March 11, 2023

Why Loving with an Open Heart is the Bravest Thing We can Do.

Last year I chose to end my marriage.

After seven years together, countless moments in therapy, and one miscarriage later, I decided it was time to walk away.

This marked my second divorce within a 10-year period. I would be lying if I minimized this man’s unwavering loyalty for the vows he took, despite our love story ending. We both fought painstakingly hard to keep our relationship alive during some very dark times. But eventually, after sinking 10,000 feet below the surface, I was no longer able to swim back up again.

I have always been the kind of woman to give fully of myself. I enter relationships with a strong intuition, but my heart always leads first. There were many signs throughout the years that what I had with this man was not sustainable, but yet I stayed. I fought. I cried. I became emotionally and mentally depleted. I felt lost and hopeless. I struggled with a year-long battle of depression and anxiety that required medication all the while completing my nursing degree during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis. I was, quite literally, willing to do whatever it took to better my marriage and myself. I lived, loved, and thrived in survival mode.

After many years together of our tumultuous love story, I finally moved on. I knew I had to go forward with my life and focus on the career I yearned for so many years; I finally had.

That was until love unexpectedly knocked on my door—once again. I decided I owed it to myself to re-open my heart and take a chance. I needed to know I could trust again. I was ready to create new memories. I wanted that feeling of togetherness that I yearned for so many years in my marriage yet never had. I wanted a “we.”

He was witty, wildly successful, handsome, kind, funny, generous, and warm. We both came from similar cultural backgrounds and upbringings. The pieces just fit. Within a short time, we bonded quickly, and what seemed like could be “forever” quickly ended. I approached that breakup in fight-or-flight mode, unwilling to lose again in love and prepared to do what I can to fight and keep it. I resisted the idea that there could be another ending of yet another love story.

But when the smoke finally cleared, I came to terms with the fact that it was not a relationship I should have been in, in the first place. And not because I was not ready to open my heart again, but because I realized I hadn’t yet learned the greatest lesson: I must choose me first. The day my ex and I agreed to part ways, I told him if you want to meet the right one, then work on being the right one for you first. Perhaps I was giving the advice that I needed to take. Being in a relationship does not soothe our brokenness. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Relationships do not cause pain and unhappiness. They bring out the pain and unhappiness that is already in you.”

My pattern with men has often been the same. I cling to the wrong ones. I leave the ones who won’t leave me, or the ones I choose not to leave eventually decide to leave on their own. While I am usually aware of red flags from the start, I choose to ignore them because I hold on to the notion that things can change and because the idea of not getting it right again is too terrifying. I attempt to self-soothe in my pursuit of relationships by returning to the same situation over and over again. I return to the patterns that brought me pain in the first place. It is, by definition, total insanity—doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

Although both of these relationships were each different in nature, the common denominator in them was me. My open heart is my superpower. I’ve always struggled with knowing when enough is enough. I tend to live and also love in scarcity mode, telling myself there is nothing better than this person right now as they are, regardless of the uncertainty, anguish, doubt, and strife that particular relationship brings to my life. For years I’ve told myself it is better to have that person than no one at all. It took me years to realize that by staying in relationships that were not healthy for me (including my most recent one), I already had no one. The emptiness of staying in it felt more alone than actually being by myself. Because even the strongest of feelings expire when ignored and taken for granted.

It was shortly after this unexpected love match when I came to the painful realization that I needed time to heal my wounds. This man had checked off so many boxes, but in the end, I was left with so many unknowns that it left me paralyzed. I had kept it together this whole time, but I wasn’t happy. I was stuck. I needed time to process from the years and years I spent fighting to keep my marriage alive and then fighting again to get out of the stuck-ness of this recent breakup. But in the end, what I took away from this relationship was not the loss of love itself, but the bravery and vulnerability I had to give it another chance. The ability to dive back into unchartered waters with a full heart and tell myself, regardless of how this story ends, I will learn something from it. I will allow this love story to teach me something about myself that I did not know before, and I will be better because of it. For that reason alone, I have not lost but only gained.

Because we can never really know the outcome unless we are willing to play with a full heart. Learning how to love again is always a risk. We never walk in with a full heart and leave with nothing. We walk away knowing we were brave and vulnerable for being willing to try again with whatever fragments of ourselves are left.

When I shared my story with a childhood friend, her knee-jerk reaction was to remind me of the ebbs and flow, and much like the show “Sex In the City,” the last several years of my life had in fact been built on looking for love, having love, and then losing love. It is in fact one big continuum.

I have grieved at the thought of turning another year older. I forget how easy it is to focus on those terrifying parts of ourselves rather than the utterly beautiful sense of worth hidden behind the pain.

Today, I choose different. I choose to be better. I let go of the broken pieces and focus on building a more enlightened version of myself and the gratitude for all that I do and have accomplished. My body, older, but still strong. My family and friends, never more than a phone call, or short drive away. My life, now with a newfound purpose in a career I yearned for so many years and finally achieved.

Loving both of these men didn’t change any of that, regardless of the fact that I gave everything I had, yet it still never felt like enough. Perhaps the enough-ness was showing up as my full authentic, passionate, syrupy, sweet self. I was not defeated by loving either of these men, but rather braver for having done so.

So in these moments ahead, I still choose to keep my heart open.

I choose to give myself space. I can keep the page blank for a while without knowing how the story will turn out. I can take this intentional pause to deeply self-reflect. I can use this space to create something new and different. And in this space, I can also affirm that my time will come. I can affirm that I am deserving of nothing but abundance and goodness in a partnership and that I am simply unwilling to settle for anything less. An old friend once told me, “Never take the crumbs, Shari. You deserve the whole damn bakery.”

I now remind myself that my life has so much purpose, and even in those moments I easily forget, I can be brought back to that sacred place through loving affirmations from friends. And then I remember how much I lead my life with passion and grit. And while a relationship can bring me great happiness and fulfillment, I choose to pick the right one over just “anyone.”

I tell myself that this journey will get so much better. You get so much better just for taking those risks in the first place and playing the game with an open heart. And eventually you surrender, you learn to let go of the notion that your perfect love story needs to be molded into exactly how you imagined it to be. It is here we embrace the unknown. It is here we remain in the stillness and allow the universe to unfold some magic. It is here that we hold the mirror to our face, as scary and dark as it is. We lean into the discomfort that self-transformation requires.

We breathe. We wait. We tell ourselves “it is okay, you got this.” And we move forward, bravely, powerfully, confidently to a place that is worthy of our shine.

“I still believe in love. And I believe now, more than ever before, that my person is coming.” ~ Chelsea Handler 


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