Embrace vulnerability

Marriage?  I don’t know much about it.  While I’ve been in several long term monogamous relationships since high school, I’ve never been close to reciting vows because the circumstances haven’t been conducive to taking that step.  So, periodically I ask some of the married people I trust and respect about their experience of making a lifelong commitment to another person.  I sense that most have been forthright with me.  Usually, I begin the conversation with a question like “What do you think makes a marriage work?”  The one word that I hear most frequently in their responses is “communication,” which doesn’t surprise me because a relationship thrives when it’s done effectively.

Now, the last time I asked someone about their marriage, the person initially mentioned communication and then connected it to his ability to be vulnerable with his wife of thirty years.  This revelation surprised me because you rarely hear men discuss opening up to their partner.  Unfortunately, socially prescribed gender roles continue to attribute vulnerability largely to women, even though both men and women have to let their guard down if they truly want to be emotionally available to someone.  I really appreciate my friend’s willingness to share this intimate detail with me.  His story gives me hope for our species.

“How much you wanna risk?”

I grew up in a staunch Catholic household with parents who have been together for almost 46 years.  Whenever I visit them, I see two people who really love each other – two people who have never given up on their relationship despite the incredible difficulties they’ve had to confront.  The affection they demonstrate toward one another has endured and I find it inspiring.  In my opinion, their model, while imperfect, is worthy of emulation.  Occasionally, I wonder how they’ve managed to survive this long as a couple when so many people find themselves unable to resolve their conflicts and the relationship totally unravels.  I also wonder about how they managed to raise three children who have not followed a similar path.  Neither of my siblings are married either.  Hmmm.

When compared to other people my age, my life is somewhat atypical.  Daily routines.  Taste in music.  Identity politics.  Worldview.  These are some of the more obvious ways I’m different.  However, one of the more subtle ways is that I’ve sought to embrace my vulnerability regardless of the emotional discomfort that it causes me.  Yes, unlearning what I’ve been socialized to accept as normal male behavior is a somewhat challenging process.  I believe that you have to be able to share intimate thoughts with a partner for a relationship to be deep, meaningful, and lasting.  Furthermore, a partner must understand this and be willing to reciprocate.  Over the years some people have coached me to conceal my feelings when it comes to romantic involvement.  How does that move a person closer to attaining what he truly wants from a relationship?  It doesn’t.  The more experiences I have, the more it becomes clear to me that we need to deconstruct part of what it means to be a male in our culture.

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