It’s Not You, It’s Me

I’m working on being more vulnerable in my friendships.

I admit, this statement seems absurd to me on multiple levels. For one, how can one work on vulnerability? I’ve always thought the whole point of being soft and supple was to not try so hard in the first place. Secondly, to admit that one wants to be vulnerable on a forum as public as a blog strikes me as evidence that said person does not indeed have a problem with vulnerability after all.

It was my husband who suggested vulnerability might be one of my “challenge areas.” I came home from another pleasant interaction with someone (I promise, it wasn’t you) who I found nice enough but there just didn’t seem to be a spark between us.

“I don’t know. It’s not like I felt like they were holding anything back. It’s just that, well, I don’t know how deep we can really go,” I explained to him. This felt like an adult-like observation, focused on conserving energy in relationships rather than spreading yourself thin like a college-aged Young Life leader.

“How deep are you willing to go?” Rush pushed back. This was the problem with telling your husband that you wish he would give you more feedback, that in the scheme of the Christian principle to “speak the truth in love,” he seems to be too good at the “love” part but skimpy on the “truth.”

I think of myself as an open book, sometimes even too prolific in my words. But the more I thought about it, I realized a key detail I was leaving out of this whole literary metaphor: I was most often the edited version.

A friend posted a New York Times article on her Facebook page a few months ago about the nature of adult relationships. Titled “Friends of a Certain Age: Why Is It Hard to Make Friends After 30?”, the writer named three facets of close friendships: proximity, spontaneity, and safe space for confiding in one another. While the first and third were no-brainers, it was the second facet that was holding me back. To know that the friendships that are less scheduled are the ones with more intimacy made me want to erase my Google calendar and stop responding to any more clever Evites.

It made sense. For me, spontaneity is vulnerable – knowing I’ll risk the security of my introvert-friendly schedule, knowing I’ll stick my foot in my mouth and need forgiveness, knowing I’ll text someone to hang out but they’ll already be hanging out with a mutual friend and so they will text me something back vague in return and secretly feel sorry for me.

Vulnerability is learning to edit myself a little less and trust my friends a little more to accept a few errant and awkward comments from time to time. I’m not talking about turning my open book into a detailed diary but I could stand to be a bit more brave when I’m feeling neurotic, a bit more bold when I disagree.

Rush and I were out in San Francisco last month visiting some of our best friends in the world. On our walk to a little Italian festival in North Beach, Lia got a call from a friend. She looked at me directly and said, “I should take this or she’ll be calling all day about her wedding plans.”

What she did next astounded me. She didn’t let it go to voicemail so she could gather her thoughts or craft a polite email to avoid confrontation. She just picks up the phone and greets the caller on the other end with the line, “Girl. You’re acting cray-cray.”

I look at Rush bug-eyed, like we shouldn’t be overhearing such a private and intimate conversation. He chuckles, incredulous.

But the thing is, her brief conversation with a distressed bride-to-be felt more vulnerable than some of my nicest (and scheduled) friend dates. When I told her this much, she chalked her chutzpah up to being Jewish.

Since I’m not yet “of a certain age,” I think there may be some hope for me to have the type of friendships that were once fostered by knocking on a neighboring dorm room door or randomly calling up high school friends to go pool-jumping in the dark.

So next time I invite you to hang out and you agree and we find ourselves splitting a mediocre cupcake at Hummingbird Cafe, don’t laugh when I say I’m working on being more vulnerable in my friendships. Just look past the icing on my upper lip and say, “You’re acting cray-cray.”

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10 responses to “It’s Not You, It’s Me

  1. I will be your friend. And never settle for mediocre cupcakes. I tasted one of those and thought it tasted like hamburger.

  2. Hi Erin, I think it’s great you posted this, because I, too, feel like I am in a similar boat- though I rationalize it as laziness and a lack of ‘need’ than vulnerability, but maybe it’s a little bit of all of them. I consider myself a lazy friend, because I rarely pursue new friendships ( I like to let others come to me) or prefer friendships of convenience- aka work place friends where we share common experiences that propels the friendship forwards. Have no clue how to ‘go deeper’. But then i chalk my antideepess up to having an independent streak where I prefer not identifying myself as a part of some social circle ( which is why I was never part o the young life leaders inner circle/cool kids club). But maybe it’s also
    I do not find it easy to be vulnerable. I can be open, but vulnerable? Express some sort of need of someone else? yikes, that’s hard. Ugh, I don’t want to express need or risk an exchange that might cost me something or burden or inconvenience else. Usually, prefer to pass and stick to generalities and niceties and take care of myself- but then new friendships don’t go anywhere, because there’s no where interesting to go! Dilemma. Easier to rely on old friends than put any effort or risk into new ones.

    • Sarah – You raise so many important points in your post. 1) Our need for friendships appears to diminish as we get older and our lives are more full with partners and children. 2) Our ability to put effort into friendships is constrained by the increasing responsibilities of work, both professional and domestic. 3) Our self-understanding as adults who are not as trivial, needy, or dependent upon our friendships sets. In all three aspects we might be able to “take care of ourselves” but not really “give of ourselves” with the same risk we once did.

  3. This is so me!! Great post!

  4. Ha, I totally hear you on this, especially just coming back from China, I’m struggling to put my (whole) self out there again. But I had a bit of an epiphany yesterday blogging about the kind of spontaneity you mentioned, which I call interference, and being open to it not just on another continent but on this one (http://littlesacredspace.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/crumbs-interference-and-sincerity/). Would love to keep up with your struggle for vulnerability, which I don’t think is overly intentional, because I’m right there with you!!

    • Erin – I’m just now getting around to reading your post and it’s resonating deeply. I hate to interfere in other people’s lives and in fact work hard (oh, so very hard) at being low-maintenance and accommodating. But I think of my midwestern mother and how much she imposes on people to help her now that’s she’s living alone and I think of how I want to be like her, what a gift it is to the people around her, and why it is I shy away from such brave vulnerability.

  5. Terrific brave writing, Erin. I love it.

  6. Just stumbled upon this blog through a link gone out in cyberspace somewhere.
    Liked it. Several interesting points about vulnerability, friendship, making friends after age 30 (didn’t realize this was a problem). Friendship can also be situational as well. By that I mean, you might be in the same group or organization or open to the world at a particular moment, and this opens the door to vulnerability and friendship. But if the situation ends, sometimes the friendship does too.
    “Cray cray” πŸ™‚ cute term.
    I don’t think one can decide to be more vulnerable, I believe it kind of happens in the moment with people. One can’t be that with everyone; to me it seems like of happiness or intensity in the moment. Depending on how serious the other person is about paying attention, it can create something very lovely.

    • Hi Audrey,

      Welcome to the blog! Thanks for offering your perspective. You make a good point about situational friends – and I think this why friendships after 30 become a bit more complicated. The situations of your friends can be vastly different – from marital status to family proximity to income, etc. It’s hard to find people that you not only connect with but those who share your same rhythm, even if they don’t share your same situation.

      I hope you’ll offer more comments here from time to time.

      Peace,
      E

  7. Peace right back at you Erin! Keep open to the world, and it will stay open to you. A spiritual director once told me long ago that the older you get, the harder it is for you to find your peers. I think this is true from time to time, but then, at the oddest times, the perfect people just waltz right into your life.
    Vulnerability…. good. Making new friends but keeping the old, also good πŸ™‚
    Really like your writing, and look forward to your ideas in the future!

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