Love entails a variety of strong, positive, and arguably uncontrollable emotions. No two experiences of love are the same. No one can love two different people in the exact same manner because love is a collaborative work of art.

We submit to the power of love like an addict does to substances. Everyday happenings have proven that we cannot resist love’s command any more than a junkie can resist their next fix. Some people have lost their livelihoods; others have lost themselves in the name of love.

Research has proven that the riskier the love, the more attractive it is. Perchance, the thrill is what makes human porcupines attractive trophies in the pursuit of love. I was raised by a porcupine dad. As I grew older, I assumed the porcupine position.

Yes, love is a beautiful thing, so they say. It is often perceived as an easy action that everyone is capable of doing. I find this to be untrue. Not everyone is capable of love. It's an honest truth, and yet the mind resists forming the words. Even reading it here, no doubt, is jarring. To love and be loved can create anxiety.

To believe that we can be loved unconditionally with our scars, not just temporarily but permanently, is a questionable endeavor for many. Even I am not immune to the protective gear we put up to protect our tender hearts.

I remember sitting in my psychotherapist's office talking about my then-prospective new relationship. I narrated how I had wooed her for a little over a year. She was acting unavailable, but I stayed in her cookie jar; the pursuit seemed to intensify my interest. Shortly after she became ready and all in, I began to have cold feet. "Maybe she wants children right now, and I'm not ready for that," I said to him. "Now that we are a thing, she doesn't even text very often because she's busy working a great job in Florida. I don't think she has my time at all." “Would she want me to move to Florida? I could move if she asked nicely.”

While these thoughts may be valid, they are not reality. They were my quills; a story in my mind to protect my vulnerable self. They were verdicts entrenched in the narrative that I wasn’t lovable. I have always had a strong impulse to sabotage my own relationships. There's always been an unwillingness to open up fully to anyone. I was reluctant to risk my heart for the unknown, which was typical porcupine behaviour.

I knew if I let myself out, I'd have to question how I saw myself. Perhaps I didn't know myself too well or I was too afraid to acknowledge who I really was.

One weekend, I took a trip to Florida from Miami to visit her. I booked a hotel for myself and then took her out to dinner. We had such an amazing night together. At the end of the day, she drove us back to her apartment. We spent about a few minutes at her place, and I noticed she was getting ready for bed. As soon as she got out of the shower, I said, "It's time for me to leave." I could see in her eyes a lingering for me to stay. An unspoken appetite for intimacy—maybe even sexual.

So, what did I do?

I got the hell out of there.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about my fears and insecurities. I blocked my feelings out in that moment. I was deeply terrified by the thought of being loved because I couldn’t even love myself. Even though she became emotionally distant, our relationship still lasted a couple of months. I didn’t really mind when she was isolated because that felt familiar to me. I didn’t leave until I got ghosted.

Five years later, I met my wife, Sheryl, at a friend’s party. She found my absolute lack of vulnerability attractive. I didn’t need to tell her anything; she discovered my prickly personality herself and saw right through it. She fell in love with my shenanigans, and she would often tease me about them. She was willing to stay. She had overcome some life adversity, and so had I. She wanted to help me get over my abrasiveness, but I turned down her help at every point. She found me admirable and understood my defensiveness.

However, when I became agitated, she became the target of my frustration. I would become cold, and nothing she said or did could console me. She would sometimes wait days for my welcoming and delightful personality to return. After two years of my many episodes, she threatened to leave me unless we went to therapy together.

I agreed to her conditions because I realized that I cared as deeply for her as she did for me. I wasn’t deliberately trying to hurt her with my porcupine defenses. The goal was to prevent myself from being harmed. Unlike real porcupines, people like me weren’t born prickly. Our environments had conditioned us to be sometimes cold, withdrawn, or abrasive.

It takes the utmost patience to love a porcupine. We are a delicate work of art. We need just enough space for individuality, yet enough intimacy for security. Oh, what a tangled web to weave...

In our many years of therapy, Sheryl and I have realized that setting boundaries is one of the best ways to keep our love strong. As a porcupine, I love to feel close to people. But I also love to feel safe. We learnt to negotiate boundaries. We recognized that the more threatened I felt, the pricklier I’d become.

I have been married to my wife, Sheryl, for over 20 years. I have found myself dropping some of my most unreasonable boundaries that I made at the beginning of our relationships around sharing time, resources, and possessions. One of which was that she could never sleep on the right side of the bed; it was strictly my side. I bet we don’t even remember whose side is right or left anymore. After we had our daughters, we all slept on the same bed for many years.

My family has loved me into becoming a beautiful, charming, and splendid wonder. Sheryl had to wait a long time to get a husband who was somewhat normal. Now I am more open-minded. I am generally kinder to people and make them feel good when they are around me. I’m not yet perfect; I’m still learning, unlearning, growing, and changing from who I was to who I wish to become. I still stick out my quills occasionally, but I’m a work in progress. We may get bruised from time to time as we walk through life with other people, but we are much better off in relationships than in isolation.

I question how much of the porcupine adaptation I have passed onto my girls. They are both teenagers and show little interest in dating. Meanwhile, my wife patiently continues to tame me. We currently live in different cities due to work. I recently complained to her that she needed to come home for the holidays. She responded that coming over would be good for me too. She made me see that I hadn’t taken any trips in two years. She gave me reasons to believe that I needed to come over.

Her response was not a request or confrontation. She’s just good at diffusing my porcupine tendencies without presenting herself as a threat. I immediately agreed to come over for a few weeks since the girls were going to summer camp. I lowered my quills as I reminded myself that love was safe.

One of the easiest ways to love a porcupine is to keep them loving you—not so much, though. When you’re patient, self-assured, and caring, a porcupine can get entrapped in your love; these qualities keep us loving.

I am grateful to my family and friends who have learned the secrets to loving a porcupine without getting pricked. I have learnt to apologize when people get barbed by my quill.

Porcupines may not be easy to deal with at first, but underneath the quills is soft fur and beauty. They just require careful attention. You need a large heart like Sheryl’s to handle porcupines. If you are not emotionally and mentally prepared to have a porcupine in your life, you should walk away immediately when you meet one. You would have to understand that even when their quills fall out, they grow back. After all, quills are their signature beauty. Never let a porcupine enter your life unprepared.