Vulnerability. It’s a layered word and not one often associated with a positive experience. When was the last time you felt vulnerable and liked it? If you’ve recently been divorced, I’m guessing it’s been a while. Yeah. I understand.
It’s been two plus years since my divorce and I’m finally (sort of) at a place where I think I may want to feel emotionally vulnerable again in romantic relationships. I know. I don’t really believe myself, either.
The irony with my hang up around vulnerability is I desire emotional intimacy. I mean…I’m a chick. I’ve been conditioned to be sensitive, self aware and emotionally expressive, and I can do all of the above with close girlfriends. Easy breezy. Feeling vulnerable with men, well that’s another, and quite longer story.
I’ve often asked myself if I even need emotional intimacy with men if I can have it so easily with women, and do men even know what women want emotionally anyway?
The Direct Approach
Last Spring, during our weeks of quarantine, this question became a point of intrigue. So much so I decided to make it my mission to get some answers.
Using the limited resources I had at the time to do this important research (Tinder passport), I asked dozens of men from all over the country one simple question.
“When it comes to emotional intimacy, what do you think women really want?”
I don’t know if it was my direct approach, or they were just desperate for some mental stimulation, but they all responded and with haste. You’d thought I was offering a succulent steak dinner or my award-winning chocolate chip cookies versus a Dear Abby dating inquiry. Regardless what the magic formula was, the gentlemen showed up.
And the Answers Are…
What surprised me even more than the dudes’ speedy replies were their thoughtful, sensitive and wise-words. I’m talking expressive words like “feelings,” “commitment,” and “trust” and sometimes all in one sentence.
With each text I began to feel this odd sensation. Some call it hope. Whatever it was, it led me to entertain the belief that men actually understand women, or at least me as a woman. I went from an overwhelming feeling of disbelief to elation, then to sheer panic.
“Oh Shit,” I thought, “If men are emotionally aware of what women really want, then can I still use the emotional mis-match of men and women as an excuse to escape vulnerability in relationships?” My internal jury is still in deep debate and I doubt it will come to a unified consensus anytime soon.
Since my inquisitive poll last year, I’ve been told by quite a few men how they want to be more emotionally available, they just need more practice. They’re, well, beginners. And I get it. I do. I mean it’s taken me decades to learn how to date like a dude (I’m quite good at it now), so I should be a bit more patient with the guys in my life as they practice emotional intimacy.
In my episode, “Intimacy for Beginners,” my divorced pals and I have a lively co-ed chat about vulnerability. We all agree we do want emotional intimacy, but at the same time we’re terrified by emotional intimacy. Yeah. It’s complicated but in a good way.
Has this glimmer of hope changed my point of view on the topics of vulnerability, more importantly, does it make me want to be vulnerable again in a relationship?
Not. So. Much.
In My Defense
By now perhaps you're wondering why I’m digging my anti-vulnerability heels in so deep? Good question.
I’m a recovering good girl raised by a perfectionist. For me growing up and into my young adult years, failure was comparable to saying the F-word in church. I just didn’t do it. Ever.
To fail not only meant I wasn’t perfect, it also meant something was really wrong with me. In fact many of us raised by perfectionists learned the coping skill called (drum roll) self-sabotage. I am definitely guilty of this. At least now I catch myself, most of the time, in this defeating act.
Being a recovering perfectionist AND going through a divorce is a doozy. Society tends to see divorce as a big fat failure. A marriage failed. It’s hard to even type this as it provokes feelings of shame (deep breaths, Sadie).
Being fully transparent, I’ve had some serious imposter syndrome around relationships since my divorce. I mean, if I’m divorced, I’m clearly bad at relationships, right? How can I really expect to be in a healthy relationship?
In those moments of defiance I tell myself, “I’ll just rely on women for emotional intimacy and men for sex” (which isn’t the worst strategy in the world, FYI).
Not letting me off the hook yet? Fine. Have it your way.
Get to know me
While I’ve steered clear of the v-word with men, I have taken steps to get to know someone really important – me.
(Yeah. I’m about to talk about self-love. Now you’re the one who can take a deep breath. It’s not going get too weird, I promise).
My fear of intimacy with the opposite gender has given me a lot of time and energy to be intimate with myself and not just with my vibrator, which is always satisfying.
If I had to name a win from this whole divorce debacle it would absolutely be, hands down, the sheer pleasure I’ve had getting to know myself on a deeper level.
If I could give COVID a silver lining, it’s given me oodles of quality time with myself to do my internal work. This month I discuss this and more with Holistic Divorce Coach and relationship expert, Maxine Clancy, in our episode, “Bury the Hatchet and Bloom." Being vulnerable with myself has led to a deep healing and internal transformation described best with one of my favorite words – delicious.
Saying “I do” to myself feels like a good start on my Act II vulnerability journey. I’ve fallen for a recovering good girl and it’s becoming one amazing love story.
This exercise in vulnerability will not make the process easier for me. I still would rather get naked than FEEL naked, but I’ll continue to practice the latter, and listen to that still soft voice that whispers “You can do this, too, Sadie.”
What are you ready to say “I do” to? Vulnerability? Healing? A relationship? Maybe (gasp) intergenerational dating [a special episode later this month] or possibly remarriage?
Whatever you say “yes” to make sure to put yourself first!