Taking off the masks

Fear of closeness. Fear of losing my identity. Fear of intimacy. Fear of being too exposed. Fear of commitment. Fear of vulnerability. Fear of losing me.

D and I are celebrating our two year anniversary on Saturday, and I can honestly say, I have never had a more peaceful, loving, passionate and profoundly happy relationship with any man than I have with this one. I have never had such stability of emotion with anyone else over a significant period of time—two years is a long time in the world of LA. And I have never had such certainty as I do with D, that he is the one for me, and that I wouldn’t ever want to lose him. Likewise, he feels the same. It’s a good healthy match.

And so, we have been meeting with contractors regarding an addition that we’ve been planning to build onto my house, so as to take the next step: moving in together. We need enough bedrooms for all the kids and enough space—albeit cramped space—temporarily, until we decide whether to move to a bigger house or build a second story onto this one. We’ve been talking about this for a good long year. We’ve had eight contractors come out and give us estimates. We have finally decided on one. And with that finality, all the fears I’ve listed above have suddenly decided to creep out of the woodwork and surround me in my dreams and waking life.

I’m scared.

I’ve been on my own for almost seven years now. Almost as long as I was married. And not only that, but in the past, I ONLY dated avoidant types. What does that mean? It means that despite the fact that I had been married for seven years, I was married to an avoidant—someone who hid in his back office while I had full reign of the house. Someone who never really placed any emotional or physical burden on me. Let’s face it, when you’re married to an avoidant you’re really not married at all. You’re still single, you still have most of your freedom, you still have full control over your life (and theirs—at least you think so because you’re bossing them around all the time) and you can still be immature, shallow, alone, narcissistic, and unconnected. You have all the time and space you think you don’t need. Of course, the price you pay for all that time and space that you are condemned to experience with an avoidant is that there is no emotional intimacy between the two of you. There is no real bond. You are existing parallel to each other, but not moving any closer, not only because he can’t handle intimacy and closeness (which, of course, you are incessantly begging him for), but because YOU can’t handle it either.

We align ourselves with avoidant people because we cannot handle intimacy ourselves. As odd as it sounds, even though the lifespan of a relationship with an avoidant is spent begging them for more intimacy, and pleading with them to open up and connect and spend more time with us, the truth is, we wouldn’t know what to do with intimacy if we had it. The struggle for intimacy is what we are interested in. The search for intimacy is what we are capable of. It’s the closest we can come; it offers just enough intimacy to give the illusion of normalcy. And that’s enough for us. But the fact of the matter is, this is not intimacy and it’s not commitment. It is a defense mechanism we use to protect ourselves from deeper intimacy and vulnerability.

You see, real intimacy demands that you expose yourself fully to another human being. It requires that you are vulnerable, defenseless. And to LAs, who have been raised believing that defense mechanisms and protection from others are the key to survival (because, let’s be honest, we didn’t have the best of childhoods), vulnerability doesn’t make sense to us. It is our inherent nature therefore, based on being abandoned, neglected, harmed or abused, to survive in this way. Dating avoidant people, thus, allows us remain safe and insulated from harm.

But it also leaves us suffering, cold, alone.

Eventually, we recognize that keeping “safe” isn’t all that conducive with happiness and connectedness to another person. And so we set out to become healthy and to find a healthy partner who treats us well, and if we are lucky and put a lot of hard work into it, we achieve our goals. And for the first time ever, we are truly happy that we have found someone that finally treats us with love and kindness. But with that, we realize the crux of the problem. That with healthiness, kindness and love comes a demand for intimacy that we are simply not accustomed to. If we want healthy love, from a healthy partner, we must know how to give it. To do that means exposing ourselves and tearing down the walls that previously protected us.

I hate that I have to admit this, but I am still in “protection” mode. I do not want to be fully exposed. I don’t want him to see me without my “masks.” I don’t have many anymore. I have been taking them off one by one, but it’s been a slow process. And well it should be. The “old me” is still in there healing from a lifetime of havoc. When he moves in, I will have nowhere to hide, I won’t be able to go at my own pace, taking my masks off slowly, when I’m ready.

Will he still love me if he sees the real me with my very real, very ugly issues?

Will I love me, despite my own vulnerability?

I’m not sure. It’s like having sex with the lights on—I can’t feel sexy when I can see that he can see all my physical flaws. At least with the lights off I can pretend I’ve got the body of a twenty-year-old. Or at least I can pretend that he can imagine I have the body of a twenty-year-old.

Despite the fact that he sleeps over sometimes four nights a week, I am still able to recover from his visits once he goes. I can take my masks off and be myself. I have that time to relax. I don’t want to lose that. I think I still want to do it with the lights off.

On the other hand, I know it’s a price I want to pay. I’ve worked hard to be here. I love him. And I trust that I will adapt to the change. In a sense, it’s the denouement I’ve been waiting for, it’s the removal of the final mask. It’s proof that I have succeeded in my life and accomplished my goals—to have a normal, loving, functioning relationship. And yet, more realistically, it’s the beginning of a new journey that will have ups and downs and ugly parts and beautiful parts. But I suppose that’s what life is about. Bruce Barton wrote in his book The Man Nobody Knows, “When you’re through changing, you’re through.” I believe that. And I believe that protecting ourselves, though it makes us feel safe, can stunt our growth. It can keep us from becoming something bigger than what we are today. Exposing ourselves, letting down our walls, taking risks, challenging our fears and changing keeps us alive. It keeps the lights on, even when we don’t want to see.