My first “real” romantic relationship failed a few days ago. The split has been painful, and the mourning process has been interesting. The things that I feel now come in waves: anger, hurt, “I don’t need him,” loss, disappointment, heartbreak… And sometimes a wave of peace comes, followed by a moment of clarity. And in that moment of clarity, I’m able to look at the relationship as if I were at the top of a tower, looking down. Everything is distant. Everything appears to be objective and obvious. The emotions disappear. And what’s left is a lesson, a piece of wisdom that Failure drops off on my doorstep. That’s what I want to share in this series. I will be sharing each parcel that Failure has left for me.
On Vulnerability and Intimacy
Deep friendships are formed when two people are vulnerable with each other, when they share things together. Feelings, experiences, fears, hopes and dreams. Draining things, exciting things, scary things. Vulnerability is different for everyone, and it can manifest itself in a variety of ways. It can be admitting that you’re not as strong as you thought you were. It can be celebrating the completion of your novel. It can be sharing your dream to quit your day job and travel South East Asia. It can be crying about your day where you cut yourself shaving, your best friend called you a backstabbing whore, you got stuck in the rain when your car ran out of gas, and the dog ate the steak you left on the counter. It can be finally saying out loud that thing that you’ve been holding in for what seems like an eternity. For some reason, the most powerful moments of vulnerability seem to occur when we’re expressing our fears, doubts, and distant dreams. I don’t know why that is, honestly. But I do know that vulnerability is what creates beautiful, deep, fulfilling friendships.
Vulnerability creates closeness. Vulnerability creates depth. Vulnerability creates energy and momentum. It surges upward and forward. Like a wave, it builds and builds. The more frequently you share, the more intensely you connect, the bigger the wave gets, until it finally breaks. And when the wave breaks, there is intimacy – the surreal, comforting bliss of total acceptance and love. And you ride the wave of intimacy together as it rolls to shore and slowly dissipates into nothingness.
The “honeymoon phase” of every relationship is this initial wave of intimacy. The breaking point is when two people admit their feelings for one another. This is an intense moment of mutual vulnerability, so it’s obvious that it creates the long period of wow-we’re-in-love-this-is-going-to-last-forever-you-have-no-faults feelings. It’s easy to create other waves of intimacy during this phase too that keep up the lovey dovey feelings. There’s momentum, there’s expectation, and there’s trust. But something interesting happens after some time. None of the waves that come after the wow-we-both-like-each-other wave are as big or powerful. You don’t notice at first, but after some time goes by, you start to wonder what happened to “the spark.” You start saying things like, “Well when we first started dating…” and “Remember those first few weeks, how you…?” You get resentful. You lose energy, you lose momentum, you lose trust. The vulnerability becomes a rare or accidental occurrence. And by the time you realize what’s going on, it feels like it’s too late. Maybe it is too late.
And here’s the thing. Vulnerability can’t be forced. It’s something organic, something real, something heavy. It’s often met with Resistance and other times with Rejection, both of whom desperately want to squash vulnerability and block intimacy. It seems impossible then. If you can’t just choose to be vulnerable and make vulnerability happen, and if everything internal is working to keep intimacy at bay, what’s the point? How does it even work?
The truth is… I don’t know. I can only guess now and try out my theories next time. But what is clear to me is that vulnerability is both an overarching state and single moment. Both parties have to choose separately to stay in the state, and while in the state, you create moments of vulnerability. When Resistance rears its head or Rejection knocks on your door, that’s when you know you have an opportunity to be vulnerable. Intimacy is both seasonal and unpredictable. Expectations and desperation can kill it. The best you can do is resolve to be daring, choose to be in that overarching state of vulnerability, follow through with each moment of vulnerability that presents itself, and whenever the wave of intimacy finally breaks – cherish it. Don’t try to cling to it or recreate it. Just be present and enjoy intimacy in each moment that you have it.