Vulnerability, Love, & Hooking Up
Editor’s Note: Today’s beautiful post is written by Renee Roden. She is a theater and theology major at the University of Notre Dame. She blogs about college life and other things here.
I was outside my dorm having a classic Tuesday night meltdown. Wednesdays this past semester were always crammed full to the brim and overflowing with classes, meetings, and projects to finish. This particular Tuesday, it seemed as though the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I sat on the front steps of the dorm, in cold grey November drizzle, with my head in my hands.
I kept whispering over and over again: God. I can’t do this. God. I’m not strong enough. God.
Suddenly, I heard a voice:
“Are you okay?”
When I finally registered the voice was directed at me, I looked up abruptly, and standing there was a young man, with earbuds in one ear, wearing a puffy North Face jacket and basketball shorts. Classic Notre Dame attire.
I forced a smile and responded with an: “Oh yeah, I’m fine.” As soon as I said it, I knew how ridiculous I sounded. I was sitting on the front steps of my dorm crying in the rain. Of course I wasn’t “fine”.
When our vulnerable side starts to show, there is some bizarre reflex in human beings that automatically kicks in. We start to pretend as though we are in complete control. When it looks like there might be a chink or crack, we reinforce our protective armor. We build up our defenses, and completely forget that we are called to let ourselves be vulnerable.
He looked at me with kindness: “Okay. Are you sure?”
“Oh yeah, I’m good,” I responded casually, with a dismissive “it’s no big deal” wave of my hand.
He walked away, and I returned to sitting and staring into the misty rain. Then, I heard him turn around. He came back and approached me. “You look like you could use a hug,” he said, and then he wrapped his arms around me in a giant bear hug. I was so touched. So moved. “Thank you,” I smiled – a genuine smile. I was so completely overwhelmed by his kindness. How beautiful of him to reach out to someone he didn’t know, and comfort them when they were feeling down, even when they politely – and foolishly – rejected his help at first. “Whatever it is, I hope it gets better,” he smiled, and then jogged off into the rain. But that simple little interaction had completely turned around my night.
There’s a great fear of being vulnerable in our society, and rightly so. It is terrifying to be unarmored in this wide and sometimes perilous world. But if we lack the ability to open up and allow ourselves to acknowledge our weakness and our essentially broken human nature, then we close ourselves off from not only what it means to be human, but also what it means to love someone. A synonymous word with vulnerability may be “openness”. What the anonymous guy displayed in his actions was an openness to and an awareness of the people around him. This generosity of spirit and focus on others allowed him to respond with love to the people hurting around him. That anonymous guy is exactly the type of person I aspire to be. Someone who can bring a little bit of light into someone’s dark night.
A favorite quote of mine is one from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Four Loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” Although this may seem rather harsh, it is undeniably true. The only way to truly love and live is to open ourselves, which frees us, but also ushers into our lives the possibility of being rejected or hurt. And that’s scary.
As a college student, one of the ways I see my generation close themselves off to vulnerability and genuine love is the hook-up culture. A drunken make-out session is not going to call upon a person to share their heart with someone, to care about someone, or to open up to them. The people involved in a hook-up just share your body, while safely keeping your feelings locked deep inside. The morning after, each person continues on with their business as usual, callously attempting to pretend that nothing happened, and there is no emotional bond between them whatsoever.
The second half of the C.S. Lewis quote goes like this: “If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
Although vulnerability will often include pain, precluding vulnerability also leads to pain. And, unlike being vulnerable, turning in on yourself and shrouding yourself in protective armor cannot lead to happiness – only bitterness and more pain, which is exactly where I see so many of my friends and peers find themselves after trying to find love through hooking up. Instead, true love is found in listening to another person, and in turn opening up to them. Allowing yourself to share your heart with another broken human being. Opening up doesn’t mean burdening someone with your struggles and problems. But, rather, it means not hiding the incredible beauty of your soul.
During a discussion of theatre in class, my professor once said: the power of theatre to seduce is unbelievable. People onstage look beautiful and dazzling, and we find ourselves in love with them in spite of ourselves. Live theatre portrays human beings being very vulnerable indeed. Think of Shakespeare’s plays: imagine Juliet and Romeo risking their pride by confessing their love for each other after knowing each other only a few hours, think of Beatrice and Benedick, loving each other in spite of themselves, or Helena, chasing after her one true love, who has rejected her in a moment of madness. These women are beautiful, strong, and alive. They are completely and vulnerable, and generations of audiences have fallen in love with these women. Because they present themselves onstage, letting their radiance shine through in a way that only the truly vulnerable can.
Each of us is capable of that sort of dazzling beauty and stunning brilliance. But we can only achieve those heights if we allow ourselves the possibility of being hurt, if we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
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