My hands shook as I pushed the letter through the slot. My fingers didn’t want to let go. I stood in the snowy, white cold for a long moment as I tried to convince my muscles to release the letter. To release my vulnerability into the world. I heard it land in the mailbox. I scrambled back into my car and sat for a moment, trying to get my breathing under control and talking myself out of throwing up.
Emotional vulnerability is hard. No one is going to argue with that, right? Telling people how we really feel – I love you, I don’t love you, you hurt me, I’m scared – leaves our deepest and most sensitive selves open to the ridicule, cruelty, and rejection of others. Often the people we care about the most, who hold the most ability to devastate us.
So my reaction that day, as I sent a letter winging across the city to the man in my life I have loved the longest, detailing the ways in which I felt our relationship had gone off course and was causing both of us pain, doesn’t surprise me. The 36 hours it took for him to receive the letter were riddled with an unsurprising amount of anxiety. I was laying my soul bare before one of the most important people in my life and asking him to still love me. Of course I was terrified.
But the thing about emotional vulnerability is that it often leads to the biggest pay-off. People tend to respond to genuine honesty and heartfelt pleas to hear me and see me and love me. Sure, sometimes they don’t respond well at first. Sometimes your honesty requires them to look at themselves in a way that is painful or that they might not be ready for. But lots of the time, when you lay yourself on the line with someone, they will respond in kind.
My letter to my father resulted in an hours-long conversation that was the most raw exchange we’ve ever had. It helped us understand each other better, and the ways in which we’d been our own worst enemies when it came to relating to one another. I learned things about my father I never knew before, and I told him things that had been weighing on me for years.
Our entire relationship shifted, and we have begun to establish a new, more positive equilibrium. He came over for dinner for the first time. We are talking regularly. I feel like we know each other better, and love each other better, too.
None of that would have been possible if I hadn’t had the courage to be vulnerable. Equally important, it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t had the courage to be as equally vulnerable with me.
I know vulnerability is scary. It is supposed to be. Lean into it, when it feels right. I’m sure you will be rewarded for it.
PS. Brene Brown knows what she is talking about.