Vulnerability isn’t for Suckers, Fear is

I hate vulnerability. The thought of it literally makes we want to upchuck the shrimp salad I just had for lunch and lock myself in my room until I run out of La Croix and potato chips and therefore have to resurface for sustenance. The idea of allowing someone to see the parts of me I’m not exactly comfortable with or proud of, and then possibly reject me, is absolutely terrifying. 

And in all my dating experience I still tend to avoid it like a bad case of Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease. 

You see if we’re being honest, and therefore vulnerable (excuse me while I gag), I’ve never dated someone who I’ve really liked. Instead, I have this habit of coupling up with guys whom I’m luke-warm about, but whom I perceive to have the hots for me. Now attraction is in the eye of the beholder, so that’s not to say all the men I’ve been with have been horrendous. I’ve dated some intelligent, driven, funny, men (although some of them have been real twats⁠—you know who you are). Yet, all of the relationships, situationships, and flings I’ve had throughout my teens and early twenties have been with men who some would consider a catch. That ‘some’ just never included me. Putting these thoughts to paper makes me feel like an absolute ass, but this article is about vulnerability and so I’m just going to lay it all out there. 

Some of you probably think I’m a real whack job. I mean, who the hell dates people that they don’t like? Isn’t the whole point of dating to foster a connection with someone you’re actually attracted to? If we’re operating on a purely logical level, then yes, all these things would be true. However, humans are complex, contradictory, emotional beings. And, as a painfully insecure 21-year-old woman whose been burned before, I’m hungry for validation and I’m petrified at the idea of getting hurt. 

This sense of screwy logic has ruled my dating life for the past couple of years, and it may have taken me a while, but I’ve recently come to accept that attraction cannot be manufactured and it has to be a two-way street. I’ve tried to force it and fake it, and honestly, I do a decent job of convincing myself and the other party. But if it’s not authentic and mutual, things will eventually crumble. 

And guess what? When you’re with someone because you’re looking to be loved rather than to love, their rejection feels like a kettlebell to the gut. The person who was supposed to be low-risk was never really low-risk after all; when you let someone else’s perception of you dictate your self-worth, the stakes become incredibly high. 

As luck would have it, I recently met someone. I met a man who is kind, and witty, and sexy, and as I got to know him, I came to realize my feelings for him were more than just friendly. I enjoyed spending time with him fully clothed, but I also couldn’t help but feel something when he kissed me. In other words: he petrified me. Vulnerability was not the enemy here. Fear was. Fear is what prohibits connections, prohibits growth, prohibits the possibility of something absolutely wonderful happening.  So, I decided that I would go for it. I would ride it out, I would allow myself to be myself, I would do the unthinkable: I would be vulnerable.

But alas, the universe rarely gives you want you want when you want it.  Two days after a movie night makeout fueled by lust and two buck chuck, he informed me that he was sorry, but that he was seeing someone else. He said that they weren’t exclusive but it seemed to be heading in that direction. He said that he wanted to be transparent, he didn’t want to hurt me, he really wanted to remain friends if I was willing.  

At first, I cried. In fact, I cried behind the information desk at the library while my friend worked the afternoon shift and handed me tissues while I silently sniffled. 

Then I was angry. I was the type of angry where you slam down your soup bowl in the dining hall because it was not what he did, it was the fact that he knew all the ways men had wronged you in the past, and he did it anyway. It was how he had claimed to be different, and the fact that you had believed him. It was the fact that you are just so sick and tired of your emotions being collateral damage.

However, anger is exhausting and is oftentimes unproductive. Anger is an emotion that needs to be felt, but also needs to be unpacked. While I thought I was pissed, I was actually disappointed and feeling all the uncomfortable emotions that come with rejection. 

So on a Tuesday in Seal Court, we talked about it.  I’m kicking myself for this now, but on that day, I was not vulnerable in the ways that he deserved. If you feel that I don’t owe this boy anything, keep reading. 

You see, he didn’t try to defend himself. He listened to everything I had to say, he admitted some of his deepest darkest insecurities to me, and even if I didn’t want to believe it, I knew he was being genuine. 

He gave me the perfect apology, and while I did express my frustration and my hurt to him, we ended the conversation under the joint impression that we were going to move on. However, I don’t know if I can. 

For the longest time, I thought vulnerability was feeling exposed in a way that leaves you powerless. However, that’s not the case. Vulnerability is being honest even when it’s not necessarily something the other person wants to hear. Vulnerability is being authentic to your wants and needs even if they don’t align with another person’s. Vulnerability is unapologetically speaking your truth. And on that afternoon I failed. While I said I can move on, I’m not sure that’s true. Because even though I want to forgive, I know that I’m not there yet, and I’m not sure we could ever go back to how things were.  

When I told this man that I was going to write about him, I wasn’t sure what that was going to look like. I thought a couple weeks from now I’d write a piece about forgiveness and how good people do bad things and how making peace with others’ wrongdoings will set us free. And maybe I will write that piece down the line— who knows? 

But for right now, I do owe him a dose of vulnerability, so I will leave him with this: N*, I know you are kind, and gentle, and warm, and probably one of the best listeners that I know. You are a wonderful person who did a not-so-wonderful thing, and the only thing that makes you is human. Someone very wise once told me that forgiving a person involves separating them from the other people who have wronged you and treating them as an individual. N, I know you’re sorry. While I can’t guarantee I can whole-heartedly forgive you, I want you to know that I’m really going to try. 

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the individual 


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