Dec. 21, 2022

Avoiding Vulnerability Is Not Good

This episode focused on the entire reason I started this podcast in the first place: we live in a world that is so incredibly afraid to be vulnerable. And it's harming our relationships with each other.

That's why I enjoyed this week's guest, Dai, so much - for once I felt like I was talking with someone who has learned to embrace vulnerability, leans into it, and feels the same way.

Dai learned the importance of vulnerability during a breakthrough moment with his wife. Despite the fact that he'd been married to her for several years at this point, he felt this was truly the first time he opened up to her about his deepest fears and insecurities. Instead of shaming him, she listened intently, meeting him exactly where he was and forever deepening their relationship with each other.

Some of the best marriage advice I was ever given was "tell each other the things you're too scared to say out loud." Ever since, when I have a thought like that, it triggers me to tell my husband about what I'm experiencing. Most of the time, I can. But even still, I often have to battle my inner voice that says "this would be better to keep to yourself."

A lot of us feel this way about a lot of things, with a lot of people. Why? Because vulnerability is a risk.

What if they view me differently because of this?
What if they don't understand?
What if I'm perceived as weak?
What if me talking about this bothers them?

The "what ifs" never end, and ultimately prevent us from sharing what we're going through. So we stick to the safer topics - work, family, friends, hobbies. We gossip about other people to take the spotlight off of ourselves. We cover absolutely everything in humor so that whatever we say doesn't carry as much weight. And we don't build deeper relationships.

We live in a society that views vulnerability as weak - or worse, feminine. Straight men especially avoid deep feelings because of a belief that it would vacuum up their masculinity. This is creating a "dating epidemic" in a world where women are looking for emotional connection, while men continue to shy away from it, instead pumping their egos up. This is why my friend didn't give a second date to the guy who disclosed his salary on the first. Ick!

Now, there's a balance here. I am not saying that we should be sharing all of our deepest secrets and traumas on a first date, or in the words of Brene Brown, our bikini waxes on Facebook - that would directly contradict last week's blog post, and sharing insecurities would let an emotional predator know exactly where to target you. But take Dai's advice in practicing sharing "just a little bit more." To help you out, I've created 10 questions that strike a nice balance between "what's your favorite color?" and "what's your darkest secret?":

1. Do you ever experience imposter syndrome at work?
2. What's one good trait and one bad habit you've inherited from each of your parents?
3. Who is your best friend and what do you admire most about them?
4. When do you feel most alive?
5. What's a lesson you took away from a past relationship?
6. Who is someone you miss?
7. What is something you're working on getting better at?
8. What about the world upsets you the most?
9. If you had to give 10% of every paycheck to a charity for the rest of your life, which would you choose and why?
10. And a fun one for last, which I have to credit to my friend Jaclyn: what Taylor Swift song best reflects your love life?

This is not just for dates, but for new friendships too. As someone who just moved out of state and is deeply missing the open conversations with friends on the East Coast, I might just throw one or two of these out the next time I spend time with a budding companion.

So when does someone truly earn the rest?

That's up to your own personal discernment, but for me, these are some things I think about:

1. How long have I known this person?
2. Has this person shown trustworthiness/consistency in that time?
3. How have they reacted to other things I've shared (have I been met with empathy/compassion or been shrugged off)?
4. Do this person and I share a comparable level of emotional maturity?
5. In the wise words of former guest Shannon Petrovich, would I give this person the keys to my car?

These are the types of questions to consider before giving someone else the gift of your vulnerability. Like Dai said, it is earned. Until that point, embrace the practice of sharing just a little bit more. Sure, it's scary - but only one of two great things can happen. We either learn to set boundaries with people who don't earn it, or we develop authentic, life-giving relationships with people who do.

- MJ

*If you're a game player, We're Not Really Strangers is a great way to promote vulnerability in your relationships.