Join the Conversation: The Rules of the Heart

February’s Salon question had to do with the heart: how we decide who gets in, how far in we allow them, and what happens when the right or wrong person gets there.

Print by CDR.

Given your responses, we seem to all agree that there is, in some sense, a way in and a way out of our hearts — whether it is a door or a window or simply a permeable membrane.  Some of you, bravely and with great self-trust, allow your instincts and intuition to decide who is allowed into your life.  Stephanie of My One Precious Life says her instincts have not failed her, that “when you see the best in people and expect the best of them, they usually try to live up to that.”  Our own Flapper Pie agrees: intuition rules in matters of the heart, and a good judge of character can be thanked for serving as trusty gatekeeper.  Curiously, both Stephanie and FP submit that a bit of luck may have something to do with it too– and certainly a combination of sturdy intuition and luck could go a long way in protecting the heart.  FP, lucky lady, says she has “never experienced true heartbreak,” and that an underlying guardedness may have saved her from it.

For others of you, guarding your heart is a more diligent, conscious endeavor.  Cravesadventure describes a “slight opening” of the heart, which is both receptive and protective, a bit willing and a bit cautious.  After being cut out by her much-loved brother, Claire Elizabeth Scott of The Adventures of Me offers a similarly hybrid bit of wisdom:

Your heart may be a warm, inviting place to be, but only those who are deserving of their place there should be allowed to stay there — no one should accept anything less.

Also in the my-heart-is-not-an-entirely-open-door camp is our own Lemon Tart, whose two somewhat intuitive rules of “feeling safe” and “mutuality” decide when and for whom that door opens.  And when that door does open, LT pays attention to the moment when that someone actually steps in, actually “crosses the threshold,” accepting the invitation of the open door.

For my part, I related to much of what you all shared.  At different points in my life, my answers to this question could have been identical to any of yours.  At this particular moment, though, I am most concerned with learning what it means to, as Claire mentioned, allow someone to stay.  Like most of you, I don’t consider myself someone who has trouble letting others in.  I’ve heard it described as a ‘willing heart,’ and that seems fitting.  But I am beginning to wish that I had a bulldog as heart-guard, fiercely protective and (as soon as certain tests are passed) fiercely loving.  I am discovering that, all this time, that door may have been left rather unattended, and one or two people may have been able to smuggle in their clubs.

Bulldog heart-guard? Maybe not…

I am also beginning to feel like this whole ‘doorway’ metaphor oversimplifies the reality of what we’re trying to understand.  It implies that there is one way in and one way out, when really (if you’ll bear with me through this abstraction) there are many points of entry, many places where a person might step in (a love of art or animals, a moment of generosity on a bad day, an interest in The Great Gatsby or Tarantino films, an intuited sense) and many other places where a person might step out.  Perhaps it is more helpful to illustrate the heart with another inner chamber, where only the most trustworthy are allowed.


6 thoughts on “Join the Conversation: The Rules of the Heart

  1. I found this question hard to answer. I think because in my heart of hearts, I’d like to think we don’t really need to protect ourselves. I’d rather love openly and fully, no matter what the consequences. We try to avoid pain, but it’s the painful lessons that have taught me the most. So should it really be avoided?

    But I must admit that now, having lived a bit, I have found that it’s good to have some boundaries. It’s good to have a gatekeeper so that only the pure of heart are let in. I love your image of trusty bull-dog as gatekeeper. I think I’ll keep that with me.

    Thanks for an interesting discussion!

    • I found it hard to answer too, which is probably why I wanted so badly to ask it. I felt like I needed some help in answering. And I agree: the painful lessons can be crucial (and in certain times of life, they’re almost exquisitely painful).

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