I’m finally getting around to responding to Eli’s guest post… It’s taken me a little while to finish this… starting and stopping several times. As Eli knows, this is a sensitive topic for me. Something I’ve struggled with in the past.
Vulnerability is scary and often unnatural to many people. I find the latter even more-so true with Africans given that our culture encourages us to suppress (and sometimes not even acknowledge (certain) emotions). One of the main reasons for this is that being vulnerable is viewed as a sign of weakness and exposes flaws…and within a relationship dynamic, this can translate into very real negative consequences, ie. your significant other discovering that they do not want to be with you anymore. So people keep quiet. They conceal themselves. Or become who they believe the other person wants them to be. And this is why many relationships/ marriages have shaky foundations.
Time is the unassuming key factor in this equation. Rightfully, it should have a multiplying effect on vulnerability in order to achieve intimacy. In my opinion, opening up to someone gradually makes for a stronger bond- there’s just something about getting to know someone intimately too soon which screams warning signs (that crash and burn scenario). I know people wouldn’t be able to handle all of me in the first conversation, nor would they be able to understand certain things about me unless there had been a foundation set over time… for example, appreciating that I’m really not as tough as I want people to think I am, first, will allow you to better understand that my feminist roar really masks my burning desire to be an amazing wife to a great man one day… To take care of him… be his support… his best friend and the mother of his children…
One of the tough questions that Eli touched briefly on in his piece is how long should one wait to become vulnerable with someone – emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically- and is there an order which guarantees success? Is it best done all at once? My roommate and I were discussing the romantic landscape of our current lives, and she said something I really connected with: there’s something unnerving about meeting someone out and beginning the relationship on a romantic level right away. Her desire, and frankly mine as well, is to develop a friendship with a guy and for things to naturally blossom. Is this too idealistic? Who knows. But in my experience, the best relationships last when a foundation of spiritual and emotional intimacy is laid first. If I’m to be frank about things, I can accurately predict whether a relationship will be short- or long-term depending on how quickly we’re physical.
Opening up has been a journey for me, even with close friends. I’ve been guarded a lot of my life, because there’s always been an implicit persona that needed to be kept up… ‘the academic one’ ‘the good girl’ ‘the tough girl’ ‘the African daughter from a respectable home’. How exactly does one admit to their fear of rejection when she’s known as the ‘haaard girl’, you know. Although I’ve become better at opening up, I still stick to the premise that one does not necessarily need to share everything with everyone, and that means your partner too. Some things are just for you and your Creator. However, your significant other should be the one person on this planet earth who knows the most about you and who you feel the most comfortable sharing things with: not your best friend(s), not your colleague(s), not even your family, but your significant other- that’s just how I feel.
But to eli I would say this, a lot of people do not share
your our view that love blossoms out of vulnerability. I can “love you”, be married to you/be in a longterm committed relationship with you, and that have nothing to do with my emotional, spiritual (and even physical) fulfillment in life. Rather, my love for you is in how I take care of you- monetarily… it’s how I respect you as a woman and the mother of my children… but not that I necessarily share my feelings with you (perhaps because I don’t even acknowledge my own feelings to myself). Do we look at that couple and say that the man doesn’t love his wife if that’s his definition of love?
My friend wrote a tweet a couple days ago that really struck me:
vulnerability x time = intimacy
I wanted to hear more on the matter, so he sent me this:
Just my thoughts…
So, vulnerability x time = intimacy
Intimacy is born out of vulnerability. A person needs to allow themselves to be seen before they can cultivate anything real with someone else. The degree to which we do this is the degree to which we get intimate with another person. Unfortunately, many in our world (particularly in our generation) think of intimacy as solely physical. I don’t. It’s emotional, mental and spiritual before it’s ever physical. When we’re invested in ego, invested in reputation, invested in power and status… rather than invested in allowing ourselves to be seen as we really are — complete with chipped paint and all the requisite chinks in the armour — we sabotage our relationships. Many of my “close friendships” over the years could’ve very well grown and fluorished into a connection of the romantic sort… but in at least two or three cases, I made an executive decision and placed the woman on the bench… on account of her inability (more so, unwillingness) to be vulnerable.
Now all this is under the assumption that one has the time to achieve this. One of the things I’ve been reminded of since returning here [Ghana] is that intimacy comes quickly for me. Whether the relationship we have is platonic or not, I often get deep on the first or second question of the conversation. I’ve had people joke about how excruciating times with me can be… but also, how they end up being genuine, authentic and refreshing once they clear the hurdle of being reluctant about vulnerability. Most “normal” people take time to get “deep” however. It’s a gradual process. Even in long-standing friendships, when people have been apart for a very long time, once they reconnect, they’re usually slow to get back to the same level of intimacy. So a person has to be patient (to a degree) and wait for enough time to pass that a person can develop trust and confidence in the relationship… and feel comfortable opening up.
Now, some people are able to speed up this process. Particular demeanors, personalities and dispositions lend to this. Similarly, if you’re the opposite of these (cold, frigid, intimidating, arrogant) then you’ll cause people to clam up. So the speed can be varied.
But intimacy can’t be had without vulnerability.
And in most cases, vulnerability can’t be had without time.
Some people spend “years” in a relationship, but have no intimacy with their partner… because they spent those years putting up fronts and/or interacting on a functional level — “how was your day?” “who’s going to pick up the kids today?” “what’s your ePack fund looking like?” — rather than a vulnerable level — “what are your hopes? dreams? fears? what about yourself gives you pause? why does that quality in that person irk you so much?” etc…
So lessons I’ve had to re-learn since getting back to Ghana: intimacy is a lifeblood for me, and relationships are (more often than not) personally useless to me without it; vulnerability requires putting in the time, rather than expecting things instantly; the more the tendency to front, the weaker the connections between people will be. This is true at work, church, home, etc.
Hope that gives you an overview of where my mind was when I came up with the equation?
Eli just moved back to Ghana after being the US for some time. Apart from being my big brother and designated life coach :), Eli is also editor-at-large of Dust Magazine, follow him on twitter: @elidot
I’ll be responding to his thoughts in Part 2 of Vulnerability x Time = Intimacy. Stay tuned.
If we were really honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that with age doesn’t always come wisdom. Every now and then we need to be reminded of proper dating etiquette, so I’m dropping off some reminders of how to act like an adult while dating. Madamenoire lays down the law with 6 love rules you SHOULD have learned in high school: http://madamenoire.com/68118/love-rules-you-should-have-learned-in-high-school
“Your friends are essential for both support and encouragement. When you were young and didn’t know better, you told ALL your friends EVERYTHING… As an adult, you should know to be more selective about where you seek counsel. There are some friends that WILL tell your business and some that just give bad advice.”
“Some slick pretty boy might have played you against another girl in high school, but why is this still happening now you’re grown?… It’s childish, crass and not what a confident, grown woman [or man] would do.”
“A grown woman knows that if a man is not answering his phone it’s for one of three reasons: 1) He’s busy 2)He doesn’t want to talk to you 3)He’s dead. Continuously calling his phone will not change any of the above conditions. All it does is make you look desperate and/or needy. If he doesn’t pick up, leave 1 message or 1 text. If he cares about you, he will call you back.” Same goes for her.
“When you were in high school…you flirted with his friends and sent yourself flowers in homeroom. Now you’re an adult, you should know that all these games are immature and unnecessary. If a man loves you, you cannot get rid of him. If you need to trick him into paying attention to you, he’s not that into you.”
“In high school, you may have left your homework undone and dissed your friends just to spend quality time with your boo. Now that you’re grown, you should know to keep your life balanced. Your entire existence shouldn’t revolve around your man [woman]. You should tend to your love life, but also value your friendships and take care of all your work obligations.”
“In high school, you may have tolerated him rolling up and beeping the horn for a date. Maybe as a teenager you may have even thought it was OK for him to ignore you when he was around his friends. Now that you’re an adult, you should demand the proper respect from any man you spend time with. He should be a gentleman and show deference.” Likewise she should act like a lady and show respect.
So how do you fare? Do you think anything else is missing from this list? All I can say now is, ‘since we know better, we must do better.’