vulnerability

On Why You Should Change for Your Man

photo (1)“Don’t let anyone change you”

“Your partner should love you for who you are… as you are…”

“You can’t enter into a relationship with the idea of changing your partner… if you can’t love them as they are, then you don’t deserve them forever”

Raise your hand if you have heard one or more of these before…

I certainly have. It’s easy to believe that change, when explicitly requested in a relationship, can be bad. Often this conclusion is a result of deciding that when change is requested, nay, required, it is somehow an attack on who you are as a person— like a direct hit to your identity. Then the idea of changing at the request of someone who should love you as you are, feels contrived… almost like “Was this your plan all along? To woo me and then force me to transform to suit your fancy”?!?!

But sometimes changing for your partner… and for the health of your relationship is good.

Let’s look at Ginuwine.

As he said back in the day… even though he may be on TV, he is in fact the same ol’ G.  Fast forward to 2014, him and his wife are fighting on instagram as he foolishly posted a picture of their daughter with a caption implying she was a stripper— or whatever. I mean, I wonder how much Sole was telling him, “Babe, you actually can not be the same ol’ G… you should find a new G status to acquire that includes not being so faded on television that you are slurring your words in a live performance.” Perhaps if Ginuwine was a new Ol’ G, his marriage would be in a better place (and even maybe his career). ginuwine

Perhaps that example is egregious… because he should obviously change for his own good. But so… is that the standard? If your partner requires certain changes of you before you can move along in the relationship, is it ok as long as these changes are constructive? What if they seem constructive to your partner but may not be to you (as in, they are not destructive but you don’t find them particularly valuable)? Is it unfair of you to acquiesce and are you doomed to a life of sadness if you do? Will all your friends judge you and say you’re whipped?

I remember casually dating a guy in college that had been a childhood frenemy (I hated him until I was like 18… on everything, I wished death upon his life twice.) The fact that we were even casually dating was a feat. He was very headstrong, and I was very dogged in my beliefs, but we somehow clicked. I remember we had this long conversation about trust and what it means to really be vulnerable and show affection. He would always say that I was so hard. I thought I was doing really well with my smiley faces and the fact that I made a lot of time to talk to him. Over time, I became increasingly comfortable with him but I was still guarded. When it came time to go back to school, I told him straight up that I knew that this relationship was going to wither into the wind because we were in different time zones (Cali love #noTuPac) and he was a guy… so… we shouldn’t fool ourselves. He said we should just see what happens, and stay connected. I obliged. We tried to stay in contact but the time zone difference was killing us softly. I knew this would happen. I remember telling him that I knew this would happen. Even though we knew the time zone factor was an issue, he said it came back to me being an ice queen “hard”:

“You can’t ever just say how you feel Amma. If you miss me, tell  me you miss me. Don’t be afraid to be affectionate. I mean yeah, we always seem to be busy but you’re just not vulnerable”

“How can I be vulnerable when you are never around!?” I thought… crying on the inside but maintaining my nonplussed attitude on the outside. If he couldn’t handle my love…well… then… good riddance.

Fast forward ten years later, and in a number of relationships I have received a similar critique. It could be the case that I just attract these really soft, romantic types that do not reflect the archetype of the hard, emotionless African man I understood. Or it could be that I was in fact an African man Ice Queen. Upon realizing that the latter was closer to the truth (though the former is not mutually exclusive), I decided maybe I should try something different. Maybe I should change.

Here’s the thing… none of my friends take issue with my “lack of affection”— neither do any of my family members. They all love me as I am, and completely accept the way I show love (read: smiley faces and acts of service). Any changes I would make, therefore, in my propensity to show affection, would be at the strict request of the person I was dating. Thus: I would, in fact, be changing, for my man. Setting pride and ego aside and looking at this as purely wanting to make sure the person I am with is happy, one would be hard-pressed to find fault with my actions. Furthermore, these changes do not make me less “me”… in the ways that people know my character and general sensibilities. Yet, talking to friends about it… even in the abstract is often met with hesitance. “If you start now, will it ever end… what else will you have to change… blah blah blah”…

Most people understand that change is inevitable.

No one really expects to be the same ol’ G forever… but I think people take issue with the change being done for someone else, as opposed to for yourself. But what is really wrong with that? Am I less independent? less intelligent? less— anything because of it? And if the changes don’t make me unhappy (though… a bit… uncomfortable in the short term— open affection takes getting used to, I am fighting years of desensitization, allow!), isn’t it worth the effort?

All in all… I am happy with the changes I have made. Aside from making the other person in the relationship happy, there are also spillover effects for other relationships with friends and family. At the end of the day…I just cannot be the Ginuwine to someone’s Sole… it could never be me, me, me (*cue track*)

What are your thoughts? Should you change for your partner? Is changing for your partner a slippery slope? 

Advertisements

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day: Vulnerability is a Learned Behavior.

photo (3)I’ve generally been a late adopter of things… I was probably the last of my friends to switch from a flip phone to a blackberry, likewise one of the last to get an iPhone. I’m only now jumping into the yoga phenomenon, and I just decided to give this natural hair thing a real try (yay for transition period… I think lol 🙂 ). Thus, it wouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s taken me this long to fully embrace vulnerability.

Over the last year or so, I can proudly say that I’ve been working on my ability to be vulnerable with people that I care about. It’s been a rocky road, but I’ve thankfully seen concrete progress. It hasn’t always felt good, but it’s definitely been good for me.

I used to have a real issue with being vulnerable. If you recall I wrote about this briefly HERE as a response to one of my favorite guest pieces on the blog, by Eli Tetteh (HERE). I know that fundamentally the issue stood with me seeing it as a sign of weakness. Let’s pause for a sec, because there might be some questions as to the relevance of this post to our generally fun happy-go-lucky dating stories. Welt, 1. I think the topic is important- because, just like it was for me, a lack of vulnerability can lead to the downfall of some of our most intimate relationships. And 2. It’s my blog and I get to write whatever I want this is somewhat therapeutic for me.

unnamed (1)In any case, over the last year, I’ve made a conscious effort to come clean to myself, my God, my close friends and other relationships more than I have ever done so in the past. This has included opening up about my fears, insecurities, and failures to close friends; telling someone that I loved them for a long time although I knew he never shared the same feelings for me (and knowing the admission meant closure of a chapter in my life); and yes, even becoming way more open on this little ol’ platform right chere through pieces like this, thisthis, and who could forget this. The consequences of doing these things, I will tell you have not always been as I would have liked, BUT I’ve learned a lot more about myself in how I love others and how others love me… more than if I had never opened up. I’ve learned that there is no intimacy without risk (intimacy… … into me see… … see into me). There’s no seeing into me, all of me, without risk. I’ve learned that we tend to fear vulnerability, not realizing that without it our hearts aren’t able to fully love… For if we cannot open ourselves up, we can’t appreciate the wonders of what is inside (BOTH good and bad). And this also has ripple effects on our relationships.

Be your authentic self, and trust that those that are supposed to be with you will be drawn to you, and will stay.

I’ve also learned a lot about the power of vulnerability to take relationships to a new level, and to also sift out relationships that are not meant for you. I’ve learned that people need to earn the right for me to be vulnerable with them (spiritually, emotionally, and physically)… because any time you give up power, you have to trust the person you’re giving power to. I’ve also learned that just because someone earns that right for me to be vulnerable with them, doesn’t mean they are necessarily able to handle the weight of my vulnerability.

I know I am saying ‘learned’ for all these things, but the truth is that I am still ‘learning’.

So again, why am I writing this? It’s mostly because I know I’m not alone. And I want to pass on the message… Being scared of rejection and failure because of vulnerability is in essence being scared of love. True love. You cannot separate the two. I’ve included below a Ted talk on the Power of Vulnerability by Brenin Brown (BB). It’s a really powerful video on how to have a correct view on vulnerability and how being vulnerable is the only way to fully love and be loved for your authentic self. If you’re on any kind of journey of self development or exploring why certain relationships aren’t working, I’d encourage you to watch the vid.

I jotted some notes while watching the video (for those that do not have time to watch):

  • It takes courage to show your imperfections.
  • Authenticity produces connection.
  • When BB observed people in her study who were vulnerable, she saw that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful  (which is sometimes contrary to what we tell ourselves: “what makes me vulnerable makes me ‘ugly’ “)
  • Vulnerability is at the core of shame, fear and our struggle for worthiness (to be loved), but it’s also the birth place of joy, creativity, belonging and love.
  • You can’t selectively numb the ‘bad emotions’, without numbing the good emotions… Letting yourself experience emotions such as fear, shame, vulnerability allows you to better experience emotions such as joy, peace, love.
  • Lastly, and this isn’t directly from the vid, but my big takeaway this year is:

Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s a sign of strength.

Amma? Readers? Thoughts? What’d you think of the video and how does it relate to your personal life?

Response: Vulnerability x Time = Intimacy

I’m finally getting around to responding to Eli’s guest post… It’s taken me a little while to finish this… starting and stopping several times. As Eli knows, this is a sensitive topic for me. Something I’ve struggled with in the past.

Vulnerability is scary and often unnatural to many people. I find the latter even more-so true with Africans given that our culture encourages us to suppress (and sometimes not even acknowledge (certain) emotions). One of the main reasons for this is that being vulnerable is viewed as a sign of weakness and exposes flaws…and within a relationship dynamic, this can translate into very real negative consequences, ie. your significant other discovering that they do not want to be with you anymore. So people keep quiet. They conceal themselves. Or become who they believe the other person wants them to be. And this is why many relationships/ marriages have shaky foundations.

Time is the unassuming key factor in this equation. Rightfully, it should have a multiplying effect on vulnerability in order to achieve intimacy. In my opinion, opening up to someone gradually makes for a stronger bond- there’s just something about getting to know someone intimately too soon which screams warning signs (that crash and burn scenario). I know people wouldn’t be able to handle all of me in the first conversation, nor would they be able to understand certain things about me unless there had been a foundation set over time… for example, appreciating that I’m really not as tough as I want people to think I am, first, will allow you to better understand that my feminist roar really masks my burning desire to be an amazing wife to a great man one day… To take care of him… be his support… his best friend and the mother of his children…

One of the tough questions that Eli touched briefly on in his piece is how long should one wait to become vulnerable with someone – emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically- and is there an order which guarantees success? Is it best done all at once? My roommate and I were discussing the romantic landscape of our current lives, and she said something I really connected with: there’s something unnerving about meeting someone out and beginning the relationship on a romantic level right away. Her desire, and frankly mine as well, is to develop a friendship with a guy and for things to naturally blossom. Is this too idealistic? Who knows. But in my experience, the best relationships last when a foundation of spiritual and emotional intimacy is laid first. If I’m to be frank about things, I can accurately predict whether a relationship will be short- or long-term depending on how quickly we’re physical.

Opening up has been a journey for me, even with close friends. I’ve been guarded a lot of my life, because there’s always been an implicit persona that needed to be kept up… ‘the academic one’ ‘the good girl’ ‘the tough girl’ ‘the African daughter from a respectable home’.  How exactly does one admit to their fear of rejection when she’s known as the ‘haaard girl’, you know. Although I’ve become better at opening up, I still stick to the premise that one does not necessarily need to share everything with everyone, and that means your partner too. Some things are just for you and your Creator. However, your significant other should be the one person on this planet earth who knows the most about you and who you feel the most comfortable sharing things with: not your best friend(s), not your colleague(s), not even your family, but your significant other- that’s just how I feel.

But to eli I would say this, a lot of people do not share your our view that love blossoms out of vulnerability. I can “love you”, be married to you/be in a longterm committed relationship with you, and that have nothing to do with my emotional, spiritual (and even physical) fulfillment in life. Rather, my love for you is in how I take care of you- monetarily… it’s how I respect you as a woman and the mother of my children… but not that I necessarily share my feelings with you (perhaps because I don’t even acknowledge my own feelings to myself). Do we look at that couple and say that the man doesn’t love his wife if that’s his definition of love?

This has been good food for thought though…thanks Eli. Remember to check out Dust Magazine, where Eli is the Editor-at-Large. Also, follow him on twitter @elidot.

Vulnerability x Time = Intimacy

My friend wrote a tweet a couple days ago that really struck me:

vulnerability x time = intimacy

I wanted to hear more on the matter, so he sent me this:

Just my thoughts…

So, vulnerability x time = intimacy

Intimacy is born out of vulnerability. A person needs to allow themselves to be seen before they can cultivate anything real with someone else. The degree to which we do this is the degree to which we get intimate with another person. Unfortunately, many in our world (particularly in our generation) think of intimacy as solely physical. I don’t. It’s emotional, mental and spiritual before it’s ever physical. When we’re invested in ego, invested in reputation, invested in power and status… rather than invested in allowing ourselves to be seen as we really are — complete with chipped paint and all the requisite chinks in the armour — we sabotage our relationships. Many of my “close friendships” over the years could’ve very well grown and fluorished into a connection of the romantic sort… but in at least two or three cases, I made an executive decision and placed the woman on the bench… on account of her inability (more so, unwillingness) to be vulnerable.

Now all this is under the assumption that one has the time to achieve this. One of the things I’ve been reminded of since returning here [Ghana] is that intimacy comes quickly for me. Whether the relationship we have is platonic or not, I often get deep on the first or second question of the conversation. I’ve had people joke about how excruciating times with me can be… but also, how they end up being genuine, authentic and refreshing once they clear the hurdle of being reluctant about vulnerability. Most “normal” people take time to get “deep” however. It’s a gradual process. Even in long-standing friendships, when people have been apart for a very long time, once they reconnect, they’re usually slow to get back to the same level of intimacy. So a person has to be patient (to a degree) and wait for enough time to pass that a person can develop trust and confidence in the relationship… and feel comfortable opening up.

Now, some people are able to speed up this process. Particular demeanors, personalities and dispositions lend to this. Similarly, if you’re the opposite of these (cold, frigid, intimidating, arrogant) then you’ll cause people to clam up. So the speed can be varied.

But intimacy can’t be had without vulnerability.

And in most cases, vulnerability can’t be had without time.

Some people spend “years” in a relationship, but have no intimacy with their partner… because they spent those years putting up fronts and/or interacting on a functional level — “how was your day?” “who’s going to pick up the kids today?” “what’s your ePack fund looking like?” — rather than a vulnerable level — “what are your hopes? dreams? fears? what about yourself gives you pause? why does that quality in that person irk you so much?” etc…

So lessons I’ve had to re-learn since getting back to Ghana: intimacy is a lifeblood for me, and relationships are (more often than not) personally useless to me without it; vulnerability requires putting in the time, rather than expecting things instantly; the more the tendency to front, the weaker the connections between people will be. This is true at work, church, home, etc.

Hope that gives you an overview of where my mind was when I came up with the equation?

…It does.

Eli just moved back to Ghana after being the US for some time. Apart from being my big brother and designated life coach :), Eli is also editor-at-large of Dust Magazine, follow him on twitter: @elidot

I’ll be responding to his thoughts in Part 2 of Vulnerability x Time = Intimacy. Stay tuned.