I double-checked the meaning of “vulnerability” before I started writing this post to confirm that it means “the state of being vulnerable or exposed.” I don’t particularly like the sound of that, nor did I enjoy scrolling through all of the other variations on the word that kept mentioning “weakness,” “ability to be attacked,” and other phrases of that ilk. But my question lies on the other side of this word: If we are not vulnerable or don’t like feeling vulnerable, then does that mean that most of the time we are guarded?
When I look back on the relationships of mine and my friends that didn’t work out (as in, didn’t end in marriage or other variation of lifetime partnership), I know we could create a long laundry list of why things didn’t work out. But if we had to hone that list down to one reason, I would argue that ultimately one or both persons wasn’t ready to be — or couldn’t be, because of whatever life circumstances surrounded him/her — fully vulnerable to the other. Fully exposed, in body, mind, and spirit. That is a daunting idea, in my book, except when I am with my Husband, and even then it can be hard to be transparent all the time. He has seen me at my very best, at my very worst, and at every other emotion or state of mind between those extremes. And yet… I’m not always good at telling him how grateful I am for all the little ways he takes care of me. I don’t always explain very well about why I need my alone time or quiet time at the end of the day. Luckily for me, he reads me like a book 99.9% of the time, even when I say nothing at all. When we did our marriage preparation and took a personality inventory, part of that process involved taking the test a second time and answering questions as if we were our partner. Guess who nailed almost every single one of my answers?
I’m not convinced that we can have meaningful relationships if we aren’t willing to be vulnerable and allow people to see our human sides.
Today we had a staff meeting that was intended to be a time to be together. No hardcore agenda, no announcements. Eat, drink, and be merry was the goal. I was floored to see a few people somehow manage to not smile or laugh or relax for the entire hour. How is that possible? As someone who participated in the planning process, I initially felt selfishly offended. That slowly melted away to pure awe at how much energy it takes to maintain such a carefully guarded facade. Then I started to be curious: What would I find behind such an ominous guard? Someone with an incredible sense of humor? Maybe a brilliant educator? A musician? I may never know.
While I think it is inane to pretend that we are all going to be best friends with every person we meet, I do sort of live for the moment when people drop their guards and let me in. I want to connect with other people; I want to figure out what we have in common. (Clearly I’m not alone in that desire, because how else can we explain the phenomenon of social media? It makes us feel like we are not isolated islands on the planet.) Especially right now, as Husband and I are trying to be part of this community, I’m hungry for “real” connections. I feel vulnerable every day here, but not necessarily in a bad way. If I allow myself to embrace that feeling, it gives a green light to others around me that they can go ahead and be a little bit vulnerable too. We as humans were built to connect to each other and make meaning of our Purpose here. It is through a reflection from others that we recognize ourselves, and I can’t know what is truly there unless it gets exposed.
Maybe “vulnerable” shouldn’t have such negative connotations after all. Maybe it’s only a sort of code word for being authentically ourselves.