Rumbling with vulnerability (part 3)

I’m returning to describe another experience of the success of vulnerability… to my utter shock.

I have been trying off and on to build a friendship with a potential friend, and at times it has seemed to be going well, at other times not. Often I can trace how well it’s going to things I had said or done. I just found myself time after time ending up in situations in which I would inevitably mess it up, say the wrong thing, whatever.

I was bummed. I let it go. I forgave myself, saw my mistakes, and tried to learn from the experience.

The other night I bumped into him unexpectedly and we had fifteen minutes hanging out, uncomfortably killing time while we waited for our appointment. This time, though, I didn’t try to sound cool or smart. I was really struggling with things as a parent, feeling very vulnerable.

Vulnerability grabs our attention

He seemed uninterested in conversation with me. But as I opened up about my struggles as a parent with another parent standing nearby, suddenly I noticed my friend seemed interested. He was leaning in and attentively listening. It was an unmistakable difference. From there the conversation opened up and the three of us have a pleasant conversation.

That experience gave me a clue about myself. What was it that I had experienced in that conversation? I felt like they would think me lame, anxious, full of worry, a basket case, I don’t know what else. But they hadn’t had they? I felt more connected than ever before with them. Was this what connection was about? What have I been doing my whole life?

It is dawning on me. I’ve been trying to impress. I’ve been holding up a guard, making sure I looked right, smelled right, acted right, spoke right, sang right, played right, ate right, and whatever else. It’s like The Breakfast Club. I had been protected from allowing the possibility that others might judge me, and so I never got to experience the feeling when they didn’t. In fact, all I ever got to feel was my own worry that they were judging me. So nobody judged me, but I got to feel judged all the time. Really...? Is that what I’ve been doing to myself? It hit me like a punch in the stomach.

A couple days later, having sat with this new perspective, I decided I had an opening to write to my friend. I could see how our previous interactions had involved me trying to look like I had it all together. I tried something different. I thanked him for listening to my struggle and empathizing with me.

Later that evening, after sitting for the day with the uncertainty of how he might respond, I received an email back. It was simple and open, like an exchange between friends. There was no posturing or pomp, which I was starting to recognize as part of my daily mode. It was so simple. And now I feel like I have a friend.