Originally on elephant journal.

I didn't know what it felt like to be loved freely. I'd never been loved that way before. I'd never loved anyone that way either.

I had learned to be careful, to step lightly, to keep my attention on whether I was asking too much, too soon, or giving too much, too soon. I had gotten used to minding others' boundaries for them but still getting it wrong. I had learned to modulate myself according to others' emotional wounds and traumas in order to avoid activating their emotional immune systems, which would attack me when threatened. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to do that, inevitably getting farther and farther away from the truth of who I really was in the process.

I've always lived with the impending threat of my partner's ego hijacking their love for me. I've lived under the tyranny of their fear and conditioning that inevitably always came up whenever I told them some difficult truth that I saw about our love. I've worked hard to stay solid and clear, to not get hit with the shards of resentment and judgement that my truth activated in them, remembering that it wasn't actually about me.

Love is something that's only ever made its way to me after passing through layers and layers of filters. The love I've received has weathered past fears, past judgements, and past weighings of worth and deservedness. It has been careful and controlled, released only after at first being withheld and evaluated.

Until now, I never knew what it felt like to be loved by someone who was truly free to be loving. I'd never felt someone's entirely unencumbered love, love that flowed in a clear straight line from them to me, untarnished by fear, unmodulated by notions of what would be "too much". Until now, I have never been fully saturated in someone's love. I've never known for sure that I could count on it.

At the same time, I know my love has never been totally reliable either. I know my love has gotten stuck making its way out, too. I had so many rules and conditions of my own. Like attracts like, I guess.

But then my life, as I knew it, exploded and all my conditions exploded with it. I learned to love unconditionally. I practiced on myself first. It was the most joyous relationship of my life.

And then you arrived.

I didn't believe you when you first told me you loved me. I thought to love someone so easily was a sign of naiveté. I thought surely he is not seeing this clearly, surely he is wrapped up in a fairytale of romantic love that he will soon awaken from. I brushed off this love that was given so freely and without consideration. I dismissed it as immature. I didn't take it seriously.

I wanted a love that made sense, a love that added up. I wanted a love I chose, not one that chose me. I wanted to pursue. I wanted a hard-won love. A love that's hard-won is earned and a part of me still believed love needed to be earned in order to be worth anything. After all, what is the value of something that's freely given?

But as I let your love in I began to understand it was given freely not because it lacked value but because it was unconditional.

I've never been loved that way, and I'm starting to see why.

I've blocked it. I see that I've avoided full-on, in-your-face, no-caveats love because my sense of self has been totally challenged by it. I see where I've expected to be judged and abandoned and I've braced myself and put up walls accordingly. I see how hard it's been to reach me. I see that I pushed people away, tried to squirm out of letting them see my tender parts because that sort of intimacy was so vulnerable. I see that I haven't been willing to immerse because of a fear that if I let myself go all the way into the experience I'll never find my way out, or that even if I do get out, I'll be ruined when I do.

I see where I dial up my intensity in hopes of scaring you away so I can get some relief from your unwavering attention boring into my soul, but you just won't waver. I have all sorts of tricks for escaping. I get mean, I put on weight, I make demands, I try to scare you with my desire. My tricks usually work, but they don't work on you.

None of it hits you. You're a calm, grounding, loving presence no matter what I throw at you. Because you're free to be loving in the face of it all.