I am a hopeless romantic, and I always have been. But there was a time when I rejected that part of myself because I thought it was too embarrassing and lame. After all, isn’t it cooler and smarter to be preemptively disappointed?
I got into my first “adult” relationship during my freshman year of college, and we were together for eight years. So, as someone with very little dating experience, I had no idea just how bad things could be out there for a single lady in Los Angeles.
Immediately after we broke up, I got entangled in a FWB situation with a hot personal trainer. (Ugh, sorry, I guess that’s a bit of a humblebrag.) He posted black and white photos of traffic lights on his IGS at midnight, and I thought I was in love with him. It makes me laugh now.
With “Hot Trainer,” as my friends and I referred to him, I learned how to mask my true feelings real quick.
So I pretended to be chill and cool, even though that was the opposite of how I felt. I’d push down my feelings so as not to be “too much.” Then, I started playing games. I’d force myself to wait to respond and spend too much time crafting the perfect carefree text (with the help of my gfs, ofc). Maybe post an IGS of me looking hot and having fun in the interim.
The problem with this? It worked—too well! An immediate text back was practically guaranteed.
I wasted so much time doing this. Not just with him, but with a lot of people after that—Hot DJ, Hot Italian DJ, Hot Bartender. With each guy, I did my best to keep my Cool Girl mask firmly in place until I convinced myself that that was the real me.
(Fun fact for all of my other anxiously attached beeyotches out there: Referring to people by things like “Hot Trainer” instead of their actual name is totally an anxious attachment thing.)
“Play stupid games, win stupid prizes,” has never felt more relevant.
Like, cool, I got the attention of an emotionally unavailable guy who is going to be obsessed with me until I end up in his bed again, at which point this whole thing starts over again.
I began to realize that living my life with my heart closed off wasn’t actually keeping me safe. Hiding my feelings from the people I was romantically involved with had made it so that I couldn’t even be vulnerable with myself. And I was miserable.
“It’s not magical and insightful to expect the worst, to protect yourself first and foremost, to tell a story about the broken world that feeds your ego and makes you sound downright omniscient. It’s not special to lose hope and hide and warn other people to hide the way you do,” writes Heather Havrilesky in an Ask Polly column that has stayed with me for years.
The hard thing, the brave thing, is keeping your heart open in a world that doesn’t seem made for tender-hearted people.
Now, I’m not advising anyone to throw caution to the wind. It’s important to protect yourself, as Heather also writes in that same column. But it shouldn’t alter your entire personality and change your belief system.
I began the process of finding myself again.
That started by being honest with myself about how I felt about Hot Bartender. I had been playing it cool with him, but he was someone I cared deeply about. He was beautiful, kind, and weird. So I gathered my courage and texted him a sliver of how I felt (basically, just that I would love to spend more time with him). His response came late at night, and I saw it the next morning: a very nice message telling me he wasn’t in the space for something more right now.
I immediately backpedaled: “All good, I totally get it—cool to keep things as is? xx”
One step forward, a few steps back?
At first, I was extremely embarrassed to have let my guard down, only to be rejected. But looking back, I’m glad that I did. As small as that step seems, it helped pave the way for me to lead with my heart and not be paralyzed by the fear of being vulnerable.
My now-fiance and I got together in part because I took a leap and confessed my truth in swooping cursive letters. (Okay, I actually quoted a really cringey Grey’s Anatomy line at him one night after a few too many glasses of wine, but the first story sounded better.)
I’m now in a relationship where my big heart feels safe and where the dramatic, messy, imperfect, overflowing-with-feelings parts of me are embraced with tenderness. And I wouldn’t have been able to find that by pretending to be someone else.