We share here, yes? Good. Grab a chair because I want to talk about this thing we call “vulnerability”.
We hear about it constantly, how men should be more vulnerable in relationships. That’s all great, but what the hell does that mean exactly? I certainly had no idea how to pull it off. No one had ever explained it in a language that I understood, and I’m not very good at emulating female expression. It’s not me.
It came to me though. I’m going to walk through that experience so that maybe we can actually envision it, and hopefully demonstrate the advantages, the risks, but mostly to interpret exactly what it means from our perspective. I think it may also lend women a window into our world, and exactly why we tend to grapple with all this, err, stuff.
The first thing we have to do is to move past the broken man silliness. The glaring majority of us are good men. We are not better or worse than women, but just, in many respects, different. We are wired differently, we process differently, and quite frankly, we grow up in totally different worlds (which is most of our problem with communication).
In my world, being vulnerable meant skating with your head down, or blitzing into a pulling guard that you didn’t see coming. I was raised with manners, respect, but I was also raised in a tough neighborhood where one always had to be ready to face challenge. If someone pushed you, you pushed back harder. When one was blindsided on the field, we did not share our emotional trauma, we took his number and waited for an opportunity to share right back.
Its part of what I loved about growing up as a boy. Sure there were plenty of hours spent laughing, joking, talking about life. There were even those times of sadness when we were there for each other, but when it came to conflict resolution, everyone knew the rules. It worked for us: confront it and done. It was simple and to the point, with no residual drama.
That’s not always to our advantage in a relationship however, and I found that out when a situation occurred where I had to address my wife’s slip into the sport of man bashing. It was that thing where a woman will berate her husband for a chuckle from the girls. It’s not something that my wife ever approved of, and I want to make it clear that my wife is a good woman. She has always been my best friend and my emotional support, but somewhere along the way she got exposed.
I called the CDC, but they couldn’t help, so I was on my own.
Not wanting conflict, and somewhat dazed, I did the capitulating man thing, and let it go more than a few times, but it started to get worse. We always kid, and we’ve always been able to resolve issues together, but this was different. It was gnawing at me. It made me feel like shit watching her berating me as if I was the entertainment on girl’s night out, especially being the man that I am for her. Well it came to a head one night and I reacted as I knew how. I said something cutting, and walked away. I had employed the conflict resolution technique that I understood.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t that I was unaware, but just that I had no confidence in asserting myself in such ways. I had tried the other way with my first wife. First off, it felt like an old Steve Martin Joke: “Like having a slice of bologna in each shoe”. That was bad enough, but when she tossed it in my face, used it to gut me, well that just sucked. All set with that. Old way worked better.
This time, not so much. Different kind of woman, and when she caught up to me, stunned and asking what just happened, it got worse. I replied with a sharp, “how’s it feel”. Yeah, not so good. She went, deer in the headlights, and suddenly I felt as if I was the bad guy, that I’d hurt her (I still don’t have any idea how that happens.)
Seeing a fight on the horizon, I just wanted to end it. Remembering all lessons learned, I went to plan B. I boxed the anger and said, “It’s ok, forget it”. Another miss, and that’s when she caught me with a disarming right hook that put me on the ropes.
She put her hand on my face, turned my head to her and said, “Talk to me”. That was it. I had no place left to go, and that’s when the wheels came off.
I think it was an accident, but there was no backing up. Words were out, “you hurt me”. It was like a scene from a bad western when the bank robber ran out of bullets that threw his gun at the sheriff. Bologna shoes, but I was in over my head so why not keep digging.
I had a way out too. She quipped about my usual lack of emotion, and she was right, but not this time and not with her. I stepped in it, I was going to see it through. I figured if you’re going to crash and burn, go out gloriously. I pushed on.
I told her, in no uncertain terms, that she is the only person in this world that can hurt me…and she did. I didn’t use the word “betrayed”, but that’s what I felt. I told her that it made me feel as if she had no respect for me, that I’ve failed her as a husband and a friend. I asked if she remembered rolling our eyes when witnessing that type of behavior.
At that point I had no idea what I was doing, but I was in the zone. I was, Slim Pickens riding that famous nuke like a bucking bronco, ready to evaporate in a blaze of glory upon the landscape. Then it all suddenly changed. The freefall stopped and everything went slow motion as I saw this woman that I love, my best friend standing there holding a white flag. I had walked into a war of emotion, outmanned and outgunned, and I won!
I’d like to interject more stupid metaphors at this point, but the thing is, it was not even a conflict anymore. No one was winning or losing. It wasn’t a playing field. It was us, and we were, once again, heart to heart. She nuzzled her face to mine and whispered that she was sorry, that I was right.
I was right? I got on my phone to alert the media.
Not really, but that is the day that I learned not what vulnerability meant, but how to express it in my own way. I had confronted her as I needed to, and I lost nothing of myself in the exchange. There were no tears, no heaving chests, no emotion and no jelly-spine, but just plain old fashion truth, honesty, and accountability. The man I was before is the man I am after.
In fact, it was more a test for her than for me, and she proved herself, affirmed that I’d chosen wisely (we’ll talk about our expectations with women also). I walked away from it feeling that I had taken control of the situation, gained the resolve that I sought, and done so without alienating her, but by bringing her closer.
The point that I’m trying to make here is that it’s not weakness, and it is not feminine. It is truth, it is very masculine. I know that, because that is exactly what I felt. It is the right tool for the job. We’ve just been cheated is all, conditioned to believe that speaking one’s truth is weak, but silently accepting insult and defamation is somehow manly or strong. It’s like the punchline of some bad joke, and the jokes need to stop being on us.
Vulnerability is nothing more than the ability to sort through one’s feelings on a matter, move past superficial anger so as to determine exactly what the issue is, and then use our words in whatever capacity we should require so that OUR feelings and expectations are clearly understood. No more judging or man-shaming. We assert ourselves, they pass or fail, not us.
Ok, I’m all shared out. Need to go up for air. We’ll talk some more.