Last night I was chatting with a good friend of mine on the phone. We’ve been friends since we were 13 and remain close to this day even though we live thousands of miles apart. While I shed my conservative Christian trappings soon after college, she has grown in her faith over the years. She is single, like me. But unlike me, she really longs to be married as soon as possible. She is an outgoing, smart, confident, beautiful woman. She’s often been told that she’s “too intimidating” to date by her fellow Christian men. (Read: Appears to have all her shit together).
Over the course of our conversation, she was discussing with me the latest interactions she’s been having with a man she likes. He’s a bit hot and cold with her and she said after not hearing from him for several days she sent a text that said “I miss you.”
This blew my mind a little bit because in the 20 years I have known her, a heartfelt “I miss you” to a man, was not something I’ve ever heard her say. It’s not that she isn’t emotionally open, but she grew up believing she must, can, and will take care of herself. According to her, as soon as she uttered that text, the man in question responded immediately.
It turns out that she’s been reading a Christian self-help book about how in relationships, a woman should show vulnerability in order to attract a man. (Something like that, I haven’t read it). And how, unless she wants to be the “strong, rational” one and end up with an “overly emotional” man, then she needs to allow her emotions to show. Yes, it speaks to conservative christian ideas about each partner in a relationship conforming to archaic gender roles but the book is sort of beside the point for me.
What I’m interested in is how showing some vulnerability can help you connect with people. And I don’t just mean sexual partners. For a person that isn’t naturally open with emotions (I’m talking about myself now) it seems like playing a game in order to get a desired reaction. Or is it? Is telling someone I miss them, if I truly do, even though of course I’ll be just fine until I see them again, important?
I feel like it’s such an accomplishment to not “need” people too much, but am I missing out on meaningful relationships because I’m not demanding more attention or time from people I care about? I feel like it’s a fine line. I want people to come to me because they want to be with me, not because I’ve emotionally manipulated them into feeling something for me.
On the other hand, I appreciate it when someone allows me to see more vulnerable aspects of their character. I like to help people, I want to “be there” for them. But I am uncomfortable if the roles are reversed. I feel awkward needing someone to “be there” for me. I’ve always been like this, ever since I was a young girl. And I don’t have horrible parents or trust issues in that regard.
One of the exercises that my friend’s book recommended was to practice making eye contact with strangers for 5 seconds at a time. 5 SECONDS?! That’s an insane amount of time to look at someone you don’t know.
It reminded me of a time I was in a bar with coworkers. One of the women in the group said “Watch, I’m going to reel that guy in” and in about 2 minutes, he had made his way over to our table. I still have no idea what she did to get him there, no words were exchanged and as soon as he was standing by us, she promptly ignored him (which was rude) but the fact is, he came to our table with no other prompt than, I assume, eye contact on her part.
Another exercise from the book was to spend two weeks not making a joke out of every awkward situation. So when someone says something that causes you to have a feeling (at work or whatever) rather than turning it into a punch line or brushing it off with humor, you are supposed to react seriously and think about how you feel. Even if you don’t say anything out loud, just don’t make a joke, as our instinct to joke or brush off is some sort of defense mechanism and defensiveness gets in the way of being open. (I realize that the no-humor part of the above could be a larger metaphor for many Christians in general but that is another topic altogether).
Even though I do not condone the “catch a Christian man” premise of the book, I thought the concept of being more vulnerable was interesting. I can see how practicing eye contact (five seconds!) and allowing yourself to feel rather than deflect with humor in personal interactions could be useful exercises. Pushing your own boundaries, putting yourself out there, etc. But it is a little bit terrifying.
I guess this post is about two things. One, were I to make myself more vulnerable on occasion, what might it open me up to that I am not currently experiencing? Two, I don’t think it should be at the expense of my actual personality. I’m not going to act needy just to get a guy to like me, because that’s not in my nature and I don’t want it to be and it seems like, at some point, your old personality would come back and that isn’t fair to the guy. Also, I want someone to like me as I am, not becuase I emotionally manipulated them into hanging out with me. I know needy and vulnerable are not the same thing and that could be part of my problem. I’m so worried about appearing needy, that I fail to also be vulnerable.
If you see me in the grocery store and I stare uncomfortably at you for five seconds, don’t be alarmed, I’m just conducting an experiment.