2015-05-06 / Sandy Days, Salty Nights

Naked beneath our armor


My friend Adam and I have been talking about armor. Not the knight-inshining kind. Not the Kevlar version. But the emotional armor each of us slips on at the beginning of the day and strips off just before we go to sleep. And sometimes, truthfully, not even then.

Adam’s armor is all about prestige and class. He wraps his fancy diplomas around himself and trusses his image in awards and recognitions. When he’s nervous or insecure or in any way doubting himself, he brandishes his good breeding like a shield. I watch him do this, and I imagine the wall of thorns surrounding Sleeping Beauty’s castle. He’s impossible to breach.

“And your armor?” he asked me recently. “What do you do to keep people away?”

We were sitting in a cafe drinking overpriced tea. I wore this fierce red lipstick I’ve taken to lately, and I’d lined my eyes in black liner. I had my hair pulled back in a slick bun. My jeans were tight, my jacket fitted. Everything about me spoke of order and discipline.

“I guess it’s my appearance,” I said. “I use how I look as my armor.”

Funny, because just last year I told a friend she should put less effort into her appearance. Her beauty is her armor, and she keeps people away with her glossy hair and meticulously applied make-up.

“Your heart is the loveliest thing about you,” I’d told her. “Let people see that first.”

Me? I’m not after beauty. It’s infallibility I’m chasing. When people look at me, I don’t want them to see any chinks in my armor. I want them to think nothing gets through. Least of all, vulnerability. This woman in the red lipstick and heavy mascara is invincible. She cannot be hurt.

Of course, our armor is simply a distancing mechanism. Rather than protecting us, it serves to hide the best and brightest parts of our selves.

— Artis Henderson is the author of “Unremarried Widow” published by Simon and Schuster. — Artis Henderson is the author of “Unremarried Widow” published by Simon and Schuster. Adam is one of the most lovable people I’ve ever met. He’s brilliant and funny, and his mind works in strange, captivating ways. But most people never see that. I had to chop through a lot of thorns to get there, and the majority of people who meet him won’t put in that kind of work. It’s too bad for them, but mostly too bad for Adam.

Which makes me wonder why we do this to ourselves.

In a world where everyone is desperate for relationships, why do we make it so damn hard for people to love us?

I suppose it’s because we’re afraid. Afraid of being exposed. Afraid of being judged. Afraid of making ourselves vulnerable and still not being loved.

Yet love is fueled by courage. In order to get to the real thing, the true thing, we have to be willing to expose ourselves. We must drop the armor and stand emotionally naked.

It’s terrifying. Trust me, I know. That’s why I don’t do it a lot. But I’m working on shedding some of these layers, and I hope you will, too. Perhaps then we can stand together in our exquisite fallibility. ¦

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