I once had a friend tell me to ‘just wear my heart on my sleeve, it’s easy.’
What she didn’t know was… that it’s not.
Because here’s the truth of it: wearing your heart on your sleeve involves the risk of getting it broken, crushed, torn.
But here’s the other truth of it: not wearing your heart on your sleeve can sometimes (sometimes) involve building a wall around your heart and living in isolation. And within these walls it’s cold and lonely. And within these walls nothing bad can get in, but nothing good can either. Nor can your heart let anything else out, robbing others of your full capacity to love and give out the glory that’s in you. Because we all have something unique to offer, but with our hearts tucked away others don’t see us in our full capacity. They see us in a state too scared to be vulnerable and real.
The world deserves to see you. Your heart deserves to be seen, heard, cared for.
Last year I spent one year away from home, when I moved into a community house seven hours away, filled with twenty other people I’d never met before. Boys and girl’s rooms lay scattered beyond the never-ending hallway upstairs, and what no one warned me was that my room was directly across from his.
When I first arrived, it all seemed kind of perfect. I was fresh and bubbly, and whilst a bit shy, I was ready to let my heart be seen, heard, cared for. I wanted people to know the real me, the person that I was without family resemblances and high school memories. This was my fresh start, and there was an energy in my spirit in knowing that the possibilities were limitless.
And then I learned of the hardships that community living entailed. The conflict, the distrust, the hurt. There are so many good memories, but so many sore points that hit my heart in a way I hadn’t felt before. Moments when you would safely dream of him, only to have him turn around and leave you hanging.
My heart quickly learned that sleeves weren’t for being worn, and that walls were safer. But walls around hearts are also colder, lonelier, and much more painful once broken into.
If I’m being honest, I still struggle with showing people who I am, with giving them my heart. Because for that whole year of my life, I invested so much into a relationship that left me with no hope. Hope, once crushed, is hard to revive. There was much love on the line, but he was, and remains to be, good at being reserved, hidden, hesitant.
This is my second year of living in community, and I’ve seen friends leave and new comers arrive. Here, we learn to love quickly and say goodbye through tears, because even though your roommate could leave at any moment, I would rather get to know them and trust them than to lie here keeping my emotions locked up, not allowing myself the privilege of hearing someone else’s heart and knowing their fears, hopes, memories. Other people are an honour, a privilege, a gift worth cherishing.
He remains. He’s been here as long as I have, so my time here so far has never known life without him. He’s still directly across the hall from me, and I see him every day without fail. And sometimes it hurts and sometimes it’s sweet, but I can never forget. I can never forget the moments we shared, no matter what emotions they bring back.
I’ve had other advice, different to wearing my heart on my sleeve. I’ve been told to forget, I’ve been told to move on. Heck, move away. But I refuse to run from this. That would be me placing my heart back within those walls, where the pain will worsen as my years pass by. And when I do find someone who wants to tear down those walls, imagine the surgery I’d need on my heart by that stage.
Imagine. All of that pain, sitting as the glue that holds the wall around my heart together. The pain that’s cemented those layers, ensuring that no good enters or leaves. And within those walls, the heart hardens, for all it knows how to be is a wall. A cold, hard wall. And so it turns to stone, hoping that the emotions will go away. But underneath that layer of stone lies a rawness that hasn’t seen the sun in a long, long time. Imagine the fragility of that heart. Imagine.
And even if I were to move on from him, like this advice tells me, how many songs, buildings, carry his scent? How many songs bring with them memories filled to the brim with laughter as we sat in his car, me riding shotgun. Filled to the brim with hope and sorrow and joy and wonder. How many buildings bring with them memories filled to the brim with words of a sweet nature. Filled to the brim with silence that echoed in my heart as my mind tried to think of the words he almost said. So many unsaid words. So much uncertainty carried in the fragile arms of all things us.
My heart has learned to both hold on and let go. My heart has learned that walls are safe but walls are cold and lonely. My heart has learned that it’s okay to laugh, that it’s okay to hope, but if you invest more than the other person, you have more to lose when they tell you no. They tell you no and then they make you think it’s your fault, but I’m here to tell you that it is not your fault. You trusted, you invested, you loved, and there’s bravery in that. You are brave. Did he ever tell you that?
And I’m learning to be brave again. My heart is once again stepping out onto my sleeve, but its steps are more timid this time, more unsure, and much more frail. The steps are small and sometimes awkward and sometimes unsteady, but my heart is walking. My heart is learning to trust and rest on my sleeve.
Time doesn’t heal. Time makes you remember things differently to how they really were, time makes you bury emotions and objects that share his name. But time doesn’t heal. You have to make the conscious choice to step out, to wear your heart on your sleeve, because your heart isn’t going to break down those cold and lonely walls on its own. You have to tell it to. You have to draw it out and tell it that it’ll all be okay.
It’s possible to wear your heart on your sleeve whilst keeping it protected. You need to trust the right people, invest in the right relationships. And we’ll keep making mistakes. We’ll keeping thinking that maybe this is the time he means it when he tells me he loves me, and we’ll keep thinking that this kiss is a promise.
And we’ll keep getting hurt.
But with our hearts on our sleeves, people will see us, hear us, care for us. People will learn who the real us is, and it’ll be their honour to see us, hear us, care for us. We are all important.
So next time someone tells me that I should ‘just wear my heart on my sleeve, it’s easy’, I won’t tell them that it’s not that easy. I’ll remember mine and his story and I’ll remember the joy and I’ll remember the pain. And I’ll smile and say that I’m trying, I really honestly am, because I don’t want to live alone. I don’t want to be the reason someone wrote a song about sad brown eyes and beautiful sorrow. I’ll be the reason I wrote my own song on my own guitar about my love and how it helped set his own heart free.
Because in the end, he hurt me because someone hurt him, and I don’t want his heart trapped within the walls it built around itself because he’s afraid of getting hurt once more.