You won’t know when a girl is guarded, not initially at least.

“Guarded” won’t be the word that comes to mind. You’ll think she’s independent and confident. Driven and seemingly content. She’s never seeking anything from you, never leaning in to the hint or the whisper. She seems as though she lives a big life, and it’s in that paradox that she’s most closed. She’s filled all the little spaces with something, something else.

Once upon a time she fell in love the way thousands and millions of people do every day and hour and in the last three seconds while you were reading this. But it wasn’t the falling in love, or the breaking up that ultimately broke her.

It was that she found the truest seeming, most divinely timed, so evidently fated love, only to learn that conviction is not actually an indication of what will transpire. One person’s absolutely certain belief that it should be forever… doesn’t make it so. She learned that deep, true, miraculous love… goes away sometimes. Without explanation. Without retribution.

She loved so maddeningly she let it burn through her and realized she was left with nothing. She grasped and begged and convinced herself it just absolutely had to be! She rested her heart in that safety, only to find it was an illusion.

It’s not that she doesn’t believe in love, she just doesn’t trust it.

Guarded girls are the ones who concocted the fatal mix of blind openness on an unstable ground. They clung to a promise. They put purpose in a person. They made that love the only love, until they had no choice but to let go. They know the low, quiet nothingness that is acceptance. The rock bottom on which the best things are built.

Guarded girls are independent girls because they did just that: Moment by moment, hour by hour, choice by choice, she rebuilt her life. On freshly painted bedroom walls and in job offers and every bill paid on time. In the friends who let her mourn and became her tribe. She built and built and built and built until the life around her was the perfect antidote to what scared her in the first place.

It was safe. It was hers. It wouldn’t wake up one day and leave her. It was what she had. It is what she has.

You can’t blame her for wanting to protect it.

She isn’t bitter, she just knows better. She isn’t cynical, she’s realistic. And until she knows another reality, one where people’s intentions aren’t crapshoots and promises keep on emptying out until they’re just lies… she’ll continue to be reserved.

So walk away when you don’t mean it anymore. Don’t make the most beautiful parts of your relationship the things you’ll one day do. Promise her you’ll be there at 7 on Friday and then be. Ask her where she’d like to be touched. Don’t try to tear her walls down, try to build a new life, one where she doesn’t need them to be reminded she’s safe. If you don’t want to choose her now, you probably can’t choose her at all. These are the ragged edges of a strong woman. They were carved to cut but just want to be healed. Love her bit by bit, day by day, and let her love you back.

Don’t try to dismantle the life she’s built in place of what she lost. That is how you love a guarded girl. Not by trying to break through her walls, but by seeing if maybe, just maybe, there’s room for you in them too.