Vulnerability. True Love Key

Playing Safe Takes Further From Happiness

Vulnerability - HealthyLivinG Magazine

Vulnerability - HealthyLivinG Magazine

To be in love is a dream that many pursue. It may be intangible and ephemeral, and in many ways hard to precisely define, but nonetheless, it is a real condition. An amazing circuit is created when two people can receive and give love. Consider the examples of prodigious strength when, for instance, a mother might lift a burning car enough to save her trapped baby. There is the profound comfort and deep sense of security enjoyed by a couple in the grip of romantic love with forgiveness, eros and commitment, all in one, to create the most powerful of bonds. And what of the family where every child basks in unequivocal, accepting parental love? Whatever type of love it is, when it is genuinely present, the human condition is elevated and cynicism pushed aside to make way for a warm sense of fulfillment to rush in.

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The trouble is when it comes to love between couples, too many look at true love as if it is a great mountain that only a few have any hope of climbing. Curiously, the married as well as the never married and the divorced may adopt this selfdefeating point of view. Those who come to settle on believing love is too difficult for them have built a barrier in their psyche. It is a barrier made from their too idealistic beliefs about what love actually is.

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If you cannot accept a little of this vulnerability you may find yourself continually hooking up and hanging out with the same kinds of partners or ‘types’ just so you don’t have to feel the tension of the unknown. Keep in mind however there are no shortcuts to developing true emotional intimacy with a potential romantic partner...

The Greeks are helpful in this. Their early philosophers identified four specific forms.


Which results in feelings of unqualified commitment that create a long-term bond in the form of fondness, acceptance and tolerance. This might be between friends.

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Might be found in a family where there are different views but where too a sense of equality and caring rests easily on all of its members.


Bringing passion and desire with emotion, perhaps without logic.


Different from Eros, it expects nothing in return. These types of love may develop at the same time with different people in different circumstances and they may all be present with one person at different moments with different ones predominating.

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It happens often that some find it easier to love in a kind of bifurcated way. For instance, sexual fulfillment with a lover who is uninvolved in their life in any real way, attachment love with children, commitment and security with a spouse and emotional intimacy with a friend. Giving additional credence to this idea is the fact that emotional states of love are experienced in different regions of the brain. Sexual chemistry lights up the dopaminergic reward systems while security and commitment are more frontal lobe functions that are less impulsive than romantic passion. Similarly the hormones that increase women’s tendency to attach and bond are released during childbirth but also during sexual intercourse. So it is possible for a woman to have feelings of attachment with a lover even when together they experience no emotional intimacy or any other type of love.

Romantic love, sexual chemistry, unconditional acceptance, the act of tolerance for the other’s real or perceived flaws and friendship can be experienced with the same person, but some create blocks that prevent them from reaching an engulfing allin love experience. In my view, we see these kinds of blocks occurring with increasing frequency in our culture. Consider the common practices of hanging out/hooking up/friends with benefits. These types of arrangements take the personal onus away so that when a relationship doesn’t work out, it is not experienced as a rejection—because no one really loses if they actually weren’t playing the game.

As I have written before, foregoing the formalities allows people to make decisions from a distance. Many have become habituated to making choices for themselves (causes to get involved in, potential romantic partners and events to attend) through voyeuristic means where the self is not really involved in a direct way but stands back to assess the field. Similar to Facebook, Twitter and other social media, hanging out is a way to get information without actually having to fully bring one’s self to the table. As a result, people have generally become more and more uncomfortable with one-on-one intimacy.

The tension, pressure and awkwardness of dealing with new people in a one-on-one context is difficult for many. A new date is a journey into the unknown, neither individual has a sure feel for how the other will behave or respond. As a result, people have to work much harder at first encounters than they do with hook up partners or with people they know very well.

The social practices of hooking up and hanging out reduce feelings of vulnerability.

Habitually relying on these practices allows a person to hide their innermost self while still enjoying romantic attention. Yet, in order to find the right match it is essential to learn to be at ease in a one-on-one dating context where both parties know that the other is evaluating their potential as a romantic partner.

Why is being vulnerable a key to forging lasting relationships built on emotional intimacy? It is when we are vulnerable that we are our true selves. Of course, a willingness to be vulnerable builds over time as couples become more and more emotionally intimate. It might take risking some discomfort and finding limits one can back off from. But risking very little vulnerability, as is generally the case with hanging out, hooking up, and friends with benefits means the match is based more on fantasy than real life. Real life means the couple knows how to make a success of their lives in all the ways that they both desire.

Whatever the awkward times are during those first few dates for a new couple—i.e. pregnant pauses over a first meal together, inadvertently cutting off one another while speaking, the forced politeness or the inelegance of planning and executing an outing with a complete stranger, these moments are the seeds that must be sown to learn if a partnership can grow.

Short periods of discomfort have to be managed when a person allows themselves to be a little vulnerable with a stranger. The amount of vulnerability involved in a first date is, of course, not as encompassing as the vulnerability a couple willingly opens itself to in an emotionally intimate relationship. But, these small moments are an entrée into this world; they give a person a hint of what it will be like to be unguarded with this particular person.

Read full story in the April issue
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Jill Weber, a licensed clinical psychologist, practices in the Washington, DC area. She treats adults, teenagers and couples. Dr. Weber writes a blog for Psychology Today and is the author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy: Why Women Settle for One- Sided Relationships. Follow her on twitter @DrJillWeber
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