Human beings are exceedingly vulnerable. One fall on your face and you may need stitches. One wrong turn on your skis and you may find yourself with a broken leg. Thankfully, your body works naturally to heal itself, but even with proper medical attention you may end up scarred or disabled.
The same is true of your emotions. A childhood trauma may reverberate throughout your adult life, and even recent hurts may take years to fade. As fragile as you are physically, you are often even more so emotionally.
Once, as I introduced myself and my topic to a Discovery group, I noticed a deadly serious look on the face of one woman in the room. I began as I always do, saying that the religious approach to dating is designed in part to discourage emotional investment in doomed relationships. The woman sat back in her chair, arms folded, wearing a tight, pained expression. I gave an example of such a dead-end relationship, in which only one partner sought a long-term commitment. Her face darkened and she nodded almost imperceptibly. “Hmm,” I thought. “Seems like this must have happened to her.” I gave a second example, that of a relationship that eventually and painfully terminated because the partners’ life goals did not coincide. She looked more miserable still, sighed heavily and nodded again, this time quite visibly. “Oy,” I wondered, “this, too?” I felt hesitant about continuing, but I didn’t have much choice. So I took a deep breath and gave my final example: an unhealthy relationship. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next: her eyes filled with tears, she got up, and walked out.
This woman was in considerable pain. Had her suffering been physical, she probably would have been hospitalized. Then again, had she anticipated such great physical distress, she would have been much more cautious to begin with.
Most people are quite wary of physical risks. They will not, for example, jump off a diving board without knowing if there is water in the pool below. Feelings, on the other hand, are intangible. Emotional dangers are therefore far more difficult to identify and take seriously.
The sad truth is that because of the subtlety of emotional damage, countless people throw caution to the winds, dive into empty pools, and then walk around with the equivalent of open wounds and fractured limbs. Most of these victims don’t even realize the extent of their injuries. Yet one’s heart suffers as surely as one’s body. And although time may heal all wounds, the scars remain.
If an angel were to visit you in the womb and offer you anything you desired, one of the most priceless blessings you could request would be a positive outlook on life. Some people are born with it, good parenting can go a long way toward implanting it, and you may even be able to learn it. But much depends on your experiences.
Since relationships are so central to our lives, they largely determine our outlook. When you succeed in a relationship, you feel good about life. But every time you get clobbered emotionally, hopelessness sets in, leading you to conclude that such optimism is only for the foolish or the blind.
I once had a brief encounter with a very unhappy 18-year-old girl. Dawn had been heavily involved with a number of guys who, one after the other, had come and gone in her life. When I met her, she had just followed her latest boyfriend to Israel. Shortly after she’d arrived, he’d broken up with her. She was in despair. It pained me to hear her speak.
“I’ve had it with relationships!” she said tearfully, her shockingly deep bitterness cutting into me like a knife. “I never want to have anything to do with men again as long as I live.”
I’m sure other teenage girls have mouthed similar sentiments following a breakup. But I had never seen such utter disillusionment in a person her age. I felt as if I were listening to a jaded older woman who’d divorced a succession of abusive and unfaithful men. Yet Dawn had barely reached adulthood. Had she grown up in a different environment, she might have retained a positive and trusting perspective on life and relationships. I knew I was witnessing a tragedy that needn’t have happened.
If we want not only healthy limbs and organs but healthy psyches, we have to treat our souls as carefully as our bodies. We have to be just as wary of emotional cliffs as physical ones, and we have to understand how easily we can step over the edge.
Few areas of life involve more emotional intensity, and therefore greater risk, than male-female relationships. When you become involved with someone, you let down the self-protective barrier you erect in your dealings with others. You put your emotions on the line. You allow yourself to be vulnerable. Even with touch out of the picture, you’ve got a lot to lose. But add the powerful bond created by physical closeness, and immeasurably more is at stake.
Each time a relationship breaks up, you pay a price. You grow less confident in your ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. You lose faith in the permanence of relationships and the goodness of others, particularly the opposite sex. And in the end, you forfeit the optimism essential to happiness.
This defeat is sad enough. But here a vicious circle can be set in motion. The next time you meet someone, you are already on your guard. You no longer trust enough to become close. The other person, in turn, may sense your closedness and back out of the relationship, dealing your trust yet another blow. You then retreat deeper into your protective shell, further dimming the prospect of future success. Disillusionment thus gives rise to fatalism, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
One of the most effective strategies for not getting hurt is not bonding with another person until it is safe to do so. Reserving physical closeness for the security of a permanent relationship helps safeguard your happiness – and your future.
Excerpt from: The Magic Touch