Loving someone is always a beautiful experience. Getting your heart broken – not so much. We don’t want the people we love to hurt us. When you’re vulnerable, you’re raw. Sensitive. Open. Bare. It’s terrifying. It scares me every time. But I’d rather give it my all than live in regret.
It takes great strength to be vulnerable. It’s not a weakness. It’s a conscious choice.
Charmaine Yam and I sit down for one of our regular Skype dates. It’s getting hotter in Australia and colder in Japan. Charmaine has retired from wearing pyjamas, and I’ve started wearing mine. The joys of a long-distance friendship.
“What is weakness and vulnerability to you?” I ask Charmaine.
“I think the word weakness has very negative connotations and vulnerability not necessarily,” Charmaine says. “Weakness is a vague, broad term. You can be weak mentally, physically or if you give up on something easily. I don’t know if you can be weak emotionally. You can be vulnerable emotionally, but not weak. When someone says that someone is weak, that’s an insult. On the other hand, vulnerability is actually quite a neutral term. Perhaps even positive. It’s something I’ve learnt over the years, as you taught me Dipa. And I’m still learning.”
I smile. I’m touched. For me, Charmaine will always be that cool, calm voice of reason. I can always count on her to tell me the truth – especially when it hurts. That’s a real friend. A lot of people out there are very good at telling you what you want to hear – and not meaning it.
“Over the years, I’ve learnt that you can be vulnerable,” Charmaine says. “If you’re not vulnerable at times, you miss out on a lot of emotional experiences. You miss out on love and connecting with people on a deeper level. People who are not vulnerable or can’t be that way, are not aware of their feelings. They might be hot-tempered, irritable and not know why. You have better emotional self-regulation if you can accept being vulnerable.”
“How does your culture view vulnerability?” I ask.
“In my culture,” Charmaine says, “I don’t think that vulnerability is viewed as a good thing. Vulnerability in Chinese culture does equal weakness. I don’t think there’s a great difference in those two terms and that’s a big problem. Young children who are brought up in that culture are taught to be stoic.”
“What are some of the beautiful moments you’ve experienced by allowing yourself to be vulnerable?” I ask.
“Connecting with friends and partners on a deeper level,” Charmaine says. “If you’re not honest and open with your feelings, you won’t get to that deeper level. Your relationships will be quite superficial.
“At my grandma’s funeral, I cried and other family members didn’t. They saw my tears as a weakness. One family member said, ‘Why are you sad? She’s had a good long life.’ At the time, I thought to myself – is she saying that I’m weak or emotionally fragile? Later, I realised that it was her way of seeing things logically.
“But logic doesn’t explain everything in life. The beauty of that show of vulnerability is to recognise that you are sad. Then we can empathise and form connection with people. It’s okay to grieve. Being stoic doesn’t mean that you’re strong. I think some people may go through life never being vulnerable. Their partners have to be okay with that as well.”
“What are your thoughts on superficial friendships?” I ask.
“If you have superficial friendships,” Charmaine says, “You can’t depend on them to be around for a long time. Some people just need someone to go shopping or have a meal with.
“I appreciate friendships that are deeper. Not everyone is like that and I can’t speak for everyone. I’ve been in situations where I’ve been vulnerable with someone to realise that they’re not very loyal or a true friend. Although it was disappointing at the time, it helped me grow.
“Some people view deep friendships as too intense and too much pressure. That the standards are too high. They prefer the lighter type of friendships. Some people just want to be around others and criticise their ‘friends’ behind their back. They’re only friends on paper. To me it’s like why bother. Why even meet them. Why waste your energy on that. Some people might think that that’s what friends are.”
Ultimately, people are free to be ‘friends’ with who they want. But like Charmaine, I don’t need friends on paper. I also have no intention of baring my soul to everyone. I don’t do it often, but when I do, it’s always beautiful.
Even when they’re no longer in my life, I never regret it because I gave it my best. It helps that I’m not one to indulge in nostalgia. When the jig is up, the jig is up. People who hold back and have people walk out on them hurt far more than I ever will. People who don’t know how to experience those emotional depths miss out on SO MUCH.
It takes great strength to be vulnerable. It’s not a weakness. It’s a conscious choice. Just remember to choose your people wisely.