I was reading an author recently who tied intimacy and vulnerability together. She said that “to receive the former, I must freely and willingly express the latter.” Wait? You want me to actually make the choice to be vulnerable? Haven’t we always been told to be strong?
I think that if the author’s words are met with resistance, it is because we have turned vulnerability into a sign of weakness. But if I think about the idea of vulnerability more carefully, what I soon realize is that to be vulnerable takes a decent amount of courage. So it follows that vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness; it is, indeed, brave.
In a post I made two years ago, I referenced Theologian William Shedd who said, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” Applied to our hearts, we can make the same argument. Certainly, our hearts are safer when they are kept secret. There’s no hazard to our ego or our emotions if we keep our frayed edges, secrets, fears, and affections tucked neatly inside our chests. But there is also no real chance at connection. I, for one, believe that each of us has a true capacity to give and receive love. But to make that deep connection with someone, we must be vulnerable.
All that said, I also believe that a large number of people have chosen to simply “settle.” What I mean is that they have chosen to be (or stay) in relationships that are comfortable. Maybe they’ve been hurt deeply in the past by a lover or friend. Maybe the world has taken too many punches that felt undeserved. Maybe they are just tired. Whatever the reason, these “comfortable” relationships are easy. And of course they are. If no one is looking into the crux of who you are or diving deep into your motivations, fears, longings and desires, it’s pretty easy to be superficially happy. One can just go day to day with a companion who provides company and to some extent stability. Shared experiences and history are what sustain these relationships (instead of intimacy and passion). And I guess if that’s all you need, that’s ok. I wonder, though, if people in these kinds of relationships ever feel truly alive.
I worry about us – as a community of people. In our efforts to protect ourselves from hurt, to avoid conflict, or to get through continually challenging times, how often do we decide to just “settle”? I know that life happens – good or bad – it happens. But in our efforts to be strong, to be protected, are we closing down our willingness to be vulnerable? And in that, are we also blocking out the possibility to know true love, intimacy, and connection with another person? While vulnerability can be terrifying, what is more frightening is the idea of wanting something that feels important, to have a deep desire for something more, but never being able to drop guard to let it in. The greatest regrets, I believe, come from the times when we had the chance to assume a vulnerable position and didn’t. Contrarily, greatest joy comes when a vulnerable heart opens to another who says, “I see you. I know you. And I love you.”