Six years ago, I chose to leave a man who wouldn’t talk. When things got emotional, he would work and work and work. I didn’t pester him to talk. I thought if I let him be, he would emerge with words and we would feel connected once again.
But he never emerged.
It was hard to leave. We had an 18-month-old and he was the breadwinner. Our initial agreement had been that he would carry most of the financial responsibility until our daughter was 3, and then we would contribute equally. That meant he worked long hours during the summer for his contracting business. Eventually, his long hours outside of the house led him to spend more long hours in front of his computer doing book-keeping when he came home. It meant I spent 10 to 12 hours days alone with my daughter, whom he played with for an hour when he got home so I could shower and have some me time (which meant binging on Netflix to my very depleted self). We barely interacted. I wanted to talk or hang out after our daughter went to bed and he would complain that he was too tired and it wasn’t a good time.
It was never a good time.
Eventually, our communication merely revolved around what needed to get done around the house. I remember the night I left him vividly. It was just after Memorial day and a major heatwave hit Upstate NY. I remember I had asked him a few days before if he would put the air conditioner in our bedroom window and he said he was too busy. I was putting my daughter down for a nap, beads of sweat dripping down both of our faces as he passed by the bedroom on the way to his basement workshop. “Can you put the AC unit in now? It’s too hot in here for her to sleep.”
It happened quickly. So quickly I started to shake. His fist went through the hallway wall. My baby was shaking in my arms too. I hugged her in tight. He stood there with wide-eyes and a gaping mouth holding his hand.
I sped down the stairs and outside to the porch stoop with my little girl in my arms. Taking deep breaths, I looked up at the bird’s nest on our porch. My daughter said, “Bid” in her toddler’s voice. I smiled, holding back fear-based tears, “Yes, baby birds, Wren. That’s how you got your name. You’re named after a very special little songbird.” As I was saying this, my insides were piercing every cell with shards of fear. My words were soothing me more than my daughter. I was desperately hoping she didn’t feel my fear too much. The baby birds offered a nice distraction for a few quiet minutes.
Then he walked out to the porch, his face full of shame; his head hanging low. “I’m sorry,” he whispered in a barely audible tone.
The moment he spoke words that had a hint of feeling in them a rage rushed through me. It was a motivating, energizing kind of force. It was a mama bear kind of ferocity. I stood up, tightening my loving grip on my daughter. “What you did isn’t okay. You terrified our baby and me. I’m done.” I started to walk to the car.
He begged me not to go.
“I’m going to my parents. Please give us some space.”
This wasn’t the first time he had an angry outburst that broke his hand. He had done the same thing to the wall in our living room almost exactly a year before. It was another hot day. I left him then too. But only for a few days. He came to my parents, full of remorse, with a bouquet of wildflowers in his hands. The flowers and remorse won me over. So did the fact that our daughter, who was 6 months at the time didn’t witness the event.
But this time was different. I knew our baby would hold of memory of this day in her subconscious forever. And while I knew he would never lay a hand on me, I felt in my bones that this was the grand finale of our relationship. We were becoming my parents and I didn’t want that for my child. There was a pattern forming that could not be changed if I was the only one willing to do the work.
I didn’t want my daughter to be raised in a household filled with tension and silence and emotional repression mixed with bouts of angry outbursts. I experienced that in my childhood and I didn’t want my daughter re-living my family history.
I didn’t walk away without trying first. Months before we tried. Hard. We went to therapy. We talked it out. But nothing would change at home. He opened up on the therapist’s couch after much poking and prodding on her part. With me, he simply shut down. I felt hopeless and helpless and very, very alone. I felt disrespected and confused. I wasted too many hours wondering what was wrong with me and trying to figure out how I could be a better partner to get him to open up. I exhausted myself by trying to do his work for him.
What I needed is what many women not only need but also crave desperately: my man to open up to me.
When I left my daughter’s father, I felt like I was leaving a stranger. I didn’t really know him. I only knew parts of him. His shut-down self put up such a huge wall, it prevented me from getting close. I, like most humans in relationships, simply wanted closeness.
What this world needs most are partnerships that are oozing with vulnerability. The kind of vulnerability that is mixed with the salty tears of emotional release and the juices of lovemaking. The kind of vulnerability that causes breakthroughs and not breakdowns.
I shut down my heart for a long time after I left my ex. I lost faith in the opposite sex. I lost hope that men who could open up and share their hurts or fears or insecurities, even when it scared them shitless to do so even existed.
I recently met a man that had the courage to take a deep dive into his insecurities with me. In a moment of tension, as he stood there, averting his gaze. I gently asked, “What’s going on for you.” He took a deep, half-exasperated breath. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. No pressure.” I meant what I said. Based on my past, I knew I couldn’t force a man to open up if he didn’t want to. I knew he would open up to me if and when he was ready. I was just hoping this would be a when-man and not an if-man.
My whole being lit up when he started to stutter his feelings out. They poured out in choppy sentences that began to slice through the tension like a machete. Within moments, I felt closer to him than ever. I knew why he had been holding back; he was feeling insecure. When he gave voice to his feelings, his whole body relaxed. His eyes met mine with new confidence. As our eyes locked, years of hopelessness washed out of me. I smiled at him and felt like my whole being had a glow. It was the kind of smile you get when something you’ve been dreaming of suddenly appears right in front of you.
Vulnerability is simply the expression of our feelings, as they are, right here and right now. It’s that simple stuff preschool songs are made of. But grown-up humans make it so complicated. Songs go from the pure expression of the here and now to ballads about being misunderstood and rejected.
Our culture has made expressing feelings even more complicated for males. I’ve talked to so many males that have said they would be viewed as weak or effeminate if they talked about their authentic feelings with “the boys.” Instead, they make fun of their feelings. Or they numb them by getting drunk or high with the guys. Or they get into aggressive sports and let them all out in a war-like, somewhat aggressive style.
If men knew how much of a turn on vulnerability is, there would be a lot less relationship tension and a lot more connected sex in this world.
If men allowed themselves to soften and open to the raw feelings of the moment, they would tap into a well of deep confidence and passion than they ever knew existed within them.
But most men fear opening up, not because they fear their partner will reject them, but because they fear society will. What will happen when feelings start to get acknowledged and your partner loves you more for it and not less? Will you feel less apt to get drunk with the guys? Will your motorcycle start rusting? Will your sarcasm melt away?
I don’t know what will happen within your social circles once you start shedding your layers of protection and shame, but I do know that your lover will thank you. And I can almost guarantee you will experience a level of emotional intimacy that is better than an orgasm. For real. Better, not just because it will feel amazing, but because it will be a long-lasting kind of amazing.
I can also share that I’ve known men that have shed their layers of protection by starting to open up; to be honest. It started with one moment of courage where they walked through the fear of sharing what was on their mind and in their heart and risked it all. And once they pushed through that first moment and got love and acceptance and not the rejection they felt so terrified of, they wanted more. Some of them told me their relationships with their male friends changed — for the better. They became the light-bearer. When they dropped their sarcasm for sensitivity, their friends felt curiosity and respect.
“What are you doing differently, man? I like your vibe. It feels like you’re really present and more relaxed. Tell me how I can feel this way too.”
Well, maybe the conversations didn’t go down exactly like that. But even an inkling of that can open the floodgates for a new type of male: the so confident with his own emotions that it’s sexy kind of male. Ooh la la. I’m swooning just writing it out.
Men, women want you. All of you.
We love your naked bodies loving on ours. But even more than that, we love your emotional nakedness. The more you reveal what’s on your mind and in your heart, the more turned on we are going to get.
And we both know what happens when you turn us on.
Ooh la la.
Now go get emotionally naked for your woman.
There will never be a good time or the right time.
The fear will always be there.
Get emotionally naked.
You can thank me later.
Previously Published on Medium