Earning Vulnerability

Excavating and exploring the painful parts of ourselves with self-compassion is needed before we offer our vulnerability to another.

It was a second date. The first one involved coffee and the kind of conversation typical of strangers: What kind of work do you do? Only child or one of many? Cat or dog lover? Do you prefer beaches or mountains? But *Mike, recently divorced with two girls under the age of 10, felt the questions lacking. He hadn’t wanted his twelve-year marriage to end yet felt lonelier in the marriage than on his own. He felt an urgency to get past the seemingly trivial “get to know you” questions and delve into “the stuff” of intimate relationships.

“I was low-hanging fruit. This was my first date out of the divorce gate.”

So, on this date, hungry for affection and connection, Mike didn’t waste any time on the second date. Before their appetizers arrived, he told her…well everything but the kitchen sink: his low testosterone level, the frequent verbal put downs he experienced from his ex in their marriage, his belief that his ex-wife treated their daughters like pawns to “get at him.” 

“I thought our date went well. I gave her a respectful kiss on the cheek and a hug. But she’s not returning any of my texts, and her phone goes right to voicemail when I call.”

Poor Mike. 

“I don’t understand. I thought women like it when a man is vulnerable. Did I scare her off? Am I supposed to act like some Alpha male? What do women want?”

There’s a famous quote by the late and great author, Dr. Wayne Dyer:

“You do not attract what you want. You attract what you are.”

Vulnerability has two sides: the willingness to look within and the willingness to be seen or known by another. Both involve risk. To look within, to possess the courage to self-reflect and look unflinchingly at our beliefs opens us up to potential emotional pain. Getting “real” with ourselves is no journey for the faint-hearted. 

Mike knows the surface facts of his recent past. He’s:

  • A recently divorced father of two young girls
  • He was married for 12 years.
  • The divorce was not mutual.

The remainder of his story is highly subjective and requires Mike to excavate the cracks in his (currently) unsteady foundation. For example: Was Mike’s ex abusive or is that a story Mike tells himself? If Mike’s wife was abusive, what brought him to experience an abusive relationship, and why was he against divorcing someone who abused him?

 Before Mike can experience vulnerability with another potential romantic partner, he needs to be vulnerable with himself. When we look under the figurative hood of our own life, when we are willing to see the parts of ourselves that aren’t so shiny, something changes from the inside out: we discover our self-worth, we remember that we matter and can distinguish between wanting a romantic partner and clinging to someone just to have a someone. When we explore the slings and arrows of our past with a willingness to see it in the broad daylight of self-reflection and compassion, we aren’t so quick to be vulnerable with others. After our soul’s journey into the wilderness of vulnerability (thank you, Brene Brown:-) our perspective has altered: a potential romantic partner needs to earn our vulnerability. Vulnerability is no longer a by-product of low self-esteem; vulnerability is now an invaluable gift to share with the right person on YOUR timeline.

   *Mike, in his desperation for affection and loneliness, attracted what he was: the absence of a potential partner and a greater sense of loneliness. This pattern of women leaving him is likely to continue, so long as he continues to perceive himself as “low-hanging fruit.” 

    Vulnerability is both a gift and a wound. When we are willing to go within and explore our wounds with an open and compassionate heart, we receive the greatest gift: self-love.

*Name has been altered to protect the privacy of the individual.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

There’s a disconnect between what retail glorifies as romance and what romance truly is.

            Valentine’s Day. A time hallowed by Hallmark (the TV channel included), teeming with jewelry commercials, and stores littered with giant pink hearts and boxes of chocolate. Retail stores ply our senses with confectionary romance. 

All that pink can start to look like Pepto Bismol (or make you feel like you need some to quell the nausea from the retail overload).

There’s nothing wrong with the romantic holiday arriving each 2nd week of February. The tricky part comes when we lose sight of the why behind romantic gestures. According to author Kelly Gonsalves:

“Being romantic is about expressing love and dedication in a way that’s intentional, unmistakable, and deeply affectionate.”

The Hallmark Channel and Kay Jewelers offer the image of romance, all shiny and with a figurative (and often literal) bow on top. But a woman could receive a sparkly jewel and not feel an ounce of romance; she could watch flick after flick of cheesy Hallmark movies about “love” but not experience anything more than the gas she incurs eating too many bowls of popcorn.

Our retail-centered modern world offers ways to say you matter to me. But it’s the why behind those acts that make all the difference. When there’s genuine connection, romance can be found in a thoughtful gesture—something as simple as bringing your loved one a coffee made just the way he likes it. When there’s reciprocal authenticity, romance is no longer an annual event cranked out by American Greetings, it’s a regular occurrence.

But what if I’m single? You may be asking. Romance can occur regularly for a party of one. Take yourself for a manicure. Treat yourself to a good book or a massage. Go for a scenic bike ride. Remember: the most important relationship you will ever have is the one with yourself. And just like a relationship with someone else, even the small gestures can pack a significant punch.

Tina Turner’s famous hit, What’s Love Got to Do with It? is ostensibly about a girl telling herself that the boy she likes is only interested in him physically. Yet at the closing chorus, the lyrics speak a different story:

I’ve been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I’ve been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way

What is the girl in the song scared of? What is she trying to protect and why? To love means to experience vulnerability, to accept vulnerability as a way of life, to cozy up to it and break bread with it, to look our fear directly in the eyes, knowing you might get your heart broken. The Hallmark movies, the Jared jewelry commercials—these are fairytale ideas that have nothing to do with watching a loved one go through chemotherapy or losing someone in a car accident. Love takes guts; love means you’re in the ring, knowing there are no guarantees.

What’s love got to do with it? In my opinion, everything. 

Source: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-be-romantic