Let me tell you what I learned by recovering from a devastating break-up while working in a flower shop. Hearts are like flowers, beautiful when they are open, but once you sever them from the plant they come from there is only one foreseeable outcome: the flower will eventually wither and die. The timeline may vary depending on the flower and the care, but a cut flower is a cut flower – beautiful, a wonderful lesson in impermanence, but simply not a sustainable thing.
“I give you my heart,” the kind of romantic phraseology that can make a girl swoon and is the heart (pun shamefully intended) of most Valentine’s cards. But have you ever stopped to think about what is being said there? Would you ever say to someone “I give you my liver”? Probably not, ‘cause, well… eww for starters, and secondly, you need your liver for, well, living. It would not be a good life choice to be handing the organ over to someone else (of course, in a great act of love, someone may donate a piece of their liver to someone in need, but that is a completely different idea and completely off topic – as is the fact I suddenly have Janis Joplin’s “Piece of my Heart” stuck in my head).
No matter how much someone cares about you, no matter how nurturing and trustworthy they may be, handing over your heart to someone else is giving them a cut flower. There’s only one eventual outcome, and it’ll hurt like hell, but it’s nobody’s (and everybody’s) fault. The whole situation is fundamentally unsustainable.
The trick is in opening your heart – and giving from your heart – but always holding it in your own safekeeping. It is yours to cultivate and nurture, not to be foisted off into someone else’s care. Your job is to be a good steward of your own heart, and to not take on anyone else’s either; but to support them in caring for and opening their own.
Great love comes from falling in love with yourself first. Now, I’m not talking some narcissistic “I’m the greatest thing ever!”; more just really looking at yourself and truly getting to know who you are, messed up crazy bits and all. Saying: “Yep, that’s me” and finding a way to love yourself anyway (not that we don’t all continue to evolve and work on our “stuff”, but part of the process is in being loving and accepting of where we are at right now). There’s a saying about liking someone for their good qualities, but loving them for their faults. That sounds a lot like true love; the question is, can you do that for yourself too?
Once you can, then you are truly loved – by yourself first. Filled up from that love, you’ll brim over and spill love all over the people around you. Then loving doesn’t cost you anything, ‘cause you’re already full. Much better approach than giving your heart over to someone else, hoping to hell they give you one back, and the pair of you trying to live on transplants when you each gave away a perfectly good organ.
So, I took this great new theory of mine out into the dating world, opened the blossom of my heart (okay, a little too poetic, but bear with the metaphor…) and got it stepped on. Ouch! So I started to re-think this metaphor: even if you don’t cut off the blossoms, there’s frost, hail, blight, bugs… why would any bud risk opening? The answer I think is twofold: one, it is simply in the plant’s nature – to open and blossom, to do what it does regardless of how it turns out; and two, you have to look at it from the plant’s perspective not the flower’s – individual flowers may get knocked out before they can reach fruition, but there’s lots of blossoms, and the plant will be just fine.
Risking love and opening your heart can still hurt, things can still end badly, but they don’t have to be devastating. So I can go out in the world with a reasonable amount of courage, heart well in hand, and risk a blossom once in a while. Doesn’t matter so much how that goes, ‘cause I know I’ll be alright either way. I’m no longer the one-shot deal of a cut flower, I’m a flowering perennial shrub – and manure is a heck of a fertilizer anyway.