Choosing to Be Vulnerable Takes Courage—Especially After a Bad Breakup
The sun set behind the golden California hills out windows of the conversion van as I stared out, stunned. He was breaking up with me.
We’d traveled across the country from New York to California together, modern day pioneers as “van lifers” going from national park to national park. We’d talked about getting engaged and moved all my belongings into his family’s place while we apartment hunted. Now, his words were as surreal as the sunset itself.
Newly Single and Homeless
“I need to just do me for a while. I haven’t been selfish enough.”
As the minutes and devastation sunk in, I realized I was in trouble far worse than just my broken heart. I was homeless.
“Where am I supposed to stay?” He couldn’t even look me in the eyes.
“I have some work training this weekend, so I figured you can get all your stuff before I get back next week.”
I got out of the van and crawled into my own car parked nearby. The sun was gone by the time my brain processed what I needed to do next. I needed help. I pulled out my cellphone and started making calls to my girlfriends.
“He just broke up with me. I can’t even imagine staying with him and his folks tonight.”
“Absolutely NOT! You are not stooping to that!”
My girlfriend back on the East Coast didn’t flinch at the news but instead rose to the occasion. “I’m booking you a hotel. You need to go rest, relax, and we can figure this all out in the daytime.”
I Made Myself Vulnerable—and Got the Help I Needed
Without judgement, without questioning my circumstances, without dogging on the guy or dishing out any blame, my friend helped me without hesitation. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this boy’s low blow gifted me a unique opportunity: the opportunity to be vulnerable with people who truly cared. To take a risk and be real.
By making myself vulnerable, I was about to open the door for deeper and healthier relationships, for communication in both directions with my friends, and for receiving help when I needed it the most.
Vulnerability in our relationships is worth it, even under the threat of judgment. If I’d hesitated to call her, maybe I would’ve stayed with his family and the story would’ve played out differently?
The Perks of Choosing to Be Vulnerable
There’s always the threat of looking bad, being questioned, being blamed in our victimhood when we are vulnerable. This time, I chose not to play it safe, but to take the risk of baring my broken soul. This tough experience schooled me in the importance of vulnerability within relationships. Here are a few of the things I learned the hard way:
Vulnerability breeds openness.
When we take the brave step of being open, we set ourselves up for great risk, but also for great potential success. How often do we feel free to share our stories after hearing the stories of others? Could this be why groups like A.A. and Celebrate Recovery succeed? Their flourishing vulnerability knits together a stronger community.
If I hadn’t made the embarrassing call explaining the man I thought I’d call “fiancé” was now my “ex” and I was homeless, how could I have been helped? Yes, I’d just given up my New York life for one with him in California and felt like a fool, but wasn’t it worth my reputation to seek some genuine help at that moment?
After modeling openness in our own lives, sometimes we are equipping the people we love with the tools they need to communicate more freely with their own. The two-way street of open communication with our people brings depth to the relationship every time we walk it. Every time we choose depth in our relationships, we can become more our true selves around the people we know we can trust.
Vulnerability is healthy.
“We are only as sick as our secrets” rings true. Vulnerable in sharing our struggles, our pain, our sins in a safe place, we are set free. As we recognize the risks associated with being vulnerable, we realize not every pair of ears is going to be “a safe place” and not every heart is going to be open. But the risk is worth it. Think about how many family feuds burn or friendships are lost, crumbled on the shoddy foundation of hurts going unaddressed?
When family members are vulnerable about their hurts with one another, they create an opportunity for healing. Sadly, we know this does not ring true for every relationship. Some people will never truly be a safe place, but by practicing vulnerability with the correct people we can learn what a “safe place” and restoration truly looks like.
Vulnerability makes us a safe space for others.
What greater way to open the door for others to be vulnerable with us, than to take the first step? After being burned so many times, it’s hard to imagine opening ourselves up for scrutiny one more painful time. My friend launched our journey of vulnerability years ago when she first called me following a bad breakup. We’d not even been that close, but her call for truly needing a friend launched the friendship we’ve kept more than a decade. Her vulnerability all those years ago sparked a sense of hope in me during my breakup. She’d cried on the phone and shared the detail of her crumbled relationship, which made me think I could do the same.
When we’re open about our stories, we see other people more inclined to share theirs. When we are humanized, the right people will respond to us. Yes, this practice of vulnerability is dangerous with margins for error. The beauty of it is the point isn’t perfection but closeness. If anything, the imperfection of our vulnerable communication makes it a masterpiece. My friend and I are closer than we ever were because of the drama that we went through and shared with each other, followed by our choice to remain vulnerable with one another.
Spoiler alert to my breakup story: The sun did, in fact, rise the next morning. My friend was right about a good night’s sleep making all the difference in my perspective. After a few more vulnerable phone calls, I unloaded my story and got the help I needed to move all my stuff into a new apartment with roomies I loved. Eventually, that neighborhood would be where I met my future husband for the first time.
The fairytale conclusion to my breakup never would’ve happened without my magical friends along the way. They listened without judgement, made themselves a safe place without hesitation, and made all the difference in my world. I just took the first step—being vulnerable.
Want to be your friends’ safe space so they, too, can be vulnerable? Here’s how to listen without judgment: Can We Just Admit We Judge Other Women? – 203