When did I put up this wall around my heart? And why has it taken me so long to notice it’s here?
I unexpectedly talked with a friend Tuesday evening. It’s someone I’ve been close to for a long time, but we haven’t been able to talk much for the last five or six years. The reasons don’t matter, but I’ve really missed talking with her. We correspond by email, but it’s not the same.
It was actually our second conversation in the last few weeks. In the first, we spent most of it talking about some things in her life. When she called back Tuesday, she said she wanted to ask what was really happening with me — since the other conversation had been all about her.
I didn’t realize this until just a few minutes ago — about 30 hours later — but I didn’t answer her questions. I found reasons to tell her a few surface-level things, but I didn’t tell her anything of importance.
It just hit me that it’s been so long since I’ve been “real” with someone that it felt threatening. I didn’t know how to tell her the truth.
Other than the things I share here with you, I don’t have any place where I’m open and vulnerable these days. I interact with people all the time, but it’s occurred to me in the last hour or so that I’m just living out a series of social scripts in my life lately.
At work, I say and do the right things, but I don’t talk about what’s really going on in me. With people I casually know, I act polite and charming on a surface level. I ask other people about things in their lives. I listen. I react. I say all the right things.
But I never tell anybody how I really feel anymore. Nobody knows. I’ve built a wall around myself. In a strange way, it reminds me of how I felt when I was young — before I learned to be vulnerable and learned to want to share with someone.
I’m realizing right now that I got tired of telling people anything about myself — maybe it’s more like shame — because I didn’t want to admit how off-course I’ve allowed myself to become. I’m ashamed of being lost and alone again.
When I was growing up, I learned that I wasn’t supposed to talk about my needs or my feelings, especially if I had a problem that needed to be solved. My father didn’t want to hear it. Not only would it be ignored, but I might actually be punished.
I learned to pretend everything is fine. I learned to say the right things. I learned to ignore how unhappy I was inside. And that’s what I’m doing again right now.
Nobody wants to hear when someone is unhappy. Nobody wants to hear about love you can’t find. Nobody wants to hear about the frustrations of having lost direction. Nobody wants to hear that you’re treading water in life and feeling love for someone that you can’t express.
When people ask me how I’m doing — in the casual sense — I often say, “The truth would take too long, so I’ll just say I’m fine.” People laugh at the joke, but there’s a lot of underlying truth in that. What I’m really saying is, “I’m not fine, but you don’t really want to hear about that.”
It’s been almost six years since I was consistently “real” with someone. Ever since then, even when I’ve tried to date various women, it was never a relationship that made me feel as though I could open up. On my part, it always felt as though I was playing a role. I wasn’t ever connected to anyone.
I’m really good at having “faux intimacy” with people who don’t know me well. People often spill their deepest and darkest secrets to me. I often hear people say, “I’ve never told this to anyone. I have no idea why I’m telling you.”
I’m good at keeping the attention on other people. I’m good at unconsciously managing conversations to be about other people’s favorite subject — themselves. Without consciously meaning to, I get to know people and allow them to think we’ve become close, even though they know nothing — or almost nothing — about me. They often think we’re closer than we really are.
I’ve done all this for almost six years now because my heart has been broken and I’ve been protecting myself. I hadn’t realized it until now. Not in quite this way. I’ve built a wall around myself or put my vulnerable parts into a box. I’ve hidden myself away. And when my friend gave me a chance to open up Tuesday, that part of me was locked away so well that I left it locked away — out of unconscious fear.
As I think about this tonight, my mind keeps returning to some words that C.S. Lewis wrote in a book called “The Four Loves.” I’ve quoted it before.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable,” Lewis wrote. “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Without meaning to, I have wrapped my heart in this way for the last six years. Other than my animals, I have no “entanglements” right now. I’m hiding. I’m hurting. I’m angry. I’m lonely. And I need someone.
I can admit this here, but that’s as far as it goes right now. Nobody else really knows. Nobody else cares. Even if someone wanted to help, I wouldn’t allow it. The wall around my heart is too tight.
Something has to change, but I don’t know how to change it. I’ve locked myself tightly in here — and being this emotionally separated from what I need is slowly killing me.
I know that’s true, but if you ask my tomorrow, I’ll smile warmly and I’ll cheerfully turn the conversation around to you. Because that’s what I know how to do. I’ll feel dead inside, but I won’t let you see that.