The knowing, the exchange: we are human. I love us.
A few weeks ago I was talking with a dear friend about vulnerability and they were puzzled by my desire to live vulnerably. I was immediately puzzled by their puzzling. I hadn’t considered the costs and benefits of vulnerability for a long time. My first introduction to the whole concept was at least five years ago, when I was introduced to Brene’ Brown’s Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability.” Apparently, the idea of vulnerability to my friend, was to be open to the hurt and pain of attack. Brene’ says, “Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow – that’s vulnerability.”
I like to think of vulnerability in relation to boundaries. I picture two farmers with fields adjoining. The fence in-between is the boundary marking this piece of land belongs to me, and that piece of land belongs to you. Vulnerability, however, is the decision I get to make of going over to the locked gate in-between my property and yours, unlocking it and inviting you to do the same and come in with me. This opening, this invitation, means you get to see my crop, it means you can walk around or in my field freely. This opens to the risk you may unintentionally or intentionally trample some of my harvest, AND this opens to opportunity to learn from you how to be a better farmer, learn to share my wealth of harvest, and have a conversation around what works for me, what works for you, and how can we be better neighbours, better friends, better lovers. It also means that if you’ve decided to come into my field, you are one step closer to inviting me into yours. One permissions the other, and empowers freedom of choice within each other. Because at this point of vulnerability I have the option to evaluate the effect of relations with you, the effect you’re making in my field, and decide if it’s beneficial or unhelpful. Then comes in boundaries. I get to communicate I’d rather you walk around the edge of my field, or I can extend and hand and walk with you through my crop, or simply lock you out again to begin the process of building trust.
Vulnerability is a risk, it’s an opening to the possibility of something beautiful and unknown, something intimate and powerful. I believe this is as Brene’ says “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Vulnerability is building the muscle of knowing I am loved despite another persons actions whether perceived as kindly or hateful.
The most powerful experiences I’ve had in my education of vulnerability have been to acknowledge and communicate my love for someone who does not, cannot, or are unable to feel the same way in return. Both platonic and romantic expressions of my love in various relationships over the past eight years have taught me that although the other person may not be able to respond the way I hope, I have more than enough love, I am loved more than enough, to continue to extend the invitation of vulnerability with those I care for- even myself. Because, of course, I had to start being vulnerable with myself first in order to extend and share myself with another. Otherwise, it would be a facade, a farce, a field of weeds that look like a bountiful harvest. In that case, sooner or later the person allowed into my field would get the opportunity to call me out, and up higher to truth; real fruit, real love.
Can you try too? Perhaps, you don’t know how, and that’s ok. I didn’t either, and, let’s be real, sometimes I still don’t. And it’s ok. It doesn’t have to look one way or another, or be judged as good or bad, right or wrong. We get to keep trying, keep being honest with ourselves and other people. Maybe the first step is simply saying, ‘I don’t know how to do this, or what to do… will you help me?” However the other responds is up to them. Regardless, you have given yourself a gift. The gift of hope that love and relationship can look different than our past experiences have modelled for us.