Being in love is scary. Hell, being “in like” with someone is scary too. I want to go back. Neither loving or liking someone is scary. That’s the easy part (I’ll write about that another time), but what is scary is leaving yourself vulnerable, relinquishing control of something new that neither one of you has complete control over, and acknowledging that you don’t know everything and that you’re willing to listen, learn, and continue to love.
Right after I filed for divorce, I took a trip out west for one of my best friend’s college graduations. Of course I was going to take advantage of this trip to visit some friends, cousins, aunts and uncles, and regroup and reset with the upcoming split from my soon-to-be ex-wife after just over a year of wedded (not) bliss. One day, after a Bloody Mary and breakfast at my favorite local spot, my friend Ellie and I took a walk around downtown, and we talked about my ending relationship and her current one. She told me something that really put my relationship history in perspective, and I haven’t let go of it since.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned (much later than I should have, if not after the fact) that I’m apparently intimidating and just downright scary sometimes. This came as news to me because I generally look at myself as a passionate, fun-loving, (occasionally) inappropriate, awkwardly sarcastic, and brutally sensitive person with a great sense of humor (among other things). But it’s that first one I mentioned that gets the attention tonight: being passionate. In both professional and personal situations, I’ve been told to relax, calm down, not take things so seriously, and pretty much chill out. To me, I’m just being me, and I’m obviously my own baseline for how I act and react, because I know and learn from what I do more than watching anything or anyone else.
And this is what Ellie explained to me:
It’s the way I love.
It isn’t that I don’t. It isn’t that I’m not open, or considerate, or honest. (Which, one girl I dated told me I was “too honest,” but, hey…whatever, right?) But that when I love, I go all in. That is not to say I’m an aggressive, creepo, douchebag of a juggernaut who can’t control his own momentum, but that my level of emotional commitment and the height from which I take my leap of faith is a little much for people I’ve met.
All In Love. That’s my AILment.
I’m afraid of heights, but I love rollercoasters. I have never been bungee jumping, but a little voice inside me says I should try skydiving. I can’t swim, but I’ve stepped off a diving board into a pool voluntarily (but out of necessity #BootCamp).
Everyone has different dating habits, and for a few examples, I’ll go with a poolside analogy.
We have the Distant Observers. Those that sit back for a relatively significant amount of time before even coming near the water’s edge. They observe the crowd, the dimensions of the pool, the water temp, the air speed, everything. Occasionally they get in. Maybe. But only when they feel like they’ve collected enough data to feel safe getting in.
We have the Toe-Dippers. They pace around the edge of the pool, much closer than the Distant Observers, but still not in the pool. Occasionally they dip their toes in the from the side to literally test the waters. They shy away from the noisy occupants that splash around and show off, and they spend quite a bit of time around the edges. Close enough to step in (or be pushed in), but still on relatively dry land.
There are also Ankle Danglers. These are ones that sit at the edge of the pool, feet hanging into the water, close enough to hear the conversations of those in the pool, as they test the waters with a little more than a quick dip of a toe.
And at every pool party you have Canonballers. They let everyone know they have arrived and give somewhat of a warning that they’re making a beeline for the pool and don’t care if anyone is in the way. They start at the ground level, they do a quick survey of the crowd and find a decent approach. With a blistering outcry they charge the watery warzone and hug themselves as they leap through the air to make a splash.
And then there are people like me. Or, as I seem to find…just myself. I’m not exactly a high dive person. It’s much more extreme than that. You know those circus high dive folks? They climb up that ridiculously tall ladder and leap head first into what has to look like something the size of a bowl from that high up. Well, that still doesn’t illustrate what I’m trying to say.
I leap on trust and faith. From as high up as I climb, I can’t even see the pool. Not even a speck that may resemble one. But I was told there’s one down there, and the only way to get there is by diving. Head first. So I do.
I go All In and dive head first for a pool I cannot see. I believe it’s there. I believe that it’s deep enough. And I believe that I’m not high enough to achieve a terminal velocity that I’ll obliterate myself if I miss the pool and land among the inflatable cushions surrounding the pool like stunt people use when jumping from buildings.
It isn’t the most logical practice, I know. I fully recognize the danger and insanity of this approach.
But I do, because it isn’t skydiving or pool diving or bungee jumping or any of that. It’s loving. And yes it hurts sometimes. And occasionally pieces of you break and scar and rip and get burned and smashed and stabbed. But when it goes well…
When it goes well…well, that’s why I leap.
And it won’t be exhilarating if I don’t leap. I can’t experience something I never have if I don’t leap. It’s more of an adventure when I leap. I feel powerful and powerless simultaneously. I feel…everything that I’m not in control of. I feel.
And yes, I’ve crashed. Hard. I’ve been shot out of the sky as well as been caught by a cloud. I’ve been thrown off track by the wind and been saved by it. I’ve been given second and third chances, and I’ve given second and third chances.
But I always leap. Head first. All In Love.
And to be quite clear, I’m not just talking about romantic love. I’m talking about platonic love, professional drive, everything. I’m talking about leaping head first with passion and confidence whether you know what you’re doing or not. There will always be things that scare me, challenge me, help me, fuel me, give me every reason to quit, but just as many (if not more) reasons to keep going.
So I do.
Being on the receiving end of this type of love, I have come to learn, is really scary, but I never really saw it that way. I think that’s because what I’m doing is scary. I’m the one free-falling. By choice. I’m the one flying full speed at something I don’t even really know if it’s actually there. So I do what I think is best. I share. I make myself open, and I share honestly. I speak what I feel, whether it’s joyous or painful, blaring or whispering, acidic or tender.
And a lot of that is because I don’t like leaving questions unanswered. I don’t like to leave room for ambiguity. I like to share mutual, open lines of communication.
You may have some sort of concept for yourself that’s similar to this. All In Love is simply what I know it as (thanks to Ellie!). There’s a concept/mantra that I hear about often in relationships that I don’t support, and it’s that relationships should be 50/50. I don’t buy that. At all. They should be 100/100. Both partners putting in a wholehearted effort and contribution to a relationship that only they can create together. In this partnership, there will undoubtedly be times where you lean on each other, pick each other up, or just flat out carry each other, but the nominal blend is 100/100, working together to create something that only you two can create. And you may go all in in whatever way you feel safest. You may love as much as you think you’re capable of. I would hope everyone does, but I know that we get in our own ways more than other people do. We write ourselves off, we let our pasts get the best of us, we get ourselves into ruts and habits that we think we cannot break.
But we can. You can. I can. I have.
The easiest way to do this is by realizing that everyone is different. Every relationship is different. Every date is different. And if they look the same it’s because you’re creating them to be the same, or you’re focusing on the similarities. So change how you regard your own love. It’s your love. Do whatever you want with it.
Now, I’m not pitching my concept of All In Love as the best way of doing things. There’s no blanket prescription for it. That’s the beauty of it. You love however you love, and that’s the best way to do it. But the catch with high-diving, head first, All In Love is that, with all the momentum and the high level of energy being put forth, occasionally it has been met with a lack of contribution because I’m going all in. So what occurs is nowhere near a 100/100 match up, but more so a 100/50, or sometimes even worse…on a constant basis. And then at that point, there are no longer two contributing partners to a relationship, and the relationship is not really even there anymore. So you either get it back on track – together – or it dies.
So, yeah. I go All In, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pushover, or that I’m blind, naive, or desperately hopeless. Going All In doesn’t mean I can’t stop myself. It’s conceptual. I’m not really diving off of an insanely elevated platform (if you missed that part earlier). So if it goes bad, then I can redirect myself if need be, because I do possess the capability (and desire) to protect myself if I don’t feel completely safe.
Loving is the easy part. Is the most honest, genuine, natural thing you can do as an emotional being. (Go ahead, ask your dog, your baby, your kid.) It’s easy. It’s the bills and the rent and the planning and scheduling and coordinating that make it challenging. But those are logistics. Those are tasks. Attainable goals of executable tasks. Loving someone – now, that’s the easy part.