“To love is to be vulnerable.”

I shared this on Facebook nearly a year ago. Just reading it again. Don’t credit me for it. For some reason, I didn’t credit the writer when I shared it at the time!

“To love is to be vulnerable.”

– C. S. Lewis

“The words above made me realize that as terrifying the idea of entrusting your heart completely to someone else is… it’s actually more terrifying to own someone else’s heart. To step up and take responsibility of that heart. To be its caretaker.

And that takes greater courage and strength and determination and kindness and understanding and patience… with oneself. Because as terrifying the prospect of getting hurt might be, it’s equally terrifying to have the unwanted power to hurt.

And I think this is the real vulnerability of falling in love: embracing and accepting the fear — not of being hurt by the one you love, but the fear of hurting the one you love, however unwittingly. It’s not only the crumbling of walls that’s terrifying, but also equally frightening is the idea of stepping over someone else’s walls and breaching their defenses.

We fear not our sudden loss of power in love, but our sudden overwhelming power because of it. We fear having the power to hurt, because we don’t want to, and yet sometimes we end up doing so anyway, because of our mistakes and weaknesses and flaws.

Because we’re human.

And I think it’s why it’s also another, subtler form of defense mechanism whenever people believe they don’t deserve to be loved by the other person. There is a risk in owning someone else’s heart much as there is a risk in entrusting your own to someone else. We fear hurting more than we fear being hurt.

… And yet.

There is a certain freedom to be had in that vulnerability as well. There is nothing as liberating as having the burden of control and responsibility taken out of your hands, to have your own well-being not be only your own concern anymore, and turn over the reins, the steering wheel, to someone else. And in letting go of that control — in entrusting your heart — you become… completely free.

And in what I belatedly realize is an equally beautiful thing, there is a certain freedom in owning a heart too. Because you know your own capacity to love and nurture and cherish that heart, and it is liberating to know that that heart will now be loved the way it deserves to be, with absolute certainty… simply because you know it will now be loved by you. Because even though you can never be sure about other people’s capacity, you are sure of your own. And it is more of a risk to let someone else own that heart, because you don’t know if they’ll take care of it.

But you know you will. To the best of your ability. And you now have the freedom of that certainty, in having it in your own hands.

And so I think I understand now what they say about the risk in loving… and the two ways love can be one-sided.

Because I now believe that love, therefore, is an exchange of hearts. Because it is only through that equal exchange that love stops being a risk and a vulnerability… and instead becomes a freedom and a strength.

The crumbling of walls, relinquishing control, entrusting one’s whole self… it is a risk only when the other person doesn’t wish to own or care for the heart being entrusted. That is when the heart becomes vulnerable — when there is no one to own it. No one to care for it. No one to cherish it.

And conversely, being the caretaker of a heart is a risk only when it is not willingly given. A heart can be hurt only when it is forcibly taken or stolen or bargained for. A heart should be a gift, gratefully accepted, not turned away, but cherished.

And perhaps that is when the risk and vulnerability in love becomes irrelevant. The risk of being hurt is replaced by the certainty and freedom of having your heart cared for and cherished by the person you love and trust. And the risk of hurting is replaced by the certainty and freedom of knowing that the heart entrusted to you is a gift willingly given.

The freedom of relinquishing control of your heart is simultaneously balanced with the freedom of owning and being the caretaker of the heart of the person you love.

And so perhaps Yvaine from Stardust was revealing the truth about love, after all:

“My heart… it feels like my chest can barely contain it. Like it’s trying to escape because it doesn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to you. And if you wanted it, I’d wish for nothing in exchange. No gifts. No goods. No demonstrations of devotion. Nothing but knowing you loved me too. Just your heart, in exchange for mine.”

To love is to be vulnerable. But being vulnerable doesn’t have to be a risk. It doesn’t have to be an unfair, precarious, terrifying imbalance, in which the fear of hurting and being hurt combine to cripple us, weaken us. Because in loving — truly loving — there is strength and freedom in that equal exchange of hearts. Freely given. Gratefully received. Mutually cherished.

And that, I believe, is what it truly means to fall in love beautifully.”