ellie burrows risky business

Ellie Burrows is an expert on sex, relationships, first dates and everything in between. This week, we’re diving into the deep end of a scary yet crucial part of any worthwhile relationship: the risk factor. Here’s Ellie on why it’s crucial to let your heart lead the way…

Risk mitigation. It makes me think of business formal, financial institutions and PowerPoint presentations. However, I am beginning to think it is more prevalent in the dating world than in the finance sector. Lately among my single friends, it’s an epidemic.

Last week, I went to lunch with a friend who was fresh off two dates with a pretty sexy guy in the form of a handsome and successful bachelor in his early forties. Despite their age difference, they have some interesting things in common and from what I gathered from her story, it sounded like they enjoyed each others company. Then the strangest thing happened.

When she finished dishing the details, she said, “Whatever. I don’t care. I’m not taking it seriously.”

I laughed and said, “Bullshit. Can I nail you right now?”

Her cheeks flushed. “What?”

“You just lied right through your teeth. You like this guy and you totally care.”

Her eyes got really big. “You’re right Elle. I don’t even know why I just said that.”

“Want to try telling the truth?”

“Okay. I like him and I care.”

When I got home I Googled “risk mitigation” and happened upon Mitre.org, a non-profit organization that operates research and development centers sponsored by the federal government. Scrolling through the site, I came across a section called Risk Mitigation Strategies. Perfect.

Below are their proposed options for handling potential risks:


Mitre may be all business, but when I considered this list in the context of interpersonal relationships, it was eerily relevant.

My friend was definitely in the “control” zone. She was totally “implementing actions to minimize the impact or likelihood of the risk.” As long as she could tell herself that she didn’t care, the impact of potential rejection would be less severe.

It’s totally a bummer when things don’t work out the way we want them to. I know unequivocally that at some point I have exercised every single one of those risk mitigation strategies out of fear of heartbreak. I’m exhausted just thinking about all the effort that went into mitigating, managing and preventing the inevitable: I’m alive and so my heart is bound to break.

Two of my favorite teachers, Peter Evans and Lisa Lim, like to say,

“The mind protects the heart from the very thing it longs for.”

This is because at some point we know our heart is going to be devastated. Every relationship, as a physical manifestation of love, must end, whether we kill it off after the first date or a spouse dies after sixty years. Knowing this, our mind is our greatest risk mitigator and self-safety mechanism. It is great for checks and balances, but it loses its value when it messes with the heart facts and tampers with the evidence. The more love you allow yourself to feel, the more predisposed you are to disappointment and devastation. Sure it’s scary, but the only thing scarier than that is not feeling the love at all.

In the case of my friend, her mind took hold of her fear in an attempt to mitigate the risk of rejection or disappointment and tried to shut her heart up. This is particularly funny considering two weeks after our lunch she traveled to another state to go on additional dates with him. (We all know that the hassle of airline travel is not something one chooses unless they care.)

There is no doubt that when it comes to health and the NFL, the best offense is a good defense. But I absolutely loathe that approach when it comes to interpersonal relationships, especially when dishonesty with oneself is the primary form of defense. If that’s your strategy in matters of the heart then the outcome is sure to be a loss. If we can’t be honest with ourselves nor give the heart a voice because we’re too busy protecting it, then we’re not even in the game. We’re on the sidelines. We don’t score points and win when we’re sitting on the bench.

When it comes to my heart, I want to listen to its whisper amidst all my fear chatter. Sometimes I need to throw out the risk mitigation strategies in order to hear it clearly, and it is in that space of clarity where I can really feel love.

Rather than my mind killing the love, I’d rather the love kill me. I guess that falls under assume/accept. Wait, did I just mitigate?

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