Vulnerable. Even the word itself evokes feelings of fear, helplessness, and a longing for the protection of a warm blanket. Vulnerability is an unguarded treasure, open to the plundering of emotional pirates who build themselves on the suffering of others. It reminds us of memories deliberately ignored and of the stone walls and cannons we built to ensure the pirates could never strike again. The sacred pact you made with a best friend to cut your bangs that she honored by laughing at your misplaced trust; the morning you woke up plagued by confusion and regret in a stranger’s bed. The night before a group project was due when you picked up the slack and put the team on your back; the confidant you came out to who painted a figurative billboard to tell the world. These experiences of pain and embarrassment populate our understanding of vulnerability but they cloud its value. Vulnerability is not something to hide or protect, it’s to be embraced as essential for deeply connecting with the world.
Think of your closest friend. Recall the greatest conversation you’ve ever had, and wonder what makes late-night intoxicated conversations so satisfying. What creates the powerful love you have for your significant other or your family? Vulnerability, for all of the pain it causes, is what enables us to experience the greatest joys in life. The closest relationships between friends are not based on a set of congruent interests or complementary personalities, they’re based on a mutual expression of vulnerability and the trust that’s built from its acceptance. Boyfriends and girlfriends, brothers and mothers – they’re the people you go to after failures and rejections, the people who either pick you up after a fall or kick you while you’re down. Our relationships with our family are often the most extreme in love and hate because they’ve had our entire lifetimes to accept or reject our vulnerabilities. The quality of a conversation, similarly, is the direct product of the vulnerability entered in. Drunken conversations are often the best because our defenses are under chemical siege, individual truths are laid on the table without hesitation. Clearly there is a utility in vulnerability. To find it is to accept the risk, to recognize that the destruction of our walls is worth the opportunity to share our treasure.
Imagine if every conversation was drunkenly open, where the shackles of small talk were shattered and meaningful dialogue were unlocked. Imagine if superficial relationships died a long-awaited death and were reincarnated in Vernian depths. It sounds impossible because human culture is guarded, we don’t have the experience to support the notion of a genuine world. Tell the guy in the elevator or the girl on your subway your life story – what’s the worst that can happen? They might not be interested or they may try to insult your weaknesses, but then you’ve quickly learned that they aren’t someone worthy of your expression. The best case scenario, however, is a wealth of real connections – a network of people who know you and support you through the good and the bad, the ability to take ourselves less seriously, and the melting of our weaknesses. Reveal an oft-hidden birthmark the first time and it may be scary, but after the 10th time it loses its power. Fully express yourself – not in the cliche sense of encouraging consumption, but as a powerful avenue to better know, accept, and share who you are.
Have vulnerability mastered? Take it to the dating world!