I wanted to switch gears from writing about mental health to share some thoughts on the pursuit of love and finding power in vulnerability.
A friend and I have been talking about this subject for a few weeks so when I woke up last Saturday morning to a Facebook newsfeed full of anti-Valentine’s Day statuses (ones like, “This holiday is stupid!” and “It sucks to be single!” and “Valentine’s Day is an overrated holiday invented by Hallmark”) I got kind of irritated.
On a day meant for celebrating love we instead find ourselves focusing on how much we hate it. Behind all that cynicism, though, is an expression of our desire for love. When we find it we are boastful and happy. When we lose it we are devastated and full of despair. When we are single we begrudge others who have it.
I find this topic intriguing because it seems as if we base the existence of love in our lives upon some public display of attachment. An attachment built on wanting, clinging, neediness, lust, and self-interest – none of which are true expressions of love.
Moreover, we believe love is limited to our romantic relationships. We fail to acknowledge that love exists in other aspects of our lives. It exists in our relationships with our family and friends. It exists in our social relationships with co-workers. It even exists in our daily interactions with strangers.
It isn’t surprising we maintain such a limited view of love though. Just like we’ve learned how to tie our shoes or ride a bike or cook a meal, we’ve learned that love will eventually “find” us. This kind of mentality sets us up for failure because it leaves love to chance. Love is thus confined and limited from flourishing in our lives. Really, there are so many ways to love and to be loved in return. So why not pursue all kinds of love instead of waiting for it to manifest in our lives in the form of romanticism?
You may ask, though, what exactly does it mean to pursue love? To pursue love means to act with intention and purposefulness. It means to love for the sake of loving, with no expectation of something in return. It means to be vulnerable, which, by the way, I’ve learned is not synonymous with weakness. Vulnerability implies having the courage to be yourself and to accept others exactly as they are and exactly where they are in their lives – both emotionally and mentally.
Everyday we face an opportunity to practice being vulnerable: calling a friend who’s been admitted to the psychiatric unit, telling someone you like them, admitting you made a mistake at work, or asking someone for help. The opportunity exists, we just have to decide if we’ll take it.
In my own life I’ve found I fear vulnerability because I fear rejection and authenticity. That if I truly show who I am and take my cloak of self-protective armor off it will have the opposite effect of what I hope for: that opening my heart to another will in turn make them want to open their heart to me. Recognizing this has marked a pivotal moment in my life because I am trying to un-learn what my brain has been hard-wired to do.
In all of my relationships I’ve spent more time hiding the truth than speaking it. And as a result my relationships suffered. I suffered. Last year was the hardest year of my life. It left me in crippling despair and led to a humiliating and devastating emotional breakdown. But the grace in that experience is it has made me more comfortable in the presence of vulnerability. I’ve found that vulnerability really is the safest place to be: there are no pretenses and no hiding, just truthfulness and authenticity.
To quote Brene Brown, “Show me a man who can listen to a woman and not try to fix her problem but rather just listen to her and be there for her, show me a woman who can sit with a man who shares this vulnerability and still love him the way he is, and I’ll show you a man and woman who are courageous and have done their work.” While Brown is speaking specifically to romantic love, the premise and underlying lesson is relevant to all of our relationships: that the vulnerability we try desperately to avoid is actually the key to having a successful relationship.
So pursue love; don’t wait for it to find you. Find power in your ability to be vulnerable because the more open and loving you are the more loveable you become.