science to vulnerability through her ten years of studying “vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.”

To her, vulnerability is not only “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change,”  but also “our most accurate measurement of courage.”

She really hits the nail on the head here: “excruciating vulnerability, this idea of: in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”

She gives “cred” to what I have long felt: vulnerability and surrender are keys to love.

The most pertinent questions (for me) are: Can I fully surrender to life and love? Do I really know about vulnerability? Can I let love in?

The answer: Not quite yet, but that is the goal.

When it comes to male/female love and vulnerability, I just don’t go there. I’ve had relationships, yes, but the whole falling madly in love thing? It’s like I can’t let myself. In some ways I want it more than anything, yet I’m not really capable of the love I desire, because the love I desire (and the vulnerability it requires) is terrifying!

Recently, though, I came closer than I ever have to allowing myself to be vulnerable in that way.

I met someone. In many ways, he embodied the mate I had long wished for.

Not only did we share joys and interests, we also approached life with a similar curiosity and innocence—“Wow! Did you see that shooting star?!” There was an uncanny underlying connection. We had this sweet link: he would buy bread when I was about to buy it, and be craving what I was about to cook; I could pull a number out of his head for Pete’s sake! We both felt better, physically and emotionally, in each other’s presence, and there was a tenderness I had never known with anyone else—I had never felt so at home in someone’s arms.

Most beautiful of all: we could be in silence together, and there was nothing needed to fill it. The silence was full. Well, there’s that, and when he cooked, well, no one’s cooking, save my mother’s, has ever nourished me so deeply—major props on the cooking! It was a link, a kind of closeness I’d waited much of my life to experience.

For better or worse, I will hold each new connection up to that, gauging how it measures.

It’s sort of hard to imagine how two people can tear apart a nifty connection like that, but oh yes, they can. In record time, too!

Two terrified and stubborn people can do a bang-up job of shredding the most beautiful tapestry.

I’ll speak for myself: I was terrified (and, yes, obstinate can be a word used to describe me.) I felt more vulnerable than I ever have, and I did not want to admit (to myself or him) that I was falling in love. That would have meant being more vulnerable, and, well, I’m stubborn, prideful and attached to my independence. He really got under my skin, and how could I even fully fess up to it?

Because the connection was so strong, it forced me into a place of vulnerability I’m unaccustomed to, and it touched places in me that had been long left in the dark, some of them ugly traumas of the past, re-awakened in the memory of my body. I wasn’t ready for that Pandora’s box. It overcame me.

Seeking safety from my own fears, I wanted to shape him and the relationship into something that felt safe, something I could understand and control.

But that was not the nature of the connection. The connection was there to break me open, to make me more vulnerable than I have ever been, and being broken open never feels, well, safe. It ain’t comfy.

In this raw state, it was hard to tell my demons from reality.

In each other’s presence, it was clear—we just meshed. But in the space between, the demons did their dirty work.

So, I found myself frequently pointing the finger outwards to his fear of love and commitment. Yes, his fear was very real, but what would have happened if I’d taken a good hard look at my own? What if I’d stared deeply, honestly into the mirror he was holding up for me? What if I had looked in at that wounded little girl there, terrified of being torn apart, abandoned? What if I had not hardened my own heart, even in little ways? What if I’d really looked at how scary it is to imagine committing myself to this one person who, because of how close they come to my heart, could hurt me so deeply?

Who knows. They say hindsight is 20/20. Maybe I would have simply spontaneously combusted (I’m pretty sure I just wasn’t yet calibrated for that much intensity.) But these are valuable questions to ask as I move forward.

So, needless to say, as quickly as the connection was there, it was gone. I was left feeling like a lightning bolt had rocketed through me. I was left seeing what I had found and lost, seemingly in an instant. I was left with an ache bigger than I could have imagined.

Loss has a transformative power all its own.

When it comes to endings, I have either tried to make something work that really wasn’t working, or I would use my negative feelings and memories to eclipse the sweetness, so I wouldn’t have to completely face feeling the force of loss.

With him I did the former, wrestling with the reality that it just wasn’t working at that given time. I pushed for something. Anything. I tried to figure it all out with my mind.

I squirmed in discomfort, as I felt something precious slipping away—not just the person I cared for, but something more familiar and prized—control.

Then, I did the latter, as I had often done. Pride kicked in, and I put him in a little box labeled “shit-head” (or something like that). I began to shut him out of my heart, reminding myself of all the things that didn’t work, all the things that baffled and hurt me. But, imagine this! That didn’t feel good, either! Something shifted inside me—I couldn’t approach loss that way anymore; I’ve made a commitment to myself and life to not only live as true to myself as I can, but to live with a heart as open as I can bear at any given time. So, what to do?

One night I curled up with my journal and wrote down as many of the things I love about this person as I could, as well as how some of these things helped me. I wrote as though to him, directly. I wrote until my lids could no longer hold themselves open and sleepy tears ran down my cheeks.

I wrote simple things like how I love the way his mouth fits around his teeth—I could stare at those shapes for days.

I wrote more complex, emotionally based things, too, and the writing came near its closure with:

“I love how afraid you are of loving and being loved, for your fear reminds me of my own. It reminds me of the wounds I am just learning to make peace with, the wounds I am beginning to see will heal in time. Your fear reminds me of this unifying thing: we are all here to learn about love, to learn how to break down the barriers within and between us that keep love away.”

It’s strange, in consciously recalling the things I love and had lost, the ache I felt ebbed, rather than increased. Though there was still the visceral and emotional pain, what began to fill me was a great openness and gratitude.

This openness changed me, reached into nearly every aspect of my life.

I did not forget what didn’t work.

I didn’t spend all my time wishing for something that just wasn’t happening—I just allowed for the love to be there, the longing to be there.

It changed me, and is still changing me. I am freer now. I have more clarity.

Again, Brown has something to say: “Vulnerability pushed. I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.”

I’ve always felt that the heart has the capacity to break open, to flower and bear fruit from its messy brokenness.

I had always felt that when we cut someone from our heart, we do ourselves an incredible disservice; we cut out a valuable part of ourselves and our past. We dishonor the other. We dishonor what they brought to us.

I want to live a life of honor. I want to live a life that is honest.

Still, I had never been so tested.

A few other losses have helped to open me, including the passing of a beloved family member. But, there is something unnatural about cutting off communication with someone who is still on the earth. Granted, it happens all the time, it’s just harder to wrap my brain around.

Paul Simon once wrote: “Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart.”

I’d always had too much pride to allow myself to be truly blown apart. And allowing for this vulnerability, allowing for the love and the pain to coexist, requires a great deal of strength.

But this was the gift: I was called to make that choice. Closed? Or open?

Love is a choice.

In this instance, choosing love didn’t mean allowing myself to fully love this person during our brief relationship, but in the end, it meant coming to the place where I am learning that love is not something I can control or pretend isn’t there.

It is something I can choose to allow for.

I can choose to allow it to shape me better than I know how to myself. Like the tide, it’s better if we work with it; then it can bless us with its fierce strength. Sailors know this wisdom well. Perhaps my will is the little ship, and the ocean my heart; we will learn to have a great relationship, one where that willful little ship knows it cannot be in control, but can work with the forces that are present.

Everyday I have to make that choice. Closed or open? When the ache returns and regret comes to the surface, I have to ask myself: how do I really want to live my life? Will I close myself off? Or can I just sail the currents of love and longing that run beneath the pain? Can I sail, even, the pain? If I am courageous enough, I can continue to surrender and let the process of sailing this experience transform me, storms and all.

So, did I fall in love? Yes, really, I did.

Although it did not turn into what I wanted, and perhaps still want, I know this new openness, this new freedom will help me the next time I am ready to enter into a relationship. My heart blossoming out toward the world, my increasing willingness to work with what is, is a gift I cannot return.

Now I feel this innocent little girl who is a part of me. She knows how to be fully joyous and fully vulnerable. She knows how to guide that ship pretty well, because she doesn’t try too hard. She still remembers the wisdom of simplicity. She listens to the ocean, feels it, tests the wind, and acts with deep knowing. Many of her wounds will also be waiting in Pandora’s box. All will be waiting there for the next time I’m called to deep vulnerability, the next call to sail my ship somewhere that’s a little scary, to the shores of love.

Within a few days of writing my “let me count the ways” list of things I love about the fellow I lost, I came across a poem from Hafiz.

This is what I will leave you with:

The Past’s Lips

Why not look at the beauty your memory holds,

So nourishing that light can be.

The past’s lips are not deceased.

Let them comfort you

if they




Tara Rose Crist is a music junkie, yoga junkie, equestrian, lover of the outdoors and deep ecology, bees and nurturing things (like plants and humans). Her academic background is in Literature and Creative Writing, and these days the written word serves purely as a vehicle for expression and tool for self-exploration. It also seems like a good way to reach other people’s hearts, and she’s pretty sure that reaching other people’s hearts is a worthwhile undertaking!


Editor: April Dawn Ricchuito

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17 Responses to “Vulnerability, Freedom, & the Past’s Lips: OMG, Did I Really Fall in Love? ~ Tara Rose Crist”

  1. Jennifer Parmentier says:

    I am still processing this writing after the third time reading it. I am in awe and disbelief that another person, a complete stranger nonetheless, could articulate with immense clarity the undiscovered truth buried deep within my psyche or soul, maybe heart…I can quite be sure from where, as it has eluded me for most my life. Reading this has illuminated many speculations of mine, which I believe could cause a major shift within. Dare I say life changing? Perhaps. Very possible.

    May I simply express the deepest gratitude for sharing your vulnerability….it helped me to see my own. Profound. Thank you

  2. Tara Rose Crist says:

    Oh, Jennifer, your response elicited sobs from me! You have no idea how deeply gratifying it is to reach even one human heart (soul, psyche..) this way. The act of writing and publishing this article WAS an act of vulnerability in and of itself, and your words have made it all more than worth it. You have touched my heart more than I can say.

  3. Emily says:

    Hi Tara, Your piece is beautiful. I feel like it just took me on a journey. An exploration of hearts, loss, love, strenght, vulnerability… forcing me to look at all the gooey messy stuff on the inside of me too. Thank you for having the courage to share!!

  4. Gayle Davis says:

    Tara, I am in awe of your beautiful, and moving story. I've read it twice now, and I'm so impressed with your ability to express yourself and reach others with your words. I can't imagine that there is anyone who could not relate to this in some part of their loves, either past or present. You are a very talented writer. I'm so proud of you.

  5. Erin says:

    Dear Tara, Thank you for sharing this insightful piece. It must have taken a lot of courage for you to share this publicly, since it is such a deeply personal subject, but something I think we are all struggling to learn and incorporate into our own relationships. Thank you for voicing this, and bringing it up to so many of us to take a look at within ourselves! looking forward to reading more from you! Thanks again!

  6. Tara Rose Crist says:

    Hehe, Erin! I know who you are! Love you girl!

  7. […] Ishvara pranidhana is the gift of knowing that things are not in our control and the freedom to let life happen. […]

  8. Kyle says:

    Given the theme, I suspect you will enjoy this quote:
    “A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. A soul mate’s purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, and make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life.” ~Elizabeth Gilbert
    I wish I knew you well enough to be proud of you Tara. Very cool stuff none the less.

  9. Tara Rose Crist says:

    Kyle, I know that quote well and have often pondered it since reading the book in 2009, partially agreeing, partially disagreeing.

    Because I thrive on challenge, I desire to live my life with a soul mate for both the peace/kinship and the INTENSITY. And I know people who have done it too, and are none the poorer for the effort required. No, they’re richer for meeting the challenge and not running.

    So, in short, I cannot convince myself to agree with Elizabeth Gilbert on this one! No, I’ve decided I can’t agree at all.

    Thank you for the kind words.

  10. Alex says:

    this resonated so much with me. thanks for sharing. One question though….why didn't you send him that list-letter???!! to be completely honest with urself and him…

  11. Tara Rose Crist says:

    Hi there, I’m glad the writing resonates with you! As for your question, well, I have thought about it… But the reality is that hearing anything from me at this juncture would be liable to make him angry, and, for his sake and mine, I just don’t want to go there! I wasn’t joking when I said we really tore s#*t up. So, for the moment, the best I can do is be deeply honest with myself.

  12. […] Daveybot Sometimes, when we fall in love it is as if we have fallen into the arms of God. The world is warmer, clearer, brighter. We have a […]

  13. […] at the precise moment that you feel least able to act maturely—in fact, it necessarily happens when you are at your most vulnerable. It’s like standing there with your pants around your ankles, offering your soft, little […]

  14. […] I am coming back to a place in life now where that voice is clearer. I am learning to listen when it comes to “the small stuff” and working my way to greater clarity that will hopefully bleed into the larger things that can often get more muddled, like the intricacies of personal relationships. […]

  15. […] It doesn’t matter where, in a room full of people or alone; it’s that feeling of separation or difference and not being able to overcome oneself and be vulnerable. […]

  16. Noah says:

    Very enlightening reading.. So wierd how much it resembles my Wife (of the same name strangely).. only as if she suddenly stepped out of her fantasy world as if she just woke up to the stuff you just figured out and writes about it like I dream of her doing one day maybe instead of running from fear constantly.

    Can I tell you about something that is going on with my marriage and ask you for your advice in a private message somehow? Thank you Tara

  17. Tara Rose Crist says:

    Noah, I am glad you enjoyed reading this. I am not sure how to respond to your request for advice…nor can I decide whether I'm flattered or unnerved…or both…or, well, I'm not sure! You are, however, welcome to send me a message via Facebook. I can be found here: I will not accept a friend request, as, these days, I reserve that for those I really do know. However, if you send me a message there, I will, in time, respond. Thank you so much for reading! It means a lot when my writing reaches others, especially this piece, as it seems to help transform something that was very painful into something of beauty.