For the sake of argument, let’s make it super sticky. Imagine you’re dating someone new, and you’re really into that person. Then the object of your affection asks you to share what you want and need in that relationship.
So you get brave and make yourself vulnerable. You tell the object of your affection that, although you understand the relationship is new, you’re enjoying that person’s company so much you’d be happy to get together… well, not every day (‘cause jeez, that might seem needy), but maybe every other day. And wow, it sure would be great if you could count on Saturday nights together. And really, you’d love it if neither of you were dating other people. And it would fill your cup if you could spend Valentine’s Day together. And just so you know, you like your coffee with sugar but no cream.
Then you finally look up from the floor and notice that the object of your affection looks totally freaked out. Said object then mutters, “Hmm… well, I’m busy this Saturday, but maybe the third Saturday of next month.”
And suddenly, as Brené Brown would say in her book Daring Greatly, you’ve just lost a lot of marbles from the trust jar.
I think we fail to express our wants and needs because we’re terrified of getting rejected or being judged or being perceived as needy. I had an experience like this recently.
I had gotten very close to a friend, and we had a lot of marbles in our jar. But then a point of conflict came up, and it left me feeling vulnerable and insecure and threatened, and I was craving reassurance, so I expressed a desire that we get together to talk about what had happened. Only my friend was feeling overwhelmed, not just because of our conflict, but because of other personal issues. My friend needed time alone, time to digest, and with great kindness, my friend rejected my request to process.
I felt devastated. Here I had made myself vulnerable, made my desire known, made it clear how insecure I felt, and my friend had chosen to prioritize a personal need for space above meeting my need for reassurance.
The more my friend pulled away, the more insecure and graspy I felt and behaved. Until I finally woke up from my self-absorbed state of neediness to realize that my friend had every right to prioritize a personal need for space over my need for reassurance. As much as we care for others and want to meet their needs, we all have the right to meet our own needs first (file under “I fill myself first”).
I apologized. My friend met my need two days later. I got the reassurance I needed. And our jar of marbles is safe and overflowing.
The true vulnerability comes in being courageous enough to make your want or need known, knowing that the person you’re sharing with might choose not to meet your need because it comes into conflict with their own – and that’s okay. Can you sit with the excruciating vulnerability of having your need sitting out there – exposed and raw – knowing that the person you’ve made yourself vulnerable to has every right not to meet it?
I get queasy just writing this.
None of us want to come across as needy, and yet we all have needs, whether we like to admit it or not. Even the strongest and most independent among us have moments when our childhood wounds get triggered or we feel scared or we feel unloved. How often have you suppressed the desire to ask someone to just drop everything and give you a hug because you’re feeling lonely or insecure?
We live in a culture that values independence. We scorn those who appear clingy or dependent. It’s a John Wayne/Marlboro man culture, but the truth is, sometimes we just want to curl up on someone’s lap, have them run their fingers through our hair, and get rocked to sleep. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.
So it leaves me back with my original question. It’s good to be vulnerable. As Brené teaches in her TEDx talk The Power of Vulnerability, vulnerability is the gateway to intimacy. When we express a need and the person we’re vulnerable with chooses to meet that need (hopefully because it doesn’t conflict with their own needs, otherwise, they may be at risk of overgiving), we get marbles in the jar. Trust and intimacy grows, and we feel seen, heard, loved, nurtured.
But in order to gain the intimacy we desire, we need to risk having our needs not met, and we need to learn to soothe ourselves so we’re not making our happiness dependent upon someone else…
So it’s a fine line. Be vulnerable. Make your wants and needs known with those you can trust. But be willing to sit in that place of excruciating vulnerability when your wants and needs can’t be met, at least not at that moment. Learn to soothe yourself in those moments. Go for a hike in nature. Pray or meditate and let the Universe give you a hug. Do something you love – like dance or paint or read or take a hot bath. Let yourself just feel what you feel, and in time, you will find your own sunshine.
If someone perpetually chooses not to meet your wants and needs, you’ll lose marbles in the jar. I was fortunate with my friend because we had so much trust that one incident didn’t threaten the marbles in our jar. But I have another friend with whom I made myself vulnerable, and every time, my wants and needs were not met. This eroded the trust, and now, the friendship is only a superficial one.