by Crystal Jackson
Guard your heart. It’s common advice. I just don’t want to do it anymore. The very term guarding implies a threat and conveys fear. It’s instinctive to want to protect ourselves after a broken heart, but healing hearts need to be open ones if we ever want to move past the pain. I’d much rather invest my energy in connecting with others rather than protecting my heart.
I still have moments where it’s hard to believe I’m single again and back on yet another dating app. I want chemistry and connection, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just thought I’d found it and wouldn’t need to go looking for it again. But life happens, and when someone says they don’t want you back, you believe them and move on. At least, that’s the healthy thing to do. I’m committed to being the strongest, healthiest, and happiest version of myself. So here I am.
I’m learning to protect my time and energy instead of protecting my heart. My heart is open, but my boundaries are firmly in place — not to keep anyone out but to only let the right ones in. I’m a work in progress, but here are a few ways I’m keeping an open heart without being constantly on guard:
A younger, less-healthy version of myself would stay plugged in, constantly ready and willing to engage. I would check dating apps throughout the day or spend far too much time swiping left and right, reviewing matches, and fine-tuning my dating profile. It was a time and energy drain, and it rarely felt rewarding.
These days, I’m choosing my level of interaction. I no longer make myself available at all hours of the day or night. I take time during the day to check messages, but I don’t instantly respond if I’m busy. I’m measured in how I choose to respond and when. I don’t play games, but I do make sure that I engage in meaningful conversations rather than endless small talk.
Dating from openness rather than guardedness doesn’t mean we have to be open and available at all times. It’s healthier to have boundaries in place and to choose just how much time and energy we want to give. If we guard that, we may find that our interactions are better than if we wore ourselves out trying so hard to meet someone.
In the past, I stayed on alert about how I was being received. I look at things a little differently now. I was thoughtful in my approach to my dating profile. I wanted to represent myself with more balance without trying to be universally accepted. Let’s face it: we’re not for everyone. Why would we try to be?
I put up photos without filters — and even one with the no-makeup version of me. I’m honest about my quirks but not ashamed of them. I went with a little humor and a lot of sincerity, and I’m not worried about being rejected. I’m not even worried about being accepted really. I want to be loved for who I am, not some filtered version of myself. The right person will see us and want us for who we are. The wrong person never will.
Showing up with an open heart and as our authentic selves will also save us time and energy. We’ll more easily find compatible matches when we aren’t pretending to be something we’re not. We may also attract others who are showing up more authentically, too.
I didn’t always ask myself what value I was getting from any interaction. It’s not exactly surprising that this carried over into relationships where I prioritized my partner’s needs while sidelining my own. I didn’t even resent it while it was happening. I was too busy investing my energy into creating balance in relationships that had none. I didn’t realize that I was compromising myself.
Now, I’m seeking balance. I’m looking at how much energy is invested in conversations. If a connection starts to pull away, I’m not working double-time to keep them engaged. I let people come, and I let them go. I’m seeking a healthy, balanced relationship, and I’ll be damned if I chase anyone.
If we’re the only ones keeping a conversation going, that’s not balanced. If we’re the ones making all the dates and putting in all the energy, that’s not a good sign either. We need a balanced relationship, and if we’re questioning if the other person is into it, they probably aren’t.
I feel like the reigning queen of making excuses for partners. Love can be unconditional. Compassion can be abundant. But somehow, somewhere, there needs to be accountability.
My generous, loving heart would give pass after pass on bad behavior. I could always find a reason for the sharp word and the barbed slight. It would hurt like hell, but I would take it. I would even draw on my empathy for them to justify it. I would see red flags and look the other way because I kept believing in potential over real, honest effort. I know that impact matters more than intention, but that didn’t stop me from giving good intentions more weight than the harmful impact of those behaviors.
When I see red flags, I’m usually not judging them. I am paying attention. I don’t just hand out excuses anymore. I talk about what I’m seeing, or I simply disconnect from that match, recognizing that we aren’t compatible. It’s not a judgment on their humanity, but it is the simple recognition that there are some deal breakers we’re just not going to work through and some red flags we just shouldn’t ignore.
I don’t feel the pressure to find someone right now. I can admit that I’ve been lonely, and I can acknowledge that I need companionship, connection, and everything else that comes with a healthy, loving relationship. But I’m not desperately searching. Instead, I’m being open to the opportunity of meeting someone I might like to get to know better. I’ve been resistant to online dating due to past experiences, but I feel that it gives me another avenue to meet new people. I’m staying open, but I’m not devoting much time to it.
We can acknowledge what we want and need without thinking it has to happen right now. Putting a timeline on the search can lead to poor decisions. It often leads to settling for any match rather than waiting for the right one.
What I want is simple, really. I want to love and be loved in return. I want chemistry and connection. I want to share my life with someone worthy of my time and energy.
Knowing what we want can help us see exactly what we don’t. We can skip all the profiles looking for something casual when we’re looking for a relationship. We can stay committed to finding the right person and keep an open heart along the way. Maybe someone will surprise us that we never expected, but we don’t have to guard our hearts in the process.
Our hearts don’t require our protection. If we’re careful of the time and energy we invest, our hearts won’t be put through the wringer of yet another person we knew we should stop talking to in the first place. When we make healthier decisions and center our priorities, we may stop seeing danger with every interaction and start seeing possibilities