How to Be Vulnerable (A Guide for You, Independent Lady)

As a woman with a sensitive heart and a tear that’s never too far away, I spent the first part of my adulthood putting up a wall of invulnerability. And I’ve been spending the last few years painfully stripping away that wall and being frighteningly, pathetically vulnerable.

A friend recently explained an epiphany she’d had — A cute guy who was in her life for a few hours due to technical household difficulties twice offered to help her with something that fell outside of his professional duties. And twice she refused, only to realize later that it would have been GOOD to let the nice attractive man help her carry a few heavy things. Duh! But I understood her natural impulse all too well. Learning to let people into my life required a major reconfiguration of my comfort zone. It didn’t happen overnight and it was, and continues to be, sometimes irritating as hell.

Hey, You Are Awesome all by Yourself

First of all, congratulations! If you’re like me, you’ve gotten to your 30s, looked around, and thought “wow, I’m doing ok.” Not only do you know where your next pay check is coming from, you feel solid, you know what you’re good at, plus the word “roommate” is nothing but a vague horror lost to your past. It’s pretty nice to have a lot of the little things figured out too — dealing with banks, government agencies, real estate agents, bosses? No sweat. You might even have a roster of trusted experts that make your life easier; you pay them and they provide perfect highlights/car tune ups/clean floors every time.

Daria, cynical, stand-offish, and pretty much me in high school (MTV)

Daria, cynical, stand-offish, and pretty much me in high school (MTV)

So Now What?

I know you’ve read articles and blog posts telling you men don’t like an overconfident independent woman and that you should try to be more feminine: don’t talk about your success, get your nails done, ask for help. And whatever you do, don’t brag about being able to change your own motor oil, forcryingoutloud! And I know that, at that point, your brain exploded, as did mine, and you wanted to scream BUT MY WHOLE LIFE I’VE BEEN TAUGHT THAT I SHOULDN’T BE DEPENDENT ON ANYONE, THAT SUCCESS IS THE BEST THING EVER, AND THAT MEN HATE CLIGNY GIRLS WHO NEED THEM.

Ok, let’s take a deep breath… inhale… exhale. Good. Now imagine that, though you don’t need help going to pick up groceries and making diner, someone is just there helping you. He’s carrying things, he’s driving, he’s paying for some stuff, he’s emptying your dishwasher. Hmmm, doesn’t that sound swell?

Admitting You Have a Problem Is Step One

We all have our issues. Whatever drives you to be 100% self-contained could be tied to expectations placed on you growing up, or a negative pattern you observed and swore never to replicate. For me there are two major fears:
1) the fear that someone will discover I’m not perfect
2) the fear of losing control over my environment (and therefore being uncomfortable!)

When I watched the Sex and the City episode in which Steve moves in with Miranda prompting her to have a major breakdown wherein she tells him she’s not perfect and she can’t cook and sometimes she doesn’t do laundry for a long time and he’s going to see that and she’s scared… yeah, I cried those weird release tears that only happen when a deep truth has been uncovered.

Sigmund, you surprise me.

Sigmund, you surprise me.

Let Go

Everything is a trade-off. I wanted someone in my life, but, for a long time, I wasn’t willing to take the risk (see major fears, above). It took dating someone who purposefully pushed my buttons for me to start letting go of some of that control. That experience proved to me that occasionally allowing someone to disrupt my ordered existence wasn’t so bad. And there were plus sides too, like having someone take me to the clinic if I was sick instead of suffering alone on the bus. After that, it became easier to let down my barrier with new people.

I still get angry and scared when faced with my vulnerability. I hate admitting that I sometimes need a little coddling, and I feel insecure about not being a super duper fun girlfriend at all times. But then my Monsieur assures me that he loves me all the more for being multifaceted. And I remind myself that he is also not invulnerable and I don’t mind. We’re always hardest on ourselves.

Don’t Freak Out, Start Small

I would never suggest to any woman that she should try to be someone she’s not in order to attract a mate. What I would say is that vulnerability is a human trait, not essentially male or female, and it’s alright, even desirable, to embrace it from time to time. I understand the need to protect yourself; please continue to do so when you feel threatened for whatever reason. But be open to possibilities. When approached, pause and make eye contact. Try smiling. Train yourself by asking someone you trust for help the next time a challenging task comes along. Baby steps.

There are aspects of my life that I continue to tenaciously protect. I am completely baffled by those couples who decide to live out of a camper or a shipping container, or whatever. It’s so essential for me to have my own space, to have access to peace and quiet when I need it, and to go into my protective cocoon. I’m lucky to have found someone who respects my needs and accepts the “conditions of living with Brenda.” But I’ve also had to let go of much control over my environment. And, even though anxiety strikes on occasion, I’m much happier now that I’ve relinquished some of my power. Of course, I’ve handed it over to someone who I know, without a doubt, would protect me with his dying breath. So there’s that.

Do you have a hard time being vulnerable?

Comments

  1. Nope! Cause I was the baby of the family—so it is almost a given that in certain instances, I am definitely vulnerable. In the past, I was more vulnerable than not, so it has made me more proud of becoming the independent and confident person I am today. As long as I am not vulnerable all the time 🙂

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