Vulnerability has settled into the culture as another word, concept, “thing” that we should all be paying attention to – to ensure we have some of it or enough of it. We have Brené Brown to thank for that. Her excellent TED Talk, The power of vulnerability infiltrated the culture’s soul, and alas, here we are: wondering about vulnerability, hoping for it, trying for it, talking about it, and certainly writing about it.
At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I was concerned with vulnerability before I was introduced to Brown’s work. In fact, one of the first times in my adulthood that I really had to ask some tough questions about it came after I read an article on here in the summer of 2012, The Risky Business Of Love by Donna Patterson. It is probably still my favourite article that has ever been published at Thought Catalog, and is certainly in my top favourites on the Internet ever.
Good writing, great writing, like Patterson’s is both haunting and inspiring. It certainly inspired me to write one of my first truly vulnerable pieces of writing ever, What Happens When You Make Yourself Vulnerable. The irony was unintended, mind you. And since, I have written a few more times on vulnerability and related subjects. So yes, Patterson inspired me. But her words also haunted me. Correction – her words haunt me. The ending of her article and two lines specifically: There are no safe investments, but we invest anyway. Because heartbreak is transient, but regret is eternal. Beautiful. Haunting.
The truth is some people are better at vulnerability than others. It’s a mixture of nature, nurture, experiences, knowledge, wins, losses, choices, circumstances, and everything else that makes us who are. The combination of these things makes vulnerability not necessarily easier, but more accessible, to some over others.
I am not one of those people, and I don’t pretend to be. I readily confess that I “naturally” prefer not to show my weaknesses, seldom openly admit my fears, and would sooner die of pride than confess to being wounded by someone. Of course admitting this, some might say, is an act of vulnerability. Perhaps it is – it’s certainly not something I would have done just a few years ago. Still, I consider myself bad at being vulnerable. Every now and then, I wonder why.
My father thinks it’s because I don’t trust people – even when I care for them deeply. My mother thinks it’s because I grew up up too quickly and learned the world was cruel too early, and haven’t forgotten since. My younger sister think it’s because I am often too consumed by the darkness of life. My older brothers think that I’m simply one of those people who made myself difficult to figure out so that when no one would try, it would become self-fulfilling. My friends think I just haven’t figured out that it’s okay to need other people.
I think they’re all probably right to greater or lesser degrees. But sometimes I think too, to paraphrase Warsan Shire, that I’m a lonely person so I do lonely things. Lonely things like being bad at vulnerability. Now, please don’t pity me for saying that. I have a ton of people who love and care for me – probably more than I deserve. So I’m not lonely in the sense of the word. I just often feel like a lonely person in the world.
There’s something else too about my struggle with vulnerability. Something all of my loved ones are afraid to say to me and have found synonyms, roundabout ways, and less direct phrases to call it. They often put it in a question. And one day, one person was courageous enough to proverbially spit it out: “Don’t you think you’re bad at vulnerability because your love is so intense that you think if you show all of it, it’ll terrify people, and you wonder if it’ll ever be truly reciprocated anyway?” I am not a woman of few words but I didn’t have many that day.
But it seems vulnerability, much like anything else, always comes back to love. So what’s the problem? Love is great, isn’t it? My honest response to that is “Yes, but it also hurts.” See, sometimes love is like my favourite Whitney Houston song, My Love Is Your Love or Leann Rhymes’ I Need You. Sometimes it’s like If I lose my fame and fortune / And I’m homeless on the street / And I’m sleeping in Grand Central Station / It’s okay if you’re sleeping with me. And it’s like I need you like water / Like breath, like rain / I need you like mercy / From Heaven’s gate.
But love is also like The Script’s Breakeven and Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah. It’s like I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing / Just prayed to a God that I don’t believe in. And it’s like But all I’ve ever learned from love / Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya / And it’s not a cry that you hear at night / It’s not somebody who’s seen the light / It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah. The truth about people who are bad at vulnerability isn’t that they’ve experienced more broken hallelujahs than anyone else. It’s that they just haven’t been able to forget them. People who are better at vulnerability, I think, have the gift of forgetfulness. Notice I always say better rather than good. I don’t think anyone is “good” at it, but I do think some people are better than others, and those people tend to be more (thankfully) forgetful.
So what are the rest of us lonely people with elephant-sized memories going to do? I suppose one could go through life simply accepting their lot for what it is. And you know what? I, for one, will not judge you if you close your heart to the rest of the world. (C.S. Lewis might though, and if you don’t get that reference, read Patterson’s piece.) People and love are great; people and love are also disappointing. And sometimes after one too many disappointments, you have to wonder, what’s the point?
But if you possibly, slightly, even just a little bit, think you might be interested in getting better at vulnerability, the point is that you experience less of life when you’re not as vulnerable as you could be. Because the face you present instead of vulnerability is nothing more than a face of fear. And a life lived through fear cannot experience the full depth of love or life.
So take it from a self proclaimed lonely girl who’s bad at vulnerability, even if you’re bad at it too, you still have a choice. And it’s the choice that Patterson gave us in her piece: would you rather know and endure the heartbreak or would you rather not know and live with regret? Every single time I’m afraid, I repeat this over and over again. Most of the time I would rather know, and I think most of us would too. And if you’re worried about the heartbreak, ask yourself: is your heart any less broken right now anyway?