That Pesky (and Always Excruciating) Vulnerability


I used to think I had a vulnerability problem with letting people know and claim me. Maybe I did or maybe I didn’t, but I’ve found myself fearing vulnerability a little bit differently lately.

I haven’t yet gotten over some of the roommate conflicts that have occurred in the past. It’s not that I’m mad, or even was mad when it was all going down – I sort felt outside of the conflict because I wasn’t mad or disappointed. I was just living my life. But I really struggled with the thought that a person I care for can have expectations that I don’t meet, and I may not even realize I’m not meeting those expectations until after I’ve already hurt or disappointed or angered the other person.

I, personally, don’t mind getting hurt. I used to be afraid of it, but I’ve done it enough times now that I am confident in my own resilience. I’m confident that getting hurt won’t keep me from knowing and loving God. It won’t keep me from letting folks know me for real or from trying to achieve the unachievable. It’s different when other people’s hearts start getting involved, though.

That’s one of the vulnerabilities in dating with which I’m currently struggling.

What if he falls in love and I don’t?

What if we both fall in love, but I need tons of alone time to write and think and walk? What if his expectation is that we talk and spend more time together than I expect or want to give?

What if he buys me a fancy necklace and I break up with him a month later?

What if he wants me to change and I don’t believe I should?

My cousin once said that he admires my individuality/do-my-own-thing-ness and roommate Kendra recently said the same thing. I want and choose to be the type of person who makes the best decision rather than the most common one or the one other people think I should make. I’m rarely concerned about how people in general view my actions, so long as they reflect what I believe I ought to do. There are folks who I go to for advice and I listen to them… I sometimes even trust their ideas over my own when I believe they know better than I do what the best choice is. I don’t worry about what I did yesterday or how yesterday might lead to ______ today. I don’t believe in being pot-committed (poker). I, like Emerson, believe in saying and doing what today thinks in harsh boldness, then saying and doing what tomorrow thinks in equally harsh boldness, though it contradict everything I said and did today.

That’s what makes me nervous about relationships right now.

In some ways, I’m really predictable. I show up on time unless I believe everyone else will be late… and I instead show up when I think others will show up. I study and think – about God, books, and anything that strikes my fancy.

However, my unpredictability has the potential to hurt others. I sometimes need other people a lot. This week alone, I’m scheduled to spend time with probably something like 50 different people, but other weeks, I hardly talk to anyone. And I’m fine with that. It works for me. It keeps me from having to be an introvert or an extrovert, because I don’t like being either on a consistent basis.

But that could drive another person crazy.

And it could hurt him.

Several friends have suggested that I sabotage relationships out of a need to maintain control over my life. Which I believe is partially true. However, I think it’s equally true that I am afraid to link my life to another person’s life because I might wake up one morning and discover that he’s been disappointed in me for months and I’ve inadvertently hurt his feelings ten times recently. That’s what it’s been like for me to live with other people. Amy, Alix, Shasta… I don’t know how they’d describe what happened, but I know that it felt like I was being accused of betraying them, when I hadn’t even known there was a trust that could be betrayed.

I don’t expect much of people. I usually think people do their best and I trust their patterns and rarely try to change things about them. That comes from arguments when I was a kid in which my father would claim that we were trying to change him and he’d refuse to be changed. That caused me to believe that people don’t owe anything to each other… even in marriage. My father didn’t have to change even though his children or wife needed him to change. He might have it completely within his power to meet a need, but I knew he only did it when it suited him.

I don’t want to be that. I want to change for certain people. I want to meet their needs. I want to trust them to do the same for me. And I think I’m learning to do that, but I look at relationships and it terrifies me that a man I’m with might change for me and meet my needs, only to discover that I’m unwilling or unable to do the same for him.

It’s a reverse vulnerability because I’m afraid of the other person getting hurt. These are just thoughts, and I know it’s impossible to know until I try, so I believe it’s right to try. I haven’t committed to trying for very many people in the past, but today, I vow to give it a try, even though I can’t manage the emotions on either side. Even though I may get my heart broken or break his heart. I say, here’s to trying. 🙂

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