We sat across the table from each other, locking eyes.
It was not so unlike the many times we’d held each other’s gaze and seen through the masks and facades, seeing something much deeper, nearly sublime. In his eyes, I saw recognition and comfort; I held a knowing that we were part of something together that was really good.
We’d faced many challenges together. We’d traveled together. We’d spent nearly every waking hour together for months. We’d grown together through tough times, and I embraced both his strengths and his weaknesses and loved them equally.
I loved that, no matter what, I could be myself. It took a lot of years and a lot of work to become who I am today, and to be able to put all of my sh*t, good and bad, out on the table and say, “This is who I am.” I have learned that my brand of honesty and vulnerable strength is not for everyone, in fact, often it’s downright intimidating, but it’s also the only way I can be true to myself. He embraced it.
With him, I could be nurturing. I could be creative. I could be bold and jump off ledges, and he wanted to jump right along with me. He rode motorbikes with me in the rainforest in Africa and ran through the subway with me in Paris. We collaborated on huge business ideas and shared the most beautiful intimate moments.
With him, I could unleash the power that I know I have—hard-earned strength that has been cultivated through adversity and success, without feeling as if I needed to dim my own shine, and I did it fully and completely, out in the open for the whole world to see.
We had a beautiful relationship. Or so I thought.
He lowered his gaze and the smile dissolved from his face. “We are not in the same place,” he began. I felt a tightening in my gut and an alarm began in my ears. “I am not ready to give you what you can give me. I can’t love you right now, no matter how much I want to.”
I looked at him blankly, hoping for some sign that he was joking, or that it was all a mistake. I was met with a pained stare.
My vision was blurred by tears and I couldn’t breathe. I was trapped in my own skin and I couldn’t escape fast enough.
“I have to go,” I whispered as I grabbed my purse and rose. My feet carried me through the crowded restaurant to the door as my heart shattered in a million pieces on the floor behind me.
And so it was. Again. Two became one, and my world shifted below my feet.
Only this time, it was different. This time, I knew I would get through it.
Oh, I knew I would hit the gym extra hard to vent my anger. I knew sadness would keep me from eating much for a few days. I knew I would cry an ugly cry or two (or nine), and that I would be tempted to make pathetic pleas for him to take me back.
But I also knew I would be okay. Because I always am.
My best friend called me on my way home, catching me in the throes of a tearful breakdown. She reiterated things that I had not only heard from other people who love me along the way, but that he had told me earlier that night.
It only took a short time to realize that I appreciated his honesty, and I appreciate the fact that he recognized what he was capable of, and what he was not. Even though I’m not one to quit without a fight, I’m learning when the battle is mine to wager, and when it’s not.
Listening to my friend, I began to heal, and to learn the lessons so many of us who are authentic must learn.
1. Strong people are intimidating. Those of us who take chances and live life up front and out loud are scary to those who don’t. We represent change. We represent a shift in thinking and in doing, and that shift often means that old ideas—and even relationships—have to be peeled away like scabs to uncover the new. We often became strong through the pain of years of polishing and reconstructing our own layers. Like diamonds, it takes similar pain and polishing on the part of our potential partners to equal our shine.
2. People want to be like us, even when they are not ready to be like us. One of the most attractive things about people who live life authentically is that, when people meet us, they want to be like us. They want to join our bandwagon because it feels really good to be embraced for who they are, unconditionally. What they don’t realize, and what we often forget, is that in order to keep up with us, they have to do the work. Eventually, they have to stand on their own two feet and recognize their own personal truth. That truth has both strengths and weaknesses, and confronting and embracing both is tough stuff. Sometimes they just aren’t ready to do that, so they fall back on the path and choose an easier route. That’s not our fault, and that’s not our responsibility.
3. We often pick “project” people. I know many empathic people can relate to this one. Many of us are “fixers.” We see the potential in situations, and in people, and we recognized along the way that we can, and do, make a difference in people’s lives. We find people who are a little bit broken (or a lot broken) in one way or another. For me, my entire life is built on empowering other people. I mend the broken and fix the flawed, and unfortunately, in relationships, I am no longer needed once the pieces are in place. Part of every project is that it has a beginning and an end. The endings just tend to hurt a lot more when we invest ourselves in a romantic partnership as if it were a long-term thing.
4. Not everyone is comfortable with vulnerability, even when they’re comfortable with you. One of the comments I have heard the most in both romantic and friendship relationships is that people say they feel like they can tell me anything. That’s probably true. Authentic people are typically not judgmental and they carry their proverbial baggage in a see-through backpack, so others generally feel comfortable being vulnerable with them. Sometimes because of that, though, we become a liability. We know too much. We have seen them at their worst. They can’t start over with a new story because we know the old one. And so they walk away and begin anew without us.
5. We will be okay. In order to become who we are—in order to be empathetic, compassionate and honest about ourselves to ourselves and others, we have to go through some pretty tough challenges. We have had to work for it. We have faced pain and struggles that lead us to the question Who am I? before we began to fully own that truth. That means we have survived every bit of pain that has shaped us up to this point. This is no different. This, too, shall pass.
When you put your whole self out there and love with everything you’ve got, and your heart gets shattered in the end, it’s going to be okay. There are lessons in the shards.
No one else can dim your light because there is no switch on the outside. It’s inside of you, where it has been all along, and one day you will find that love that can match your glow. In the meantime, you are enough, just as you have always been.
Author: Amanda Christmann
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Guilherme Yagui/Flickr