After last week’s post, Why I Choose Not to Play “The Games” in Dating, I was asked to write about the practical application of vulnerability in relationships. Up to this point, I’ve mentioned the word vulnerability quite a bit but have not taken a deep dive into what it actually looks like in relationships.
If you read last week’s post, you know that I was the furthest thing from vulnerable years ago. In fact, I was on an aggressive campaign to ensure there wasn’t even a hint of vulnerability in my life. So, if you’re afraid of being vulnerable or don’t know how, don’t worry–You’re in good hands!
If you’re a little fuzzy about exactly what vulnerability is, make sure you check out How Vulnerability Got Such A Bad Rap. In that post, I explain what vulnerability is and why there tends to be so much resistance to it.
Vulnerability Has To Start Somewhere
Now to take a look at what it actually looks like in a relationship. I remember the very first time I decided to explore this thing called vulnerability. I tested it out with a guy we’ll call Charles for sake of this post. About a week after meeting Charles, I told him that I really liked him and was enjoying spending time with him. Obviously, I was taking a risk in doing this because my feelings may not have been reciprocated. Because I started liking Charles rather quickly, it scared me, but I decided to go with it. I expressed to him while my feelings were becoming intense, I still wanted us to take our time getting to know one another. Before we move on, let me break down the components of said vulnerable exchange.
- Tending to Here and Now – Honor what you are feeling by sharing it with the person. By telling Charles I liked him and that those feelings were becoming intense, I was freeing myself to be fully in that moment, and I was allowing Charles to know where I was in his regard.
- Clearly Expressing Intentions – Just because you like someone and your feelings are growing for that person doesn’t mean you skip the process of getting to know them. This is where perspective and discipline comes in. Because while you are fully free to enjoy them and bask in the giddiness of butterflies in your tummy, this must be balanced with logic. Don’t be afraid to be optimistic or to speak in future terms. By sharing with Charles, I wanted us to take our time getting to know one another, I was letting him know I was all in and already thinking about the bigger picture. My goal however, was to be intentional in this process.
- Openness to Elements Outside Realm of Control – This is the part that really scares people. The thing about being vulnerable is this sense that you are exposed and out of control. And you are, for all intents and purposes. What you’re feeling may or may not be reciprocated, but your expressions of these feelings can’t be predicated on a reciprocal exchange. As unnerving as this is, there is no way around it. The outcome of being vulnerable is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
This exchange between Charles and I generated dialogue where we discussed important things like core values and future plans. I also noticed there was no striving on either of our part to impress one another. Us deciding to be vulnerable broke down the facades and ego and helped us to get straight to the chase.
Honestly, this was such a pleasant experience, I knew I could never go back to doing relationships the way I had in the past. While Charles and I ultimately didn’t work out, I hardly felt slighted because I’d gained something incredibly invaluable in the process.
Vulnerability Breeds Honest and Enriching Exchanges
As I get to know a guy now, I am able to be vulnerable from the gate. This means I’m able to expose what I’m feeling and have hard conversations. I talk about my challenges in relationships because of being a sexual trauma survivor. I candidly express the ways in which I will likely fail in our relationship due to my persisting triggers or frankly because I just cannot seem to get out of my own way. I ask pointed questions about the way they rationalize certain things and how they exist in other relationships. I challenge them on ineffective ways in which they may be approaching things with me.
If I’m feeling slighted, ignored, or neglected, I say so. I actually sent a message to a guy recently that said, “I’m feeling neglected.” Later on that day, we discussed why I was feeling this way. He was able to share with me what was going on on his end. I admitted that being in that space reminds me of when I used to play games, so if I’m feeling neglected, I automatically assume games are being played on me. We worked together to come up with a solution. Our discussion allowed us both to own our part. This however was an extremely vulnerable conversation. I felt exposed and uncomfortable, but the need to express what I was feeling was greater.
Vulnerability Starves Game Playing
For those of us accustomed to either playing games or having games played on us, being vulnerable is completely contrary to this experience. Things that you would never say in a situation where you don’t want to act pressed, you take the risk and say. For instance, let’s say you have a strong desire to see the person you’re getting to know everyday. Say it! Or, how about this one…if they haven’t called or text messaged you…take the initiative and reach out. And not with a “hey” text. Because we all know that’s universal text language for playing it safe. Call them. If they don’t answer, send a text saying: “Hey Mark, I was just thinking about you. Wanted to hear your voice. Give me a call back when you get a chance.” Guess what? They may not respond immediately or…at all, but that’s not on you. You can take pride in the fact that you are living fully in your truth.
I’ve had plenty of exchanges that weren’t reciprocal. I no longer concern myself with that as long as I’m being authentic. None of us like to feel like we’re being played. And that’s understandable. Beyond being extremely discerning with regard to who we allow in our fold, the only other thing we can do is be real.
Vulnerability in Confrontation
In relationships often times we don’t like to rock the boat if things are going somewhat well. We’d rather stomach subtle tension as opposed to addressing underlying issues. I always hear people saying, “I hate confrontation.” What I’ve found is, it’s not the confrontation in and/of itself that scares people. It’s the unpredictable outcome and the threat of disturbing their status quo, that terrifies them. Effective confrontation requires vulnerability. And I’ve said this a million times, conflict done well breeds deeper intimacy in any relationship. That’s not to say you won’t experience discomfort or hurt feelings, it just means you’re open to experiencing this as a means to arriving at higher ground.
Vulnerability Is Gangsta
Listen, y’all know I’m a vulnerability junkie now. For every uncomfortable or nerve wrecking moment, there are dozens more that are SIMPLY amazing. Here’s the secret…vulnerability begets vulnerability. Our ability to be vulnerable frees others to do the same. I’ve seen this many times over. Test it. I’m going to leave you with a few tips. Here are 3 things you can start doing today to enjoy more enriching interactions in dating and relationships:
- Kill Your Ego – Your ego will prevent you from having the relationship you dream of. Be vulnerable. Be transparent. Be open. Be free.
- Call The Other Person to the Carpet – Tell the person you’re getting to know or in a relationship with what is working for you versus what’s not. Don’t simply go along with things for sake of going along. Have a discussion about things that make you feel uncomfortable or things they could do more of to make you feel loved.
- Live in here and now – If you like the person, don’t withhold that. TELL them. If you’re falling in love with them, it doesn’t make you weak to say it first. TELL them. If you’re feeling played, don’t withdraw. TELL them. If you’ve been stalking them on Instagram for the last hour. TELL them. Y’all can joke about it together. If you want to see them exclusively and want to make sure they’re on the same page. TELL them. You get it. Be real and have fun!