You meet someone. You fall in love with that someone. You believe that the person you fell in love with is the person who was always there. But, she/he is not. There’s always a history; a history that seeps through; sometimes with a trickle, other times with a tsunami.
Catherine is a cool, confident woman. David was so attracted to that aura of confidence that he immediately fell in love with her. But he had no idea about the person Catherine used to be… until they moved in together.
It was then that he began to see the personality below the surface. Instead of cool, he saw hesitant; instead of confident, he saw uncertainty. Yes, with Catherine (as with many of us), much of our personality is not easily known.
This is not to say that Catherine’s cool demeanor was fake. No, it was real. But it was not deep. Scratch the surface and her insecurities would emerge. What were those insecurities all about?
I invite you to time travel with me. We enter our timeship to zoom back 20 years. There is Catherine.
She’s 11-years-old. She’s scared. She’s quiet. She keeps to herself. She has created a shield that makes it tough for others to penetrate. The shield is always there, except when she’s alone. It’s as though being alone is safe. Being with others is scary.
She has no one to talk to about what’s going on inside her. But she’s smart. And she’s a survivor. So, she developed a strategy (though she didn’t know, at the time, that it was a strategy) to tolerate her distraught feelings until they’d pass. She didn’t retreat. She didn’t give up. And though she didn’t know it then, she was following one of the best ways to overcome fear. And that is exposure.
When you are fearful, your brain shouts “retreat.” But Catherine did the opposite, even when she was quivering. She trusted that her shield would provide her with enough protection. And it did. And she grew into a confident young woman.
She did not, however, live happily ever after. Why not? Though her fears had retreated, they were ready to emerge at a moment’s notice when she was confronted with a serious challenge. And living in intimacy is a most underrated serious challenge.
Ok. Ready for our return trip, back to the year 2016? We’ve arrived.
We peek in on David. We observe how worried he is when Catherine is emotionally exhausted. “Tell me, share with me,” pleads David. “I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on inside of you.” “I’m fine,” responds Catherine in that curt voice that cuts off any further communication. “You don’t look fine,” continues David. “But if you won’t talk with me, I’ll leave you alone. Perhaps later we can talk.”
As soon as he left, Catherine could breathe a sigh of relief. She could be alone again. Safe and alone. No need to divulge her vulnerabilities, nor disclose her fears. No need to discuss anything that might make her feel uncomfortable.
Catherine loves David. She desires lasting love. But here’s the paradox. Lasting love requires sharing vulnerabilities, yet she only feels safe when she’s alone. It’s uncanny how often life lessons need to be learned over and over again. Though we may have mastered the lessons, new circumstances and challenges change the game.
Living intimately with a loved one was a brand new experience for Catherine. When she was feeling fearful, her brain shouted “retreat.” She had to counter those feelings and “advance,” as she did in childhood. No easy task. For without her shield’s protection, she felt uncomfortably naked, even with the man she loved.
The person you love now is not the person who was always there. Getting to know both the person who used to be there, as well as the person who’s here now, will immensely enrich your intimate experience.
“She held herself until the sobs of the child inside subsided entirely.
I love you, she told herself. It will all be okay.”
H. Raven Rose