There is this topic that’s come up recently in conversations with family and friends. It’s the topic of vulnerability. A recurring thought that’s been shared between myself and those I’m talking to is the feeling that vulnerability is something to be feared. That if you’re vulnerable, you’re weak. And if you’re weak, you will be ridiculed, taken advantage of and the respect of others will be lost.
|At a college football game about 2 weeks after we started dating|
This fear of being vulnerable extends into all areas of our lives. It affects our relationships with loved ones, because if we do not open up and talk about our true feelings, we aren’t able to make a crucial connection with them. And if you aren’t connecting on a personal level by talking about things that are hard and deep, then you aren’t establishing a strong foundation for a lasting relationship.
Shortly after my husband and I started dating, I went on a week long trip for a college class. Our dating relationship was new and fragile. But we were committed to keeping in touch during this trip, so we had 2 or 3 hour long conversations every night before we went to bed. We discussed everything from our favorite movies to our least favorite foods (coleslaw and potato salad, in case you were wondering). Sometimes we were laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe. And other times, we talked about things that were so personal that one or both of us didn’t say anything for a long time while we simply tried to process the words that had been spoken. Those were the things that really started building our foundation. Now that we are married, it’s still hard to talk about certain topics. But the fact that we keep trying to be vulnerable with each other is something that keeps us together.
It also affects our ability to make new and lasting friendships, because if we never get past the formalities of “where are you from” and “what do you like to do”, then you never talk about the deeper topics, such as current challenges and childhood struggles that are still affecting you today. Again, that opportunity to really connect with another person is lost. When I was in college, I met one of my best friends. We immediately connected. If you were to ask us when we became friends, neither of us could tell you because it’s as though we’ve always been friends. Even so, it wasn’t until we helped each other through difficult breakups or challenging situations that we began to cement our relationship. If one of us walked into the apartment and found the other one crying, there wasn’t a rush to hide it and pretend everything was ok. We talked about it. We cried together. We were there for each other. Today, we live in different states. We don’t talk as much as we used to and our lives are busy. But when we do talk, or we do see each other, it’s like we were never apart. That is what being vulnerable does.
Fear of vulnerability affects our willingness to try new things and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations where there is a possibility, maybe even a probability, of failure. When we are only living within our personal realm of comfort, never trying to develop a new skill or share an idea, we aren’t growing. How can we, when our fear of what others will think or say or do paralyzes us? I had a relationship professor in college (lots of college examples today!) who taught us that if what you are currently doing in a situation isn’t working, do something different. And not just a little different. A lot different. Something that makes you feel a little uncomfortable. Something that stretches you beyond your limits. Something that if you weren’t afraid of failing, you would try in a heartbeat. I’ll bet that if you stop and think for a moment, you can think of something that you’ve always wanted to do or try, but haven’t, because of fear. I’m not talking about skydiving when you are afraid of heights, or touching a snake when just the thought of them makes you shiver. I’m talking about taking a cooking class when you don’t have a clue how to cook. Going to a neighborhood playgroup when you don’t know if any of your friends will be there to talk to. Signing up for piano lessons when you feel silly that you’d be playing songs that a 5 year old knows.
|A picture from my senior year of high school|
I recently started taking a dance technique class from a friend of mine with some other moms in the neighborhood. I took dance lessons many years ago, but after graduating from high school, then college, then having kids, it was a passion of mine that got put on the back burner. Since we got married, my husband, knowing that I danced before we met, has asked me again and again to dance for him. And he’s not even talking something sexy. He just wants to see me doing something that I’ve told him that I love. But I’ve always come up with some excuse: “Well, I’m not very good anymore.” “There isn’t enough room here.” “I don’t have my dance shoes.” The other day, a song that I had recently learned a short routine to came on the radio. My daughter was the only one in the room and she was eating so I didn’t think she’d even notice when I started dancing. By the time I finished, she was clapping and saying, “Good job, Mom! You are a good dancer!” Then she proceeded to tell my husband that I had just done a dance and he says to me, “Oh sure, you’ll dance in front of her, but not me. (he’s smiling) I want to see it.” Here is my sweet husband asking me, yet again, to be vulnerable. To show him something that I love and I’m not as good at as I used to be. After a weak, “There’s not enough room” excuse, I find the song and do the dance for him. Then I did it again. And you know what? He didn’t care that it wasn’t perfect. He only cared that I had shown him a little part of myself that I’d kept hidden because I was letting my fear of being vulnerable stop me.
Be strong. Be vulnerable. They aren’t conflicting qualities. Yes. Being vulnerable is scary. It’s uncomfortable. It’s doesn’t come easy. It’s something that I have to remind myself of daily, sometimes out loud. Sometimes it comes from my husband or my kids. Other times, it’s a friend who tells me that I can do it because they’ll do it with me. It’s ok to try. It’s ok to fail. It’s how we grow and learn and live.