If we could build a model of my mind (very different from my brain, I’ve seen loads of those), it would be the midieval castle at Haut Koenigsburg (the photo below is an aerial view). There are outer walls. There are inner walls. There are several differently sized outbuildings, and a centralized-power tower building within. It’s up a hill. The reason I say this is that I have two speeds when I meet someone: “The external doors are open, all are welcome, come take the tour!” And “the gates are shut. Please, let me show you these curated images of my lovely castle’s interior.” Neither of those is more vulnerable than the other, no matter how much the open gates seem like it. It’s a pre-planned tour, just as much as the photos are curated; I’m just in a mood to let you lead with interests and questions rather than to open with preset statements and a social-media-style curation.
I am friendly. I am social. I have some subjects (past relationships, sexuality of any kind - including my own, deep-diving politics) that many people consider much too deeply personal to discuss early that I will happily roll out on a second meeting or not mind if you overhear between me and a close friend in a bar. This makes people think I have no filter, that there is nothing I hold back, and that we are sprinting forward on an emotional journey together if we’re trying to date. From my point of view, however, this means I’ve let you in that inner wall, and you can see the outlines of the non-tower buildings in the distance, and maybe, if we are moving rather fast, you’ve seen the great hall just within the main tower.
I will assume that you’re one step more vulnerable than me on some subjects (like those above), if we’re mostly keeping pace, and one step less on some other, that I hope I’ll recognize, but probably won’t, because I’m not a mind reader. So I’ll expect that we’re equally building things up step by step. That there is a warren of rooms up the servants’ backstairs I haven’t seen yet in you, just like there is in me. And then one day you’ll notice those metaphorical stairs, and be deeply offended that I haven’t shown you that - because you’ve shared your servants’ quarters and granaries and outbuildings, and you thought you’d seen mine and why have I been holding out on you if I love you?
For me, the answer is that love and vulnerability don’t move in perfect lockstep. I know if I love you, if I am in love with you, if it is not just eros but eros and philia and maybe someday pragma as well, months and maybe years if I know I’ll show you the room at the top of the tower where the floor fell in, and there’s a board across it between the two strongest stones, that I’m trying to rebuild from. I used to expect that this was true for everyone, but time has taught me that some people are way better and faster at processing their shit. Their castles are kept up or rebuilt much more fully than mine, and so it’s just wandering it together for them to show me. But for some people, there are layers they’ll never share, catacombs under their fortress, and they’ll love me no less, and I find that… not always easy to accept, but understandable, because some of my own secret rooms take years to unfold.
Some people realize I have some near-ruinous rooms I’m rebuilding, stone by stone, and offer to help in the restoration, and some see that and run, and both are right. They are right for them, in knowing my deeper reality, even if sometimes it hurts us both at the time.
Now, readers, having shared too much about myself for comfort to get there, a summary of the lesson I meant to teach here:
You can share your entire mind with new partners at whatever speed you like; it does not dictate the speed your heart may recognize theirs, it does not make you good or bad, it does not mean either of you is deeper or more self-aware. But, if you know you love them in a way that feels very long term, early on, and you are like me, you may want to tell them “I love you so much, but the speed my brain moves at is different than my heart, and there will be new things I haven’t shared with you yet for a long time, maybe forever.” This saves you both the heartache of realizing they can’t do that only when they spot the doorway inside a cabinet or a stairway you’ve unblocked, years in. And if you are like many friends and former loves of mine, who are the opposite, you may want to say, “I don’t just love you, but I unfold my heart and soul very early to those I love,” and add whether or not the reciprocation of that is a requirement for you, to save that same realization later, or negotiate how they can make it easier for you to handle that they don’t, and maybe at this point in their lives can’t, do it like you.
I hope that you learn over time to identify what your “speed” is so you can make sure a mismatch isn’t an incompatibility, and that leading your love(s) through your internal castles and great houses brings you joy.
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