The Act of Being Vulnerable

Other than simply trying to maintain my sanity, one breathe at a time, my late twenties which practically began right at the onset of the pandemic was essentially filled by the many efforts I put to work on some loose ends in terms of my relationships with people around me.

I’ve started seeing a professional (again) since last year, this time rather regularly. There’s this topic I’ve kept to myself for the last two decades, that I never really talked about to anyone else but I finally worked up some courage to deal with. I also took this presumably life-altering course called The Science of Well-Being from Yale, as suggested by a blog reader and also because I’ve always heard this course being referred to all the time whenever I binge-watch yet another TEDx talk on happiness and so forth. From which, I felt inspired to reconnect and rekindle past friendships that might have gone almost stale due to the nature of the awkward adulthood phase that these friends and I are navigating through. And of course, despite having previously spent more than half of our time together in long-distance, facing yet another LDR phase with my boyfriend of 8.5 years was not without issues and new sets of challenges.

Although not always directly, all these things taught me one thing. You’ve got to be brave to be a bit vulnerable to invite others in.

If a friend was once your lifesaver, remind them that they are. If you feel lucky to have known and befriended someone among almost eight billion other options on the planet, let them know. If you’re grateful for someone’s presence, you make sure they know it. If you come upon someone who feels like serendipity, you tell them you’re happy that you did. If you think a certain action someone does to you is wrong, you tell them and ask why they’re doing it.

Of course, there’s no guarantee whether or not your indirect invitation to be equally vulnerable lands on mutual interest. Maybe it will bounce off a brick wall, and it hurts a little. Does not mean it’s not worth trying. However bad it might somehow turn out, I still believe that if things do not go the way you’d expect a mature interaction between two adults to go, it’s their loss and not yours.

As I ventured into the different sides of what being vulnerable means, I got to see the different reactions people gave back as a response. From ones that I appreciate truly, to others that I can’t say I feel the happiest about. The latter may hurt a little, but it doesn’t invalidate the fact that you have a good intention to begin with, which unfortunately just may not translate into a territory they’re familiar with or willing to explore.

Maybe it’s in the different “love” languages, which are not necessarily in terms of romance. It could be in the context of friendships, anything grey between platonic stuff and slightly more, or family dynamics too. Maybe they’re just not well-prepared in terms of their own capacity and/or bravery to process and receive those emotions, and consequently the part about giving back too. Maybe it’s simply about the discomfort and awkwardness that might come with conveying your emotions, that they haven’t been able to surmount. Or maybe, unfortunately, they just don’t think it matters as much as you think it does.

When the responses are not quite what I had hoped them to be, does it mean I’ve been directing my energy in the wrong direction and that I’m wasting them? When I think I deserve better, does that mean this particular relationship is a lost cause?

Frankly, I think the answers are all maybes. You decide whether or not you’re wasting how much of an interesting and invested person you are on someone. You decide whether or not you’ve incurred enough pain on yourself that you have to just let this one go. You determine which ones deserve another trial and a bit more understanding, and which ones, perhaps, do not.

After all, the combination of human minds and emotions is a variety of extremely wide spectrum that you can never convert into binary options of whether or not their intersection with your life serves you or not.

But what I can say from my short yet unexpectedly meaningful experience so far is that: many of my most cherished relationships were salvaged because of this act of bringing your guards down and admitting your vulnerable side every once in a while.

At the same time, few unfortunately do not seem to improve. But from there I also learn that you can’t expect everyone to have the depth and capacity to return your good intentions. Whether it’s about the readiness, timing, perspectives, or whatnot, people will be ready when they are, or maybe they never will, and that’s okay too. You decide if somewhere along the way, it’s best to bid farewell, or if you’re willing to give them another chance.

P.S.: Your guts are probably, mostly right.

9 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Terima kasih sudah menuliskannya dengan manis! Sedang kepikiran akhir-akhir ini tentang adult friendship (or in general: relationship between adults). Sering kali terasa seperti bertepuk sebelah tangan, tapi kalau dipikir lagi barangkali ini semua masalah ekspektasi diri yang diletakkan di kevel dan tempat yang kurang tepat.

    1. Aku juga awal ambil course TSOWB itu salah satunya karena itu ๐Ÿ™ˆ. Tapi aku (dulunya, at least) memang bukan tipe teman/pasangan/anggota keluarga yang bisa verbal menyampaikan apresiasi buat orang2 tersayang, jadi aku rasa mungkin merekanya pun at some point pernah bertanya, “Does she really care about me? Are we even okay?” Hence the post! Karena aku pikir daripada sama2 saling berasumsi, selama ada yang bisa proaktif duluan kenapa nggak kan ya. Wishing you a pleasant journey in navigating these simple-yet-complicated relationships!

  2. Thank you for writing this, Kak. This came at the right time for me. Recently I’ve been rethinking about the elements of “friendship”– what makes a friend, a friend? How many “friends” would I consider a close friend, let alone a friend?

    Do you think someone who we can confide in easily when we talk, but we rarely talk and catch uo with each other, can be considered a close friend? Or do we really need to keep in contact once in a while to maintain our relationship?

    It got me thinking that yes, having a friend is hard, but maintaining a friend is also hard, especially during adulthood where we are all busy with each other’s own lives. I think friendship needs effort from both parties, and sometimes some people we confide in doesn’t confide in to us also, and that makes friendship harder to cultivate, just like what you said.

    1. Hey! If it makes you feel better, these days I also felt like I shared my stories with them more often than they do with me, especially compared to what we used to do years ago. But somehow, with certain people you just know it’s not because they want to drift apart or if you’re unwittingly losing them. When you know, you know.

      We also barely talk on a regular basis – there’s a small handful I talk to every other day, but for most friends that I consider close enough, even on our best days we probably only talk once a month. And it’s totally fine. As friendships age, just like a romantic relationship, you no longer need each other’s constant presence as you both are already in a plateau phase of just comfort and contentment – so at the end of the day, I suppose as long as you’re still comfortable with each other, then the friendship has not expired. It will get more complicated considering people have different love languages and preferences in terms of the level of intimacy they’re comfortable with, but as friends we’re presumably aware of their boundaries and preferences too, so hopefully the understanding part comes a bit easier. ๐Ÿ™‚

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