I have always struggled with vulnerability. I like being strong; I’ve always had to be strong, and I have associated vulnerability with weakness for as long as I can remember. Of course in everyday life, it would be difficult for people to know this. I am seen as someone who is quite open and outgoing, at least to the extent that my demeanor is not mistaken for being a cold, unapproachable bitch. After all, I’m also seen as someone who is known for being blunt; the quintessential, “what you see is what you get” person.
Perhaps it’s through writing, perhaps it’s through getting older, but ultimately I’ve realized that I’m a really hard person to get to know. And very few people know even the half of it. I’m guarded and I don’t break easily; no matter how close I am to people, I know that most of them are still kept at a distance that is comfortable, a distance that won’t leave me exposed. I do not like to be vulnerable.
There is no area that this is true more than the intimacy of romantic relationships. Yes, I play it off as being awkward, and I am. And I play it off as being disinterested in the people who courageously approach me, and maybe that is true too. But when it’s all said and done, I am afraid of being vulnerable with people in that way. I like to feel in control of situations, I like to feel that I am always secure and vulnerability gets in the way of that.
When you’re vulnerable, your heart is wide open, you put your trust in somebody in the form of giving them the most precious thing you have – your heart. When you’re vulnerable you leave yourself available to be hurt and people hurt people. So I guess somewhere along the way, whether I realized it or not, I made the decision that vulnerability was not for me. I told myself that to be vulnerable would mean to give up my strength and I did not want to give it up. My construction of strength almost defined me.
The one who wants to be with you accepts you for you: your mind, your heart and the parts of your body you may feel are imperfections, the ones you criticize when you look in the mirror. They think every single inch of you is worthy of adoration and will spend all day, every single day (if necessary) proving to you how beautiful and sacred your body is. They will kiss your body slowly, part by part, just to prove to you that each one deserves to be loved and caressed. This may take some time, but they’re willing to do that. They will show you that you don’t need you to be perfect or to be Bond Girl Christmas Jones — a scientist who is also secretly a supermodel when she removes her glasses and ponytail. You don’t need to be some focus-grouped, whitewashed, photoshopped idea of what’s attractive to deserve their love — someone who doesn’t eat, fart, burp, express opinions or speak above a dainty whisper. They just want you to be you, and no one else.
The one who doesn’t want you always wants you to be someone else when they close their eyes or wants to you be someone they can make you into — like that woman in Weird Science. Rather than pushing you for your own betterment — because that which we love should push us to grow — they look at you as a mission and a project, a site constantly under construction for repair. They will tell you that it’s for your benefit, and they just want the best for you. But they don’t want a better you. They don’t want you. They’re settling for a house they can fix up and remodel — one that’s in a lower price range and came at a bargain. They don’t see the value in you because they’re too focused on what’s better, and they’re too focused on what they want to see you for the steal you are.
The one who wants to be with you never lets you forget how special you are. They tell you via text message (in full sentences that don’t even need emoticons), flowers, candy, skywriter and actual in-person words — because they know how important it is to be in the presence of love, to be wrapped up in it, to feel it next to you holding you and never letting go. They will tell you by being there for you when you need them to be and even sometimes when you don’t need them to be, when you’re sick in bed and insist that you’re fine and they don’t need to come over and take care of you. They will be there anyway, with a bowl of chicken soup ready, five kinds of reading material and a dozen different brands of medication. They take your health seriously — maybe a little too seriously, like a grandma — because they take you seriously. They would book a seven-hour flight with a layover in Timbuktu just to watch you puke in a toilet, which they swear is cute when you do it. FYI, it’s not cute, it’s disgusting, but caring about you makes them into a beautiful liar like that.
The one who doesn’t want you isn’t there or when they are there — still isn’t. They’re always texting someone else and perpetually glued to the screen of their phone as if they suddenly would go blind without the light of the iPhone. They’re always hanging out with other people who aren’t you, talking about other people and making excuses for why they don’t have more time for you. They always talk about how busy they are and how full their schedule is, but they aren’t that busy. Their life is full with friends and acquaintances and a bunch of people who are tagged on Facebook smiling in photos with them. None of these people are you, and if they wanted you, those people would be you. If they cared about you, they would show you off like a fucking farm animal at a 4H fair and advertise you like an Apple product launch. It’s a little creepy, but people who care do that. They want to brag about you, because they know Steve Jobs could never create something as fascinating as you.
The one who wants to be with you understands that you are a priority in their life and their schedule. They have their own things going on — friends, family, cats that poop too much and houseplants that are weirdly needy — but want you to be a part of those things. When the time is right, they will bring you to family functions or poker nights and introduce you as “my girlfriend” or whatever label/introduction you have decided is appropriate. They will say this word repeatedly — as if there were a drinking game for its mention — just to remind themselves how lucky they are. They will bring you up to friends and family so much that everyone around them will get slightly sick or hearing about how great you are. You will be like your high school best friend’s newborn baby that she always status updates about. The mentionitis will go away, but that feeling, that gratitude of your presence, never will.
The one who doesn’t want you assumes that you know all of those things and don’t need to be reminded. They forget your birthday, your anniversary and might not even know very important information about you that you expect everyone in your life to know — like your eye color. They might not even know your middle name. They haven’t taken the time to get to know you and learn the important things, like the dreams that you haven’t locked away yet and what you want to be when you finally grow up, or the less important things, like that you can’t listen to Explosions in the Sky without crying and you feel like the movie Lost in Translation was made for you. You don’t communicate or really talk at all — because they’re unwilling to open that part of themselves. They don’t see that you belong in it.
The one who wants to be with you knows that falling in love with you doesn’t happen all at once and it can take years to truly get to know someone. Learning about someone is like wandering through an old mansion with many rooms; it’s always discovering that there’s another door to unlock. This person is willing to go on that journey, to be constantly surprised by how intricate and complex you are, an M.C. Escher painting in human form, and loves finding out grand staircases of new information about you, like that you consider Missy Elliott your spirit animal and want to live in Paris when you get old. But they also love how simple you are sometimes, as simple as a backrub after a long day, because they love everything about you that’s beautiful and that hurts. They’re willing to stick it out with you through the hard conversation and the rough patches — whatever it takes to lie next to you at night, they’re willing to fight for it. They will fight to love you.
The one who doesn’t want you won’t fight for you or perform random acts of emotional strength to prove their love. And you should have some who is willing to do that — to chase you and sweep you off your feet (and let you do some of the chasing, too) and strive for ideals we all say are “unattainable” or “unrealistic.” You deserve to be loved by someone who knows how to love you, specifically, and only you. You deserve to someone that won’t let your dreams stay locked away. You deserve to live them.
It’s impossible to please everybody. And even if it was possible, we shouldn’t try. True that we are meant to make connections throughout our lives; to foster relationships, love and be loved. Too often, though, we get caught up in making those relationships successful, those connections stronger, that we forget about the most fundamental relationship of all: the one we have with ourselves.
We let our own thoughts and desires fall by the wayside to appease others. We tell co-workers we will cover for them even though we have enough on our own plates. We tell our friends that we will help them do X, when they’ve already promised to help us do Y, and we don’t say anything. We hold our tongues to avoid upsetting the people we care about because sometimes the risk of displeasing others is worse than displeasing ourselves. After all, we know how to cope with our own unhappiness; we’ve become experts through a lifetime of saying “yes” when we want to say “no” and “No it’s ok, I understand” when in reality, we don’t.
Despite our best efforts and our usually steadfast notions of our own character, we sometimes let others’ opinions of us dictate what we do, how we think, what we say. If someone expresses dissatisfaction with us, even the strongest people can get caught up in self-critical thoughts. We forget that sometimes, other peoples’ critiques or complaints are their reflections of themselves, their own insecurities, and not of us, and we give more credence to it than we should. We overlook the fact that more often than not, they are telling us their story, not ours.
We feel compelled to explain. To tell that critical someone the why’s and when’s and what’s of our choices, even if those choices don’t affect them. We attempt to justify our actions, make them more understandable or relatable to someone who is displeased with us or who questions us, and forget that in the end, it is we who live with our choices, not them. And when we do stand up for ourselves, insist on putting our own needs and wants first, sometimes we feel guilty. We think we should have acquiesced or been nicer, or taken on something we couldn’t really handle, even if we shouldn’t have. We are far harder on ourselves than we are on others.
We make life plans and find jobs, partners and activities that make us happy, and then begin to question those plans when naysayers open their mouths. We assume everyone has our best interests at heart when they express their skepticism or tell us we are making the wrong choice, but forget that emotions like envy and fear can cloud a person’s judgment and color their entire perception of the world. That every now and again, even the people who love you sometimes lack the ability to remove their own problems and fears from the equation and instead project them onto you.
There is a unique way of seeing the world, of journeying through it, for every person on this planet. We should know and love ourselves better and more completely than others know and love us, and our relationships with ourselves deserve as much respect as our relationships with others. Our choices are our own, and in most cases, we are the ones who must live with the consequences. The way in which we live our lives could not possibly please all of the people we care about. The things we say, the ideologies we adopt, and the manner in which we choose to proceed through life will sometimes conflict with those same qualities in others. Instead of fighting it, we must learn to accept it as an inevitable aspect of the complexity of human relationships.
We must stop judging ourselves from the outside in, worrying whether someone else will think we’ve moved to the wrong city, married the wrong man, taken the wrong career path. Similarly, we must stop doing the same to others. It’s not our job to please everyone, to mold our choices into ones with which others are happy or comfortable. We should be at peace with our own choices, and others should be at peace with theirs. There is no requirement that one decision be the best decision by anyone’s standards, even our own; only the requirement that it be the decision we want to make, one that fulfills us or propels us towards our goal or, even more simply, makes us smile. We must be who we want and do what we want, because we are the manufacturers and guardians of our own happiness.
Unplug. It’s okay to put your phone down for an evening; social media will still be there when you get back. Constantly posting where you are and how much fun you’re having can get exhausting, and it detracts from the moment. You end up seeing the night through the lens of your iPhone screen instead of enjoying it.
- Feeling the hot water in the shower start to run out as you’re only halfway through your shower. (Also known as the greatest pain you will ever experience.)
- Finding out that you actually have to be somewhere 30 minutes before you thought you had to.
- Reaching for the box of your favorite cereal, only to find that someone ate all but the crumbs and put it back, apparently just to torment you.
- Being behind someone at the coffee shop who has an entire list of orders for the office. (Come on, dude, really?)
- Realizing that, no matter what you do with your hair, it’s just going to look flat and awful all day.
- Perfectly styling your hair, only to walk out into 90 percent humidity/rain, and quickly turn into an Old English Sheepdog.
- Spending the entire subway ride crushed into someone’s armpit.
- Missing every single train on the way to work.
- Having to listen to a classmate humblebrag about the previous night’s excursions for the first 10 minutes of work.
- Flipping over the egg and having the yolk break.
- The coffee shop being out of your favorite pastry (this goes double if the person in front of you takes it after five minutes of you being like “don’t touch that scone, bitch, don’t touch that scone.”)
- Waking up to see that you overslept.
- Children crying on the subway.
- Getting to a really sad part in your book while on public transportation and having to pretend like your soul isn’t being destroyed from within.
- Going through your entire wardrobe only to decide that you hate every item of clothing you own and absolutely nothing looks good on you.
- Toothpaste falls off your brush. :(
- Getting all the way to school and promptly finding out that you left something extremely important at home.
- Waking up with a huge zit in an obnoxious place. (The worst, perhaps, being right next to your lip, which leaves you wanting to explain that you don’t have herpes to everyone you see.)
- Realizing there is a stain on the outfit you’re wearing.
- Burning your pancakes. (Though, if you have time to be making pancakes in the morning, it seems like a win overall.)
- Spilling coffee on yourself.
- Burning your mouth with your coffee (and then SUING THE CRAP OUT OF THE COMPANY WHO SOLD IT TO YOU MUAHAHAHAHAHA).
- Not being able to find something extremely basic on the way out, like your keys.
- Slipping and falling in front of a bunch of people and having to play it off like you didn’t just humiliate/injure yourself in broad daylight. Probably best to just scowl until lunch.
Is it just me or is going on a “friend date” more nerve-wracking than going on a date with someone you want to sleep with? First of all, the stakes for rejection are so much higher on a friend date. If I go on a “date” date and the dude’s not into it, I know it’s not entirely personal. He just doesn’t want to see me naked and that’s fine, I can totally respect that. This body is not for everyone, okay? But when you go out for drinks with someone you feel like you have a friend connection with and they don’t text you ever again to hang out, the rejection stings like a mother. Because it’s clear that they just didn’t vibe with your personality. They just didn’t like who you were as a person. They hated your brain.
I Don’t Know How To Be In A Relationship
I don’t know how to be in a relationship. I know how to be a friend, I know how to be a daughter, I know how to be a sister but I don’t know how to have a partner — someone who is included in my day-to-day life, someone I go on vacations with and for whom I’m willing to travel to some horrible town to meet their parents. I’ve dated people before but it never turned into anything substantial. I pushed my lovers away until they had no choice but to end it themselves. I was petrified every step of the way. Of what, I’m not sure, but every time I started settling in to some routine, I’d retreat. It’d be easy to write myself off as a commitment-phobe or as someone who just hasn’t met the right person yet — both of which could be true — but it’s also something deeper, something far more serious than just jitters or dating a string of Mr. Wrongs. It’s a failure on my part, a type of shortcoming. Some people aren’t good at sports or have trouble understanding math. Maybe this is my weak spot. Maybe I just legitimately don’t know how to be in a relationship with someone.
The frustrating thing about all of this is that I actually want companionship. I want to lay in bed with someone and give all of my love to them. I am a very loving person. I’m an excellent friend and a thoughtful co-worker. All signs indicate that I’d be a fantastic girlfriend. But I’m not. I’m terrible. The second I start dating someone, I start to feel suffocated and look for a way out. I break plans, I make excuses, and for what? A movie night with my best friend? To be alone in my bedroom? To work? Why am I so quick to deny myself something I clearly want? It has always been self-sabotage. Nothing else. I’m so locked inside of myself at this point and I’m not sure if anyone will ever be able to get me out.
I want to be better but I don’t even know where to begin. I look at my relationship experience in comparison to other people my age and feel totally pathetic. My best friend, for example is an expert at having relationships. She thrives in her role as a girlfriend. It makes sense for her. She’s experienced. I, on the other hand, have no idea what it’s like to even have a toothbrush at someone else’s house. And we’re getting to that age where it’s downright bizarre that I’ve never been in a serious relationship before. You can no longer blame it on bad luck. It’s me. I’m the problem. I’ve had people who were ready to love me, ready to be my plus one, and I ran away from them screaming. In my head, I would rationalize it as them just being bugaboos and me wanting to be an independent woman but let’s be real, I’m just insane. I have intimacy issues. Something happened to me that caused me to go into my shell but I’m not sure what it was. My whole life I’ve been surrounded by an abundance of love from family and friends, so I’m not exactly sure where it went wrong but it did. I’m wrong, broken, damaged goods, whatever.
I want to know how to be someone’s girlfriend. I want to know how to love someone so completely without being crippled with anxiety. I want to get over whatever it is that’s holding me back from achieving this but I also have to face the reality that I might not ever figure it out. People do end up alone. It’s a thing! Months turn into years and all of a sudden you’re the one who never found love. I’m at a crossroads. Either figure it out now or get used to living life alone. Love is like a muscle and if you don’t use it, you’re going to forget how to do it. You’re going to forget how to love and then you’re going to be forgotten.