(This post was originally published on Sex and the Sisters.)
I am doing a lot of thinking about vulnerability this week.
Maybe it was because I rewatched an episode of the show I stan for, Scandal. In this episode, the First Lady Mellie Grant drops her Chinese wall and expresses discomfort, longing, and pain. And for a glimpse we see her as a woman who loves a man who is in a coma. Within seconds, this was gone. You could tell she wanted to snatch those words from the air and consume them hastily. She isn’t a woman given to emotion; she does not do vulnerable.
Maybe it was having a Peanuts moment. You know the scene: The ever-trusting Charlie Brown runs to kick the football and Lucy van Pelt snatches it away even though she promises she won’t tease him. That is the analogy for my love life. I was running to someone special in Atlanta, and he snatched the football–his attention and time–away from me.
Maybe it is because I am reading Brene Brown’s newest book, Daring Greatly. If you don’t know about Brene Brown, take a few minutes and check out her TED talk on vulnerability or this TED Talk on shame. Brown is a professor at the University of Houston and a researcher who has a theory of wholehearted living. On the advice of a friend, I gobbled up her first book (The Gifts of Imperfection). Thirsty for more, I plucked this new book off the library shelf because I was eager to read it. Once again, my intuition leads me to the things I need, the teachers I must learn from to get through something.
Brown encourages people to lean into the vulnerable space of life in order to be authentic and whole people. She defined vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. And the first example she gave was about love:
- Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who many be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow–that’s vulnerability. Love is uncertain. It’s incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes, it’s scary and yes, we’re open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved? (p. 34)
What stopped me cold was the last question. I lived most of life being above the need and desire for love, being above lust to others, being detached and unemotional on the surface.
Vulnerability is hard for many people, especially black women. Scholars have talked about Black women being “the female Atlas” with the weight of the world on our shoulders. It is a cherished identitiy that we cling to. We are the emotionally resilient superwomen who have no cracks on the surface and give zero fucks about hurt and pain. Our strength is in being stoic. Or so it seems and so we were told.
I’ve lived that live, and I don’t want that anymore. Brown’s words echoed the sentiments of my heart and the theories espoused by several Black women academics that I’ve been reading.
It was there that I knew I needed to make the risk and tell him. I believed I needed to tell him that I cared for him deeply, that I liked him more than I should after X months, Y days, and Z minutes, that I wanted to be vulnerable with him.
Good stuff, I thought, closing the book. I checked my phone and saw that message that set my heart tumbling off a cliff.
I wanted to crawl out of my skin after I received his “this is the end, let’s never talk to each other again” text. I was embarrassed and shamed that I felt so deeply for this man and that I had given so much to him and told him so much. I was embarrassed that I had been that open, that vulnerable with him. I was flustered that once again I had done what I never swore I would do: wear my heart on my sleeve and inside my panties.
Only days later did I realize that my being vulnerable with this guy was a good thing. I didn’t fear love when I was with him. I didn’t fear being imperfect or being afraid. I was honest with what I felt, what I wanted, why I cared for him. I put myself out there into the world I created with him without assurance or certainty. And I enjoyed it.
As Brown states further on in her description:
- “To let ourselves sink into the joyful moments of our lives even though we know that they are fleeting, even though the world tells us not to be too happy lest we invite disaster–that’s an intense form of vulnerability” (p. 34).
For once I was brave in my relationships. For once, I didn’t practice scarity in my relationship. I love hard. I loved fully. I cared openly. I poured life into him with my words and my thoughts.
I learned a lesson. Fear and love cannot exist in the same place. Vulnerability is not a curse, not bad thing. It’s just a thing that we all must experience. You either embrace it or hate it, but it will be there. I dared greatly and lost. But I am not broken, bruised, a bit apprehensive, and it still hurts in the wee hours of the morning when I would get that first call or text from him or when I see things that remind me of him (the mini Eiffel Tower I was planning to give him; his favorite Kanye cut; some writing news that would help him on his journey to publication). And that’s okay. I am leaning into those moments of grief, frustration, and sadness, or as my New Thought friends would say, embracing that emotion and having my moment. My homegirls call it being in your feelings. Whatever the case, I let the emotions come and go. All because I know it is well, things will get better and that is best to have loved–and been vulnerable in the process–than to have loved and shielded.