Something my boyfriend and I have talked about many times is how to be vulnerable with each other while honoring the fact that we are still in the process of trying to decide if this is the person we want to spend the rest of our lives with. As we have gone to friends and mentors for advice on this topic, there seems to be a split trend that I’d like to address.
First, some people will say that since our hearts are precious, they must be guarded and protected at all costs. While this can be true, it can also lead to under sharing out of fear of knowing too much too soon. Or out of the fear of thinking: “If he/she is not the one, they will walk away knowing so much about me and that would hurt a lot!” Guarding out of fear is not healthy.
The other trend is the mindset that you must completely bare your soul to your significant other so that they can love you, all of you. However, sharing too much too soon can lead to unstable and clingy relationships that eventually end in broken hearts. These situations lead to confusion and the attempt reconcile feeling like they are too much, and still are too little known.
So, what’s a couple to do?
My advice is to look at relationships like reading a book. (This can be any relationship, but I’m specifically talking about romantic ones today.)
When you read a book you start at the beginning, you are introduced to the characters, the setting, plot, and you even get the background that is necessary to understand where you are at the beginning of the story. Once that is done, you walk with the characters through their joys, the people they meet, their conflicts, and eventually near the end a good book will have the major climax.
All relationships reflect this in some similar ways. When my boyfriend and I started dating we got to know our families more, what we were interested in, what our hobbies and jobs were before we met, our personal goals for the near future and so forth. As we continued to date and deepen our relationship, these topics changed to those of family background and how different past experiences affect us now, things that spark deep joy, things we are afraid of, our weaknesses, what we desire in friendship and in a future marriage, what we love about our Catholic faith, and what we struggle with in our faith. These conversations have slowly shaped us and our relationship.
If my boyfriend or I had gone right to the climax of the story and poured out all of our struggles, hopes, and dreams for each other on our first date, we probably would have been overwhelmed and walked away because there would have been nothing prior to consider or know. But since our process of vulnerability and conversation has gradually deepened, we have a strong foundation to take the deeper and harder parts of each other’s lives.
Something I have learned through this relationship is that I can be vulnerable with my boyfriend and take care of my heart; it is not one or the other. In fact, I have learned that telling him about hard things in my life allows him to step in and help me carry my burdens and clean up my mess, leaving my heart in better condition than before. Once I was convinced that he wasn’t just a good and strong man, but a man who I could trust to gently take care of my heart, I was able to share a little more, and a little more. I am still scared to talk about things that are difficult for me, but he is patient with me. He shows me that Love is patient, and Love is kind, and Love accepts the messiness of the other and helps support through it. Love requires a risk to step out and trust another broken human being. If I close my heart up out of the fear that he would have the ability to hurt me if he truly knew me, then I am not really taking care of my heart but am suffocating it from authentic love and it will die.
“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.”C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
If you are starting a relationship or are in the middle of one and you want to be vulnerable with each other, a healthy way of doing this is by taking it slow but steady. You must show the other person that you are not flippant with your heart while also showing that you are not a brick wall of feeling-less emotion. This allows the other to see the pace that is to be taken, and the trust it must be received with. This is what guarding your heart and seeing its preciousness should look like. Get to know each other as friends know each other, and as you spend this healthy time together let the conversations grow and deepen right along with you. When the time comes that vulnerability hurts a little more than usual, don’t back down out of fear. Consider the topic you are sharing, consider the seriousness of your relationship, consider the necessity of the conversation, and if it fits – do not be afraid. Love does not act out of fear. Love does not hide away.
Know that as I walk this journey of authentic love and vulnerability in my own relationship, I am praying for each one of you in your own journey of vulnerability. Let us take the joys and sorrows of life and share them with our loved ones.