10/15/2013 05:39 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

How I Learned - The Hard Way - That Being Perfect Doesn't Guarantee You Love

There I stood for the first time in my life, completely, utterly, emotionally naked, in front of a man who rejected me.

I had met a man only a month prior. We immediately connected. We talked for hours by phone before we even met. The mere sight of his name on my call display or a text message sent shivers of excitement through my body. I'd hang up the phone at 2 am smiling, happy; despite my 5:30 am wakeup call and long commute to work.

Our conversations lit me up from the inside. I melted into his words and voice. We shared similar views, passions, and experiences. Conversation was captivating, it flowed effortlessly. I was excited and without realizing it was sharing everything. Something I only did with my lifelong best friend.

The day we finally met in person, I was a basket of nerves, full of anticipation. I had been falling for a voice on the phone, would the connection be there in person? When we met, I felt a small bite of disappointment. I wasn't as attracted as I hoped to be in person. Our first date was amazing, but lacked the depth of our phone connection. I brushed it off. First dates are awkward. Our second date was perfect. It was casual and comfortable. We spent the day together; talking, walking his puppy on the waterfront, relaxing in the evening with takeout and a movie. I was so immersed in the moment I hoped the day would never end, my attraction grew.

He asked for more time together. I didn't know what was happening, but I was all in. I couldn't wait just to see him again and spend more time together. A week later it all stopped. He wanted to slow down. I felt confused as he had been leading the pace, but I agreed. There was no rush.

I felt him retreating, disengaging. I did what anyone who was falling would do. I held on. Before I knew it I felt crazy. I said and did things that were so unlike me; pretended I didn't care and went about my life. If he wasn't feeling what I felt, I'd take back my investment and close the door.

He didn't like that approach. He questioned it. The truth, I didn't want to get hurt again. I felt lucky enough to have barely survived my last heartache. He saw through my excuses. His piercing and direct questions and my deep vulnerability to him had me recounting my life story out of frustration and confusion. In what felt like a weak moment, I'd lost all control of the emotionally distant self I was used to.

There was silence. There I was, standing, soul exposed, in front of him. It was as if I'd stepped outside my own body. He said nothing. He looked at me. Choked by tears, the lump in my throat swelled. Pulling myself back together, I grasped for the remaining threads that held my ego together. Trying to cover myself with a blanket called anger, I lashed back at him for having made me open up. I was mad, he had nothing to say. No response. I had to leave. He was shocked that I was now angry with him. I left. I couldn't bear the thought of having to face him. He didn't want to be with me before I'd even opened my mouth, this certainly hadn't helped. I hurt everywhere.

The next day he asked me to stop by to discuss a business opportunity. I was even angrier now. I wanted a relationship with him, not to be in his life to make money. I didn't care about money. After some convincing I agreed, truthfully just a chance to see him again.

I sat across from him, arms folded, legs crossed, heart pounding, palms sweating. He wanted to know why I left so angry, why listening to me was so terrible. He countered every one of my reasons. Forcing me to dispel all the beliefs I had about vulnerability. That I would be judged for my past, considered weak for being emotional and fearful. That a man should have to prove his worth before I open my heart to him.

I was awakened, and now terrified. For the first time, I knew what it meant to be afraid to lose someone, although I barely knew him. Something inside me loved him more in that moment. He'd connected with a place deeper inside me than anyone in my life. I was exposed, he knew how I felt, and he didn't feel the same. I didn't know how I could live with him in my life or without him. I was sick to my stomach with fear.

I was new to what vulnerability really meant. The strength it would take to endure the uncertainty and risk that comes with it. The only thing I knew for sure was that in it, lays the possibility of the deepest connection I've ever known. It showed me strength in myself I never knew. My experience was a taste of how powerful and incredible it could be when shared with someone who would return it, but that it's not the end of the world if they don't.

My perception of what it means to be strong has been forever changed. Hiding my fears and weak spots didn't make me strong. Being perfect wouldn't guarantee me love. True connection wasn't in my ability to understand someone else. Everything I need is within me. I am perfect as I am. To show up and be seen in my own imperfect skin, to love even if it is not returned, is true strength.

By Jackie Mattioli

The Purple Fig is a community where women share personal and relatable stories; no ego, no shame, no judgement. We're about life, love and all of the stuff that makes us yearn, squirm, and giggle. These stories make up the authentic and intriguing journey of a woman.

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