“I’m Scared to Love You Because I’m Scared You’re Going to Die”

My mother was in town last weekend to celebrate an early Thanksgiving. We had a lovely time and it filled my heart to see the way she delights in my boys and affirms our out-of-the-box parenting choices. Being of like mind and similar temperament, she and Everest have always had a special connection, but something seemed to cross over to a new level this trip. As he shared his passion for technology and she reveled in the workings of his mind, I could see Everest opening his heart to her fully. He taught her how to make a Bucky Ball cube, showed her his Perplexus 3D marble maze, and listened together to Jack and Annie traveling to Italy to apprentice under Leonardo da Vinci for a day in a Magic Treehouse audiobook. Grandma scratched his back as they lounged on the couch together and he relaxed completely into their bond. It was beautiful to watch.

The day before she had to leave he started to ask, “Why does Grandma have to leave? Grandma, can’t you stay a little longer?” We explained all of the understandable reasons why she had to leave, none of which mean anything to the heart of a seven year old boy. I could see him battling with his desire to fold himself into her comforting embrace and alienate her with his hyper antics. Everest has been struggling with the concept of keeping his heart open even though he knows people can hurt him and possibly leave him. He’s been able to articulate his fears and doubts about loving in ways that have truly astonished me lately. So it wasn’t a complete surprise when, a few hours before my mom had to leave,  he said to me, “Mommy, I’m scared to love Grandma because I’m scared she’s going to die.”

If I could crystallize my work with clients who are scared to take the next step in their relationships, it would be this sentence: “I’m scared to love because I’m scared I’m going to lose him/her.” Of course, the fear doesn’t present as the fear of loss; that would be much too vulnerable for the fear-based self to admit. The fear presents as any or all of the following statements:

• I don’t really love him/her.

• I’ve never loved him/her.

• I don’t love him/her in the right way (i.e. I love him as a friend but not as a marriage partner)

• I’m not attracted enough.

• I’m settling.

• I’m only with him/her because I’m scared to be alone.

• Love shouldn’t have to be this hard. If I was with the right person, I would just know.

• Etc.

Are there times when these statements are accurate and coming from a truthful place inside? Yes. But for the vast majority of my clients and e-course participants, there’s plenty of love, connection, shared values, honesty, and goodness to sustain a lifetime of a great marriage. The only problem is that fear, once it rears its forceful head, shuts down the heart and eclipses any knowledge of the truth. Fear’s entire mission in life is to keep you safe from the risks of loving. Fear will go to great lengths and concoct elaborate stories about why you need to leave your partner. After all, didn’t you always imagine that you would marry someone with a great sense of humor, who’s taller than you, and is socially at ease? How is it that your partner doesn’t always laugh at your jokes, is shorter than you, and is awkward around others? And so the fear-self spins you into a tizzy of anxiety that can take months, if not years, to unravel. And at the very core of it is the fear of loss, the fear that just when you open your heart to loving this person completely, something tragic will occur that will take him away.

Does it hurt to lose someone you love? I don’t think there is any greater pain. When you lose a loved one, your heart breaks into a million pieces. You scream and wail and curl up in a ball of heartbreak. And then, if you’ve loved well and grieved to completion, your heart grows back together again stronger than before. I often remember a story a client once told me about a professor of hers who had a fantastic marriage. She and her husband loved each other deeply and my client would often visit to find them dancing together in their kitchen. I recently asked if she would be willing to share the story and this is what she wrote:

Sue  and Tim had been married I think about 16 years and they loved each other so fully and completely that you could actually feel this vortex of love around them.  It was lovely to be around them. Tim ended up dying of cancer and Sue was in such a deep state of grief over the loss of Tim. She allowed herself to feel this grief fully and completely and did not avoid it.  Some people around her were uncomfortable with the intensity of her grief–probably because they had never witnessed anyone really grieving to the depth she did.  It felt like the depth of her grief was the depth of the loss and because they had taken the risk to love each other so openly and deeply, the grieving and loss were reflecting this.  When I went to visit her I was wondering if she would ever be open to loving again after experiencing the loss of her dear love.  What surprised me is she said that after allowing herself to feel her grief so completely she was now—2 years later—ready to “love again”.  She said she had such a great experience with Tim that she had more love to share and wanted to “dance in the kitchen” again with a partner!

As my mom and I sat with Everest this morning at the breakfast table, we said to him, “You know, Everest, no one wants to lose someone they love. But when you protect yourself and don’t open your heart to love someone completely, how do you think you would feel when that person dies?” “Not good,” he responded. “So it’s a funny thing, but the more you love, the more you’ll grieve if you lose that person, but the more fully you’ll be able to say goodbye and love again.”

“It’s why we’re here, Everest,” my mom said.

“Why, Grandma?”

“We’re here to give and receive love. There’s really nothing else that matters.”

And in her simple wisdom, she’s right. Nothing else matters – not the job, the house, the city, the car, the clothes  – if we don’t learn to open our hearts to love.

15 comments to “I’m Scared to Love You Because I’m Scared You’re Going to Die”

  • Shauna

    I love this post. You never cease to amaze me, Sheryl.

    Just the other night, my man and I were playing the questions game (which really means we take turns asking questions of each other) and he asked me, “what scares you the most about moving forward in our life together?”. Because I was so happy in the moment, and because I love him so much, this question scared me because deep down, I am truly terrified of losing him.

    He will be officially become a police officer in a few short months and everyone I tell, looks at me with these sad eyes and asks if I know what I am getting myself into. Of course, this only adds to my stress (and makes me what to SLAP them). I know “its better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” or however it goes, but sometimes, it feels safer to not risk losing him by not trusting in us and our relationship.

    • Thank you, Shauna. It takes great courage to love no matter what the specific circumstances and yes, the safe route is not to risk loving at all. But life isn’t about being safe, is it? It’s opening learning to open our hearts as wide as they will go and inviting our dear loved ones to dive on in.

  • A powerful post. You have untangled the yarn. I wonder how many times I will read what I know to be true before it settles in my heart- for real.

  • Thank you, Sheryl – This is beautiful! I also love knowing your mom, and how much she has been important to my own life, healing, and learning to be a loving adult. Due to getting so hurt by the adults as a tiny developing person (perhaps even starting in the womb), my heart’s been protected for so long — so learning to even recognize it, and to make new choices open my heart is still an ongoing challenge/journey for me, even with 10 years of Inner Bonding therapy under my belt. Forming loving attachments/bonds with adults/peers = new for me. Animals and children = easy 🙂

  • Yellow

    I have enjoyed your posts immensely, Sheryl. I have to tell you that your website and insights have been key for me in figuring out the source of my fears surrounding my husband and marriage, fears which I agonized over since getting serious with him almost 10 years ago. I have spent so much time believing the lies that my fears have fabricated & suffering so much at the hands of those fears, and so seeing you articulate them and “call them out” has helped me very much. I loved the part in this post where you say, “he’s socially awkward, doesn’t have a good sense of humor,” etc…these are things that I have agonized over, personally. I am so blessed to read them and be reminded that other people go through this, and that nothing and nobody is perfect.

    • It’s always astonishing to me how infrequently we hear the truth in our culture about what people really struggle with in intimate relationships. We know that they can be hard, but we don’t really know why they’re hard and that the majority of it has to do with believing fear’s lies. I’m so glad you’ve found your way here and that the information has been helpful.

  • Nina

    Shortly after meeting my son’s father, we were discussing a life together and he acted like a little kid “this can really happen to me?” he asked in amazement. Sure, I replied. Literally within hours of being thrilled that maybe, this was possible for him, his fear came up with so many reasons as to why it wouldn’t/couldn’t work. Then he’d go back and forth with maybe…no…yes…maybe…I got sooo sooo tired of trying to overcome them for him and convince him it was real and right, I just gave up and moved on. Sadly, his fear has also led him to not be a father because he refused to give up addictive and mental health issues that I didn’t want my child to be exposed to. Just the other day, after going through my son having surgery and other life changes I was thinking about him, how my son is FOUR and has never met him and thought “he is such a coward”

    Its nice that you can be compassionate about it, me, I’m just mad, and disappointed, and find it hard to be understanding. I know about fear, I feel it all the time but really, if I let it dictate my actions I’d never get out of a little ball curled up in the corner…so I just go and do anyway. and amazing things happen.

  • Nina: I imagine that underneath your anger and resentment there’s a lot of grief, loneliness, and helplessness that he didn’t make a different choice and he allowed fear to dictate his actions. You can’t convince someone else that it’s right; it’s something they need to come to on their own. And the truth is that it’s really his loss as he’s missing out on the greatest gift of being a father, and that’s where the compassion comes in.

  • chantel

    i love your post. this gives me great comfort to know im not the only one. after my father leaving me when i was 8, intimate relationships with men has always been a problem for me. i am not with an amazing guy who is the man of my dreams. who treats me so well (after years of dating bad men) and sometimes i still get the feeling where i need to break up with him, or i find any reason under the sun as to why i shouldnt be with him.. but read your post comforts me in knowing that i shouldnt believe the fears lies … thank u

  • Karen

    Wow. I’ve never cried so much before. Hi, um well I’m not not married or anything but I’ve been struggling with letting my fears take over my life alot. See my dad died from cancer about 4 years again, and I was 11 years old at the time. I’m not almost 16 and I’ve never had any sort of romance with any guy, not that I don’t want it it’s only just the fear I have in me. I know most girls don’t fall in love at the age of 16 and end up marring them. But for me any type of romance with someone just terrifies me. Like what you were saying, I’m afraid to show love and care for someone cause I’m afraid they’ll leave me whether its my partner breaking up with me or dying. I’m trying to get over it and to be honest I felt like I was the only one that ever thought or felt this way so it’s nice to read a story about it too. Thanks alot, it actually had made me feel better about it.

  • Courtney

    This article said a lot to me. I was actually shocked for a moment when I read the title. A lot of times I will have a lovely and fun weekend with my fiance and then once I realize he has to go home I start going into panic mode. His entire drive home I’ll sit by the phone crying and praying that he makes it home alright. It’s one of the worst feelings ever and I can’t breath until I get that phone call that he’s home. Well here recently after I go through a while of panic attacks after he leaves, I’ll suddenly start to get relationship anxiety (Sometimes it triggers after I let myself go kind of numb from the fear anxiety). This part of the article said it perfectly.

    “If I could crystallize my work with clients who are scared to take the next step in their relationships, it would be this sentence: “I’m scared to love because I’m scared I’m going to lose him/her.” Of course, the fear doesn’t present as the fear of loss; that would be much too vulnerable for the fear-based self to admit. The fear presents as any or all of the following statements:

    • I don’t really love him/her.
    • I’ve never loved him/her.
    • I don’t love him/her in the right way (i.e. I love him as a friend but not as a marriage partner)
    • I’m not attracted enough.
    • I’m settling.
    • I’m only with him/her because I’m scared to be alone.
    • Love shouldn’t have to be this hard. If I was with the right person, I would just know.
    • Etc.”

    I don’t know what to do to get my relationship anxiety and doubts to pass. It’s a never ending loop.