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A few years back, I started dating this guy.
We had grown up together and even been close at times but, unsurprisingly, we lost touch as we got older and eventually became nothing more than occasional Facebook updates and childhood memories.
Then one fateful message led us back into each other’s lives in a way that I don’t think either of us ever expected.
The attraction was strong. The conversation flowed effortlessly. The laughter was constant. And before I could really process what was happening, we were together, making plans for the future, talking about kids and vacations and where to live.
I woke up each morning feeling happy and hopeful—but unsettled.
I wanted to dive deep into all the big, positive feelings. I wanted desperately to settle in to what felt good. But something in me wasn’t able to fully relax.
I was afraid the other shoe was going to drop. I was afraid I was going to get hurt.
Well, it did. And I was.
But I still felt a twinge of sadness—even after things ended, even after I allowed myself to give in to anger and heartbreak, even after I healed and moved on—that I spent so much time disconnected from the blissful moments that come with falling in love. So much time being terrified about what might happen to my heart.
I just watched a video of Brené Brown speaking to Oprah about what she considers the most terrifying, difficult emotion we all experience and, honestly, I wish I’d heard these words years ago but I’m so grateful to have them now:
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“You ask me ‘What’s the most terrifying, difficult emotion that we experience as humans?’
I would say joy.
How many of you have ever sat up and said, ‘Wow, work’s going good. Good relationship with my partner. Parents seem to be doing okay. Holy crap, something bad is going to happen.
You know what that is?
When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. I’m not going to soften into this moment of joy because I’m scared. I’m scared it’s going to be taken away. The other shoe is going to drop.
I interviewed a man who told me ‘My whole life, I never got too excited, too joyful about anything. I just kind of stayed right in the middle. That way, if things didn’t work out, I wasn’t devastated. And if they did work out, it was a pleasant surprise.’
In his 60s, he was in a car accident. His wife of 40 years was killed. And he said, ‘The second I realized that she was gone, the first thing I thought was, I should have leaned harder into those moments of joy. Because that did not protect me from what I feel right now.
We’re trying to dress rehearse tragedy, so we can beat vulnerability to the punch.”
Yes, anxiety and trauma and even our intuition can lead us to fear joy, to see the bad more often than we see the good, to worry that pain and destruction and loss are right around the corner.
And even if all of that is true, we can still lean in to the moments and experiences and people that make us smile and laugh and breathe deeper and, just for a millisecond, forget the fear and embrace the love.