I think it’s human nature to think of vulnerability as a negative thing – it triggers mental images of being weak, exposed, at risk. But there are times when vulnerability is paramount to the human experience, and enriches our relationships immensely. There are also times when we need to choose to be vulnerable, when it might not come naturally to us but we have to do it anyway. It’s about being voluntarily vulnerable.
I know as a fairly independent, career-oriented woman, vulnerability always had negative connotations for me too. I took pride in being ‘strong’, ‘independent’ and ‘fine on my own (thank you very much)’. But guess what, there I was at 38 still single, and craving marriage and a family of my own. It seemed elusive.
I first heard the term “voluntarily vulnerable” through work I did with PAX Programs. What I loved about their workshops is that they would always have panels of men come in at the end to answer questions from the group and give their perspective to the group. They found through their discussions with many men over the years, that what men wanted was a woman who was “voluntarily vulnerable”. What that meant is that men were fine with strong, independent, career-oriented women, so long as they could still be vulnerable with them – trusting them, sharing their heart and soul with them, taking the risk of being exposed and vulnerable, and being ok with it.
This was such a great concept for me to grasp. I always thought the two things were pretty much mutually exclusive. And I never knew exactly what men wanted – are strong women ok? Or are they threatening? Are they ok for some men and not others? It all seemed really confusing.
Being voluntarily vulnerable is not always easy. It often has to be a choice, but I was very conscious of it when I met Dave and think I did pretty well!! I do have to remind myself to keep choosing it, and to not bottle things up or withdraw into the isolation of hyper-independence. To be honest, I’d say that the recognition and awareness of voluntary vulnerability was a large part in the success of my relationship with Dave, and now here we are, happily married with a beautiful daughter – everything that I had wanted.
I also find that I am conscious of voluntary vulnerability with Valentina, and it applies equally with her. This morning I was getting her ready for school. She wanted to wear her best pink party dress, and there’s no way I wanted paint all over that. Then she didn’t want to get dressed or have her diaper changed, so I went to pick her up to do it and she went all wet-noodle toddler on me, slumping on the floor. I lost my patience and got irritated with her, which I’m not proud of, but there it is. I raised my voice a bit – not yelling, but clearly frustrated. It wasn’t my best mummy moment. But instead of just brushing it off and moving on, I asked for her attention, and told her that I got frustrated and snapped at her, and that I was sorry and that that wasn’t the way I wanted to be with her. I told her that I loved her and that I would try not to snap at her again. I got vulnerable with her, admitting my imperfect parenting, and my humanness, and asked her forgiveness. The sweet little bunny took my face in her hands and kissed my nose, then trotted off happily to get dressed. I feel like it re-set us, lightened the moment, and cleared the air. I had to choose to do that though, rather than just keeping up the “I’m right, she needs to wear what I tell her and let me get her ready” attitude that could just as easily have dominated. Yes, even though she’s only two, I chose to be vulnerable with her.
I think being vulnerable with someone is really giving them a gift. It shows them that we trust them with our true selves and our hearts; it makes them feel special, and wanted, and relied upon. Obviously, we choose who we give that too and don’t expose ourselves to just anyone. But I have learned, that if we do that with no one, we stay isolated, alone. “Safe” perhaps, or so it seems, but alone.
I love Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability – she has done a couple of great TED Talks on it. They’re entertaining and funny, but filled with so many truths. For me she is an inspiration in this area.
There are things that I’ve written about in this blog, too, that made me feel vulnerable … sharing our journey in fertility for one, makes me feel very much that way. I have chosen to do it, however, and feel that much more authentic for doing so.
Do you have relationships where choosing to be vulnerable would deepen your connection and enrich the bond? Is fear holding you back? I would encourage you to ponder on it and see if that is getting in the way. I took the leap and chose voluntary vulnerability and ended up married within a year! And you know what, it just wasn’t that scary after all!