“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
~ *The Four Loves*
Deep down, I know that in order for a romantic relationship to really work, both individuals have to be incredibly and constantly vulnerable. And it’s definitely scary sometimes. Which makes it not easy. But, as we’ve all learned, the things that are worth doing and worth keeping are never easy. Amazing is not easy. And I definitely want amazing, in all areas of my life.
It’s really quite fascinating to witness the reciprocal interplay of vulnerability between a guy and a girl. Let’s just say at the beginning of a relationship, that it is ideal (traditionally) for the man to initiate and the woman to respond. For instance, he goes up to her, and renders himself vulnerable by complimenting her, or trying to start a conversation with her.
In his perfect world, she reciprocates by smiling, engaging with him, continuing the dialogue, and possibly rendering herself a bit vulnerable by complimenting him, or touching his arm, or holding his gaze for more than a few seconds. And then maybe he is feeling pretty good about his chances to get her number, or taking her to coffee, and so he puts himself out there, and asks. And perhaps she says yes.
All along though, she could hesitate. Deflect his attention. Pretend to be busy. Say she has to go. Reject him outright. But, everything seems to work when both are vulnerable, and take risks (and, of course, there is chemistry!). But nothing works if someone pulls back, or puts up a wall, or freaks out, or runs away.
And then I think about daily communications between a boy and girl in a relationship. Texting, email, or in person. And how it works best when each is vulnerable with the other on a regular basis. If I say something super romantic and sweet and vulnerable to her, and she doesn’t say something in kind, there is the strong potential for my feelings to get hurt. And for me to pull back. And to put up a wall.
Basically, I really needed to hear it back from her, and she just didn’t give me what I needed. And so now I need to protect myself and try to keep her from hurting me in the future, because I kind of held my heart out there, and offered it to her, but she didn’t treat it delicately and lovingly. Rather, she was flippant with it, she was casual and maybe even a bit callous with it. And it was painful.
But now let’s say that maybe the next day, or in two days, or next week, she does say something super romantic and sweet and vulnerable – putting *herself* out there…and because of my recent hurt feelings, I just choose to not reciprocate. Maybe I am afraid, because of what happened last time. Maybe this time I want to teach her a “lesson” so she knows how it feels. Whatever the reason (and neither are good and healthy!), I won’t tell her what she wants to hear, what she is hoping to hear in return. And, of course, this will lead her to put up a wall, and to protect her own heart from being hurt by me (and perhaps others) in the future.
All of it is this such a delicate dance, with me stepping forward, and hoping she steps forward towards me as well…and me stepping back if she doesn’t…and then perhaps I’ll try again in the future, and hope she returns the sentiment, but if she doesn’t, the wall I build will be a little higher. Again, to prevent me from being hurt as bad (or hurt at all) the next time around. And she does the same if I don’t reciprocate.
It’s interesting how we all need to be reassured, sometimes a little, and sometimes a lot. Sometimes our desire to compliment and express our love isn’t purely an unconditional gift for the other person. Rather, it is because we want to and need to hear it back. Sometimes I feel like I can step outside myself, and watch the battle unfolding in front of my eyes: with one side being my doubts and fears and insecurities, and the other side being the kind, loving things I want to believe about myself – and need to hear from others to strengthen that belief.
If we keep letting the quantity and quality of love we receive dictate the quantity and quality of love we give, we remain a pawn at the mercy of circumstance. Which can often lead to our lives devolving into a complete mess. An absolute, complete disaster of a mess, possibly sabotaging and destroying some of the really good things we have going for us.
And we also have to remember that we’ve set up various walls from past relationships, and past wounds and current dysfunctions – and that they often still remain in front of us if we haven’t truly dealt with them. We know we want to be completely free to live and to love with reckless abandon, but we realize over time that somehow and in some way, we just can’t. At least not fully. And it’s just really, really rough because it makes us feel stuck and it keeps us from God’s best, the best that is out there for us.
And maybe we realize that our current friendships and relationships can help us to get closer and closer to that freedom, but on the flip side, we see how they can also pull us farther and farther away from it. We give others that power by simply entering into friendships and relationships. They benefit us greatly and in so many ways, but they are not without tremendous risk – and that is what C.S. Lewis is trying to convey.
I guess this brings me to my main point, which is that I want to be the best boyfriend/significant other/fiancée/husband/lover ever. And I feel that in order for me to be that person, I need to develop the habit of being fully vulnerable in how I live and how I love. Because this draws it out of others, and it encourages others to break through their walls and try to be the same way. And to push past their fears of being rejected or dismissed or ignored or otherwise hurt. This is what leads to authenticity in friendships and relationships, and the best that is out there for us. Friendships and relationships simply cannot be amazing unless each person in them is genuine and open and candid and real. Really real.
And so even when I don’t feel like it, I know I need to keep pressing in, and keep expressing love. I need to be able to say, “I miss you” if I am feeling it in my heart, even if she isn’t able to say it back at that very moment. I need to be bold in talking about the things “we” want to do in the future instead of what “I” want to do in the future, even though saying “we” is scary because “we” is never guaranteed. I need to be courageous in saying over and over again that I believe in us, now and long-term, no matter what, even when stupid fears sometimes creep in and cause me to struggle. I need to share what is on my heart without holding back, and without hesitating or hedging. And every single time I am brave, it becomes a little easier to become brave the next time. Because I’m building into a habit, I’m building into how I always want to be. How I always need to be.
Best case scenario, when she wants to withdraw and set up walls, my persistent and constant love will keep her from doing so, and draw her out. And she’ll do the same for me when I want to withdraw and put up walls. And together, we’ll continue to work through things, and walls from the past will slowly but surely start to come down as well. Until honestly, there are no more left standing, and there is complete freedom to fully love, and fully be loved. And this will make all the difference in the world, and usher us into the absolute best that we can be for ourselves individually, and for each other.
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