Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Practising vulnerability

    Over the last several years of unannounced disappearances, friend-zoning, and dozens of iterations of “I like you, but I’m not ready for anything right now,” I had no relationship to show for the extra night shifts of vulnerability I invested. The trend of men using my openness as a platform to rebuild their confidence and gain knowledge about the types women they really wanted left me, and continues to leave me, empty.
    --Tia Joy Davis, Why Girls Like Me Ask For Intentions Up Front

After listening to Brene Brown's talks, every time I start a conversation with a new guy on OkCupid, I'm very aware that I'm practising vulnerability. The only question is the extent to which I choose to be vulnerable.

This is a calculated risk which I manage intuitively. Some depends on the extent to which the other person is open with me, some depends on how safe I feel telling him stuff (based on how he has responded so far and how I think he might respond), and some depends on how much I believe I might gain by doing so: no guts, no glory, as I like to put it. But whatever it is, it is my choice, and you should never blame others for a choice you made. I choose how vulnerable I want to be, and I have to live with that choice and its consequences.

I see three types, or perhaps three layers of vulnerability: one is when you choose to explain yourself, i.e. when you delve beneath the surface and allow another to see the motivations, reasons, and intentions behind your actions, when you reveal your thought processes and perspectives and opinions. Another is when you choose to speak of matters which are important to you or close to your heart, such as hopes and dreams, cherished memories, experiences which have shaped you, deep needs and desires. The final one is is when you choose to share the difficult, and often hidden, areas of life: your pain and sorrow, your struggles, your failures, your regrets, your weaknesses, your doubts and fears.

For me, vulnerability is always a challenge since I want to stay safe. I want to be sure that the person I'm trusting with more of myself will cherish that gift, that insight I'm affording them into the inner workings of my heart and mind, my very identity. So, to use a metaphor, I first lift up just a tiny corner of the blanket and give them a small glimpse of what lies beneath. If they respond with acceptance, kindness, and empathy, I eventually uncover more and more.

All this is not a conscious act, you must understand. I do it intuitively, and have so far not regretted my choices, ever. The only time I have been thrown off is when I allowed my assumptions or expectations to silence my intuition. Like, when I thought that due to the nature of our relationship, close family members would automatically be able to handle the information and accept this gift of being allowed to see into me. But no, being related by blood has no bearing on a person's capacity to respond to you with acceptance, kindness, or empathy. Lesson learnt.

And it was a painful lesson. It's always painful when the person you are vulnerable with doesn't respect the privilege you are extending to share your life, your very self with them. The greater the pain, the more tempting it has been to retreat and build high protective walls instead of practising vulnerability. But here is where the conscious decision comes in -- I have chosen instead to be very, very careful. I couldn't live behind walls... I would wither from the lack of nourishing human, soul-to-soul contact. So I keep trying, because the rewards are worth the risk.

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