A Gap in Emotional Vulnerability
A friend recently told me that she appreciates how intuitive and open with my feelings. I couldn’t help but chuckle in response, reflective of my surprise to her comment. I have always thought of myself as a bit bundled up with my emotions. As I thought about what she said, I realized something noteworthy. In friendships and familial relationships, her sentiment is valid. For some reason though, in romantic relationships I fail to fully express my emotions. Proof of this is ‘feedback’ from my last relationship to be more open and vulnerable - which was true.
My next question for myself: Why the gap? I continued to ponder this question for some time. In the mean time, I noticed a divide in my emotional up front-ness. I had no qualms in rambling about my emotions to my best friends from college on the phone, my oldest friend, my mother.
But in the romantic field? Man, I choked.
Let’s deep dive into exhibit A here from a few months ago. The context is that I haven’t seen a romantic interest in a week because of my trip to Colorado. So we preemptively made plans to hang out when I got back. The night before we hung out, he told me he had a call (which fell smack dab in the middle of us hanging out). Now, for the purpose of this example it’s irrelevant to detail the purpose of the call, but I’ll just say it was important. It wasn’t a call with grandma that you can push off for a week (sorry, grandma). I was a bit irked about this call, but knew it was important so brushed it off. The day of, he worked late, and I knew by the time I got over to his house we wouldn’t have much time together. Pause: big picture, this isn’t a big deal at all. No way in hell I will remember this in a month, a year, five years. I’m not trying to be dramatic here but use this as an illustrative example of my case for feelings. Ok, let’s resume: so I start driving, but I contemplate just suggesting hanging out another time because I don’t know if it’s even worth my time to see him for such a short amount of time. I take the mature step of venting to my best friend via text who naturally helped me relax. I arrive, and he immediately picks up that I’m being sort of weird. I was. Pause again: uh, hello, Hilary - why weren’t you just open about your feelings instead whipping out the classic girl line of “no, I’m fine!”. I should trademark that and stamp it on my forehead.
So what do I do? I keep pretending everything is fine, even though beneath the surface I’m longing to spend quality time together, uninterrupted.
Needless to say, this backfires. Because he can sense I’m off, and I know I’m off, thus things get off. If I had simply approached the situation and been up front with how I feel, acknowledging that my feelings are valid and deserve to be heard, I would have avoided this situation all together. Instead, I let it build until I finally blurt out why I’m acting weird (reminder: this is a blown up synopsis of a tiny incident in the grand scheme of things). We talk about it, resolve it, and have a great rest of the night.
In analyzing why this happens - I’m not totally positive. My hunches fall into a few areas:
A. I don’t like causing a riff in things, especially when it’s a “small rock” aka, not life-altering.
B. I internally struggle and wonder if my feelings are as valid as his, and make sacrifices more frequently for the benefit of the relationship.
C. Being vulnerable in the romantic sphere feels more daring than vulnerability in the friendship or family sphere.
D. A romantic partner sees all sides of you as time unfolds, whereas friends might not see you in that same lens. This is similar to C, but differs in how you “show” yourself to those in your circles.
If I had to guess, I’d say it’s a little piece from each column plastered together in a smorgsabord. As I’ve mentioned in other pieces, step one of these things is recognizing how you are feeling or what you are thinking. Step two and beyond is where it gets tough, where you have to take action and do the work to figure out how that feeling, story, or whatever came to be, and then how to resolve it.
I continue to work on being emotionally vulnerable and intuitive in the romantic sphere, and recognize that this is often my pitfall in relationships. And for the good of my relationship, I have vowed to myself to work on this to avoid having the same problem manifest again and again.
How I’m working on this now is an interesting resolution: I committed at the start of my most recent relationship to be open and honest with how I’m feeling, even when it’s uncomfortable or frustrating. When I want to keep quiet, I am reminded of the vow I made and seek to keep it, knowing that my relationships are better because of it.