Most people who know me in real life liken me to a cat; mostly unfeeling, with tiny, incredibly rare bursts of seeking affection and attention, but usually I just keep my claws somewhat extended all the time, ready to swipe at someone with a dry remark or a slightly caustic comment. It doesn’t help that I am, by nature, quite reserved, unless you’ve broken down more than half of the walls I’ve put up around my thoughts and emotions, and that’s how I might have developed this particular habit of being someone who cares less.

I’m the one that replies texts three days later, and I don’t even bother giving a lame excuse when that happens nowadays. What’s the use of lying when no one wants to hear yet another variation of, “Sorry, totally forgot to text you back,” when no one wants to hear that they had ceased to be a priority in your life for a time being? When I’m called upon for advice, it’s usually logical, bordering on cold-hearted, even, which is probably why people don’t usually ask me for any, come to think of it. Just a couple of weeks ago, I’d proposed a lunch gathering with a few friends for once, and it took them a few minutes to register that I was willingly spending some of my time socializing with them outside of the comfort of my home.

This isn’t to say that I’m proud of my cynicism and the jaded streak in my personality. On the other hand, while it comes in useful, especially when I just need some time to indulge in my introversion (because woe betide the person daring enough to force me to socialize on an off day), it also stems from this innate fear that caring too much just leads to too much hurt.

It’s become second nature to me, to repress my emotions and wall off someone before they can get too close, because there is this understanding I carry within me that to wear your heart on your sleeve is just asking for it to be slashed to pieces, beyond repair. I’ve seen it happen to friends, loved ones, and it is a devastating sight; it’s days and months of wondering when the haze of pain will finally lift, it’s not knowing how to function without the thought of that person by their side. It’s not something that I’d willingly put myself through anytime soon.

There is this misconception that a person who cares less means is stronger, is “above it all”, so to speak. As someone who fits the bill, I’m here to debunk that myth. In fact, it’s probably the other way round. What people don’t seem to know is that it takes so much effort to not care. It’s a struggle to constantly build walls day after day, triple guessing if it’s okay to let anyone else in beyond what semblance of a social circle you’ve acquired for yourself over the years. It’s exhausting, thinking about the ways things might, can, will go wrong if you put yourself out there, if you confessed first, if you text at 2 in the morning, asking if there’s something wrong between you two, if you went off script on that presentation pitch for a new client, if you sent that text, saying, I missed you.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the mistakes of being someone who cares less, is that friendships and relationships that have gone through the test of your midnight anxiety attacks and the constant push and pull between wanting more and not being able to express that without looking emotionally constipated, are connections born of steel and an iron band of comfort and home. These are the relationships that have gotten me through endless days of doubting myself and putting brick after brick around my insecurities. These are the people that taught me to almost believe that putting one’s guards up isn’t akin to being someone who cares less. Perhaps one day they’ll succeed in truly making me understand that, but for now, maybe I’ll just learn to reply messages a little more promptly.