Why Being Truly Seen can be the Scariest Thing of All—Especially when it Comes to Falling in Love by Emily Houghton

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[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Emily Houghton guest posting on the site today. She’s talking all about the vulnerability of being seen. Take it away, Emily!]

The phrase ‘keeping up appearances’ feels truer than ever in today’s society. And can you blame us, when we live in a world that still places so much value on what we look like on the outside? Where the filtered and edited versions of ourselves become the only reflection we wish to see?

But no matter how many followers we have or how ‘perfectly’ we can make ourselves fit into society’s definition of beauty, when it comes to true human connection, there is no hiding what lies beneath. As hard as we try to fight it, underneath the filters, the editing, the two-dimensional, social media-approved happy-go-lucky images we present to the world, lives our reality. Our raw, painful, incredibly flawed human nature. The part that exists within in us all, but the part that, for years, I was desperate to erase. 

From a very young age I was taught the benefits of adapting. Of changing one’s self to meet another’s expectations. Be pleasing. Be amenable. And god forbid do not be selfish. Put others’ needs before your own and make sure you have a smile on your face while doing it. I became intent on only allowing people to see the fun, energetic version of me. The Emily that was the life and soul of the party, who made people laugh and brought positivity and sunshine wherever she went. 

But how would that be fair when it came to finding love? How could I keep that up when ultimately, I wanted to find someone to share my life with? Surely that meant sharing all of me too? How could I allow myself to be seen fully while simultaneously avoiding my ultimate fear of rejection? Turns out I was doing it without even realizing! 

Over the years I employed a variety of tactics to try and protect myself—namely, dating people I already knew, oversharing everything very early on in the relationship, and finally, when we were together, keeping that person nice and separate from all of the other aspects of my life. Looking back, I can see the pitfalls of my approach, but at the time, they were all a way to fast-track the process of them getting to know the real me, so that they either knew what they were getting themselves into, or they could easily extricate themselves from my life when they realized I wasn’t what they had bargained for. 

Needless to say, my techniques weren’t successful. In fact, trying to be everything for everyone ended up negatively impacting a number of areas in my life, mainly my mental and physical health. I knew I needed to do something differently and ultimately, I needed to stop looking to others for approval and turn to the one place I had been vehemently avoiding – inside of myself. I needed to sit with my feelings, learn to be with all the parts of myself, and not shy away from the dark. 

Over the next few years, I embarked on an amazing journey; I began therapy, discovered the incredible power of meditation and movement practices, travelled around India and Bali, went through about one hundred journals and cried an ocean of tears. I found ways to express my emotions and be OK with not being ‘perfect.’ 

Throughout this process there have been many pivotal moments, but one of the first happened on World Mental Health Day in 2018. For the first time in my life, I publicly shared my journey with mental health and self-acceptance in a panel discussion at a work event. Three colleagues stood up and shared their experiences with a room full of people. It was terrifying and emotional and unbelievably nerve-wracking, but it was also one of the most incredible moments of my life. Not only was it a privilege to hear my colleagues tell their stories, but it was empowering to be able to speak my own. The support we received was overwhelming, and so too was the number of people who reached out and shared how deeply they could relate to our experiences. It was the first time I really realized how, underneath it all, we often are experiencing very similar things that we so often are too afraid to share. 

This lesson was instrumental in helping me and pushing me to share my inner world with those on the outside. It’s uncomfortable and at times, downright painful, but it’s enabled me to form some of the most wonderful connections I’ve ever experienced. The people in my life now are those I am able to be completely myself with, who can hold me and sit with me through whatever I am going through. Yes, there are still times when I want to run away, hide my feelings, and put back on the ‘I’m fine’ mask I used to wear, but I also have to remind myself that this is a process. It’s not easy. And it’s far from over. Unlearning everything we have been taught and continue to be exposed to isn’t simple. But hand on heart I can say it’s been worth every second. 

And what about love? Well, that too is an ongoing process. I am no more protected against rejection and heartbreak than I was before, but this time I better equipped to stand in my integrity and put myself first. I know now that what other people think of me is not my business. I am enough. As I am.

 If someone doesn’t want to date me because I do yoga (true story), then that doesn’t make me ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘unlovable.’  If someone wants to turn up three hours late to a date and then tell me I’m being ‘weird’ and block me when I say it’s not good enough (unfortunately true again), then that’s on them and not me. I am not a 2D caricature of a person. I am not a filtered photograph on my Instagram page. I am a complex human being who is worthy of love and affection even when they aren’t feeling bright and breezy and the happiest person in the room. It is a privilege for someone to get to know me and I also deserve to give people the chance to. 

So even when it’s tough and uncomfortable and the last thing I want to do, I am continuing my resolution to embrace my vulnerability. To open my heart to the possibility that someone will love me for exactly who I am. Underneath all of the layers and defenses and expectations…I am worthy and deserving of love. You are too. 

About the Author:

Emily Houghton is an ex digital specialist and full-time creative writer. She originally comes from Essex but has been living in London for the past 8 years. Emily is a trained yoga and spin teacher, completely obsessed with dogs and has dreamt of being an author ever since she could hold a pen..

Houghton’s debut novel, BEFORE I SAW YOU, is a commercial love story and will be published by Transworld in the UK in January 2021 and by Simon & Schuster in the US. Translation rights have also sold in Brazil, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Israel, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Spain.

Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton, out now!

Alice Gunnersley and Alfie Mack sleep just a few feet apart from one another. They talk for hours every day. And they’ve never seen each other face-to-face.

After being in terrible accidents, the two now share the same ward as long-term residents of St. Francis’s Hospital. Although they don’t get off to the best start, the close quarters (and Alfie’s persistence to befriend everyone he meets) brings them closer together. Pretty soon no one can make Alice laugh as hard as Alfie does, and Alfie feels like he’s finally found a true confidante in Alice. Between their late night talks and inside jokes, something more than friendship begins to slowly blossom between them.

But as their conditions improve and the end of their stay draws closer, Alfie and Alice are forced to decide whether it’s worth continuing a relationship with someone who’s seen all of the worst parts of you, but never seen your actual face.

A tender novel of healing and hope, Before I Saw You reminds us that connections can be found even in the most unexpected of places—and that love is almost always blind.

As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. 
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