The Charm of Vulnerability
November 7, 2018 by Ariela Nazar-Rosen
One Speak About It educator gets real about flirting
Educator, Ariela, had some great thoughts to follow up our most recent #hotgoss episode. Check out the full episode here and read on to learn more about flirting with honesty and vulnerability!
“Hey. My book just got published.”
That is how I was once approached at a bar in Cambridge, MA.
“Did you know I'm a trainer at Equinox?” That was on the Upper West Side in NYC.
Every time I think about these interactions, I cannot help but laugh. Um, hi?.... Wow, nice to meet you too. What do you expect me to say to you? I hope you’re not looking for me to stroke your [inflated] ego.
I cannot help but ask: why is it so difficult for us to just talk to each other? When did reciting your resume become the norm over genuine conversation? Why can’t you ask me how I’m doing or tell me something you did today? Why can’t you just be honest with me?
In an age dominated by social media, we seek to create the same “realities” that we so eloquently craft online. We try to filter our conversations like the photos on our Instagram feeds. Should I use Jakarta or Lagos, published author or gym buff? Social media of all forms has created unrealistic assumptions about what success looks like: what we should be doing, how we should look, what a relationship should look like. And this trickles down into real life.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it's great to share and celebrate each other’s successes and use them as points of connection, but there is a way to bring up accomplishments genuinely, just like there’s a way to flirt (or even just converse!) that doesn’t involve empty acts of bravado and painful small talk.
Just recently I started listening to the podcast “Where Do We Begin?” with relationship therapist Esther Perel. Each week Dr. Perel speaks with a different couple as they work through various issues in their relationship.
In one episode, Dr. Perel counsels a married couple struggling to connect with each other intimately. The wife, exasperated with the conversation at one point, asks, “But isn’t this thing supposed to happen naturally….why is it supposed to be work?” To which, Dr. Perel replies:
The myth that sex is natural has done harm to so many people because it presumes that you should just know, rather than the fact that it is something that we learn to appreciate, to experience. We cultivate it. It’s an art, and that if you think it’s natural, then in fact you often remain ignorant.
Her words struck me. Dr. Perel’s ideas relate to flirting too. Intimacy isn’t just sexual. Getting to know someone and presenting an authentic version of yourself is a form of intimate connection. Relationships of any kind are so different from person to person. They are something we have to work for, something “we cultivate,” as Dr. Perel says. We need to communicate with each other, which all starts with just talking - genuinely talking - to someone.
I know that is much easier said than done. We are so accustomed to putting filters on so many parts of our lives, that when we move to in-person conversations, we have a hard time stripping down those filters to reveal a more honest version of ourselves. Letting down our finely filtered walls is scary. Being vulnerable is scary as hell.
Brene Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston who studies courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She speaks to the shared fear of being vulnerable and the importance of breaking past it. She explains:
In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage’….Vulnerability sounds like truth & feels like courage. Truth & courage aren't always comfortable, but they are never weakness.
Vulnerability doesn’t necessarily mean revealing your deepest, darkest secrets to someone on day one. To me, in this context, it means opening yourself up to conversation with someone and being prepared to be honest with them, sometimes in a way that might make you nervous or uncomfortable. Sometimes opening yourself up to honest conversation with someone is one of the most exciting, genuine, and attractive things you can do. Flirting isn't about playing it cool and being mysterious; it's about vulnerability and courage.
A few weeks ago, I met a friend from college at a bar. I was running late (as usual), so she had already ordered her drink, and I went up to the bar to order mine. It took me a moment before I realized that the bartender was the guy my friend calls Jon Snow. He has an uncanny and striking resemblance to the Game of Thrones character. I could barely order my margarita without blushing.
About an hour later, I went back to the bar to order another marg. As Jon Snow mixed my drink, he said, “This music is pretty depressing isn’t it?” I laughed; he was right. I asked him if he was going to plug in and bump up the energy, and he started laughing. We were talking about music and the bar, when the bouncer came over and pulled Jon Snow aside, begging him to change the music. I went back over to my friend, “You should leave your number when you close out!” she said, half teasing, half encouraging. I shrugged, never really being one to put myself out there like that, but the thought didn’t completely leave my mind.
As we were closing out, I was faced with a dilemma: to leave my number or not to leave my number. Putting myself out there in that way is not something that comes naturally to me. But, as I was standing at the bar, I had this moment of “why not?” Why shouldn’t I put myself out there and just do it? When Jon Snow came over to take my check, I asked, “Is this your playlist? It’s lit!” He smiled and explained that sometimes they let him play DJ when he works upstairs. “But,” he coyly added, “Usually they make me work private events downstairs because no one wants to see my face.” I rolled my eyes. We both know that’s obviously not true.
I asked him about how he likes working parties, and it was genuinely cool to hear him talk about his job. He mentioned he was working that Sunday. “So I’ll see you Sunday, right?” he asked. Decided. I am leaving Jon Snow my number. I signed my name and my number, handed my receipt to Jon Snow, and walked out of the bar. No turning back.
Jon Snow didn’t text me. But that moment was about so much more than that. I’m not guilty of cheesy pick up lines, but I am guilty of not always saying or doing what I really think or mean. There have been too many times in the past when I tried to play it cool, even though I actually wanted to ask questions and to talk, when I didn’t ask for a number or leave mine, and I regretted it. But in that moment, I felt empowered knowing that, whatever happens, I put myself out there, I didn’t just leave. It was liberating. And I feel ready to push myself to do it again. It felt surprisingly good to be vulnerable!
Working as an educator with Speak About It has helped me realize how important open and honest communication is to any relationship. Even though asking questions and being vulnerable, whether that be at the bar or in the bedroom, can feel awkward or scary, it really does make relationships more meaningful and more fun. Why is it so taboo for us to openly communicate with each other, to check in, to say what we want or what we are interested in? It shouldn’t be, which is why I’ve been working towards being more honest and authentic in my own day-to-day interactions, whether I’m flirting or just meeting someone for the first time.
I would like to challenge you all, as I am challenging myself, to push through the fear of being vulnerable, to be honest with each other and with ourselves. I am challenging all of us to just… Speak About It!
Perfectionism is destroying the mental health of millennials, Daisy Buchanan, The Guardian
Is social media eroding meaningful relationships?, University of New South Wales Blog
Facebook admits that social media can be bad for you. - Rob Price, Business Insider
Brene Brown, Social Psychologist. https://brenebrown.com/
Perel, Esther. “I’ve Had Better.” Where Do We Begin? from Audible. 8 October 2017.
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