Faking It

Credit: Eric Kilby, Flickr via Creative Commons

Credit: Eric Kilby, Flickr via Creative Commons

All of my life, I’ve valued connecting with other people above almost anything else. I love nothing more than a four-hour late night conversation over coffee or drinks, once the sun has set and along with it some of our need to conceal. We make eye contact more easily at night, share things we would normally be afraid to divulge, and the settled silences are less awkward than they are spaces to really ingest the bits of soul being shared. I believe that when we are told the life of a Jesus follower is wrapped up in and marked by love, this kind of connection is part of what that means.

However, the practical realities of relationships with others and myself have been slow to reflect my theology. Over the course of the past year I’ve realized that I am excellent at feigning vulnerability. Because of my breadth of experiences and generally empathetic nature, I can share parts of my story and even emotions with someone in order to relate to things they are sharing with me. It’s an attempt to make the other feel safe, accepted, understood. In reality, though, I would never actually share something that wasn’t already processed and resolved. I wouldn’t divulge anything that felt personal or raw. It has begun to feel almost manipulative that I encourage others to open up to me without exchanging in kind.

I didn’t realize how widespread this false vulnerability was until I saw how insecure I’d become if that line was ever crossed. There is a small group of people who have actually seen me bare, and those people have an inordinate power over me. I’m terrified of being honest with these people about what I need from them, sure that if I ask for what I need I will be punished and abandoned. I learned to illegitimize my needs, focus solely on the other, ask questions to deflect away from myself. When close friends move away, my ability to engage shrivels. It’s like I completely lose the ability to connect because of the physical distance that yawns between us.

So now I know these things to be true of myself. What to do? I don’t want to be false with people, and I don’t want to be afraid. In one relationship, where the intimacy has been slow but the emotional connection has been strong, I’ve been challenged by him when I’ve held back. As I’ve shared what must seem like miniscule needs, trembling inside, he’s remained. He’s responded with understanding and acceptance and without the bat of an eye. In another, where the intimacy is deep and long-standing and has been forged in some fires, my needs were shared clumsily and loudly and with no scarcity of swearing. When he understood the fears his behavior tapped into, he was kind and gentle. He’s remained. As I’ve sought to be honest and truly vulnerable in conversations with people who are opening themselves to me, they’ve remained. When my closest friends have heard me process these realizations, when I’ve confessed my fears and push-and-pull behavior, they’ve comforted me. And they’ve remained.

I’m not sure what I actually thought would happen if I was honest, if I was willing to truly share myself. I’m not sure how I thought I’d love to learn with urgency and not haste without investing my heart in the process. I’m so grateful to have my vague, penetrating fears proven wrong, to be surrounded by such phenomenal people. If you’d asked me a year ago what I’d need most from people with whom I was vulnerable, I don’t know that I could have answered that question through the haze of feared abandonment. It turns out all I need is for you to remain. In return, I’ll try to do the same.

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2 Comments

  1. Karen Walters said,

    April 15, 2015 at 9:28 am

    This post made me feel like you were inside my head or something. At 67 this is exactly where I have finally found myself, as well. Bless you for your courage to be vulnerable and to share that vulnerability. What an encouragement!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >


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