Love, vulnerability and being you

As I write this, my Twitter feed is filled with romance, love and hearts. It’s St Valentine’s Day and the world is soppy.

My story today is about love, it’s about vulnerability and it’s about making today the day for you to pack in the relationships that leave you feeling shit.

I’ve talked elsewhere about my own self-worth and coping mechanisms. You’ll know that one (now defunct) strategy was about hiding my studious, quiet, vulnerable side by creating a persona: the good-time-don’t-give-a-toss-party girl.

I spent years playing this role. You know how it is: if you say something often enough people start to believe you. And that’s exactly what happened in my love life. I started to attract men who believed it. And why would they not?

But I ended up in some situations that were far from ideal. In some cases the men had equal amounts of baggage and were walking, talking cliches. Married but bored. Good-time guy who likes a drink (a bit too much). The narcissist with a problem being faithful.

I did not have the capacity for my own baggage let alone theirs but I walked into these situations repeatedly and made myself more unhappy.

Again and again I was self-sabotaging, depriving myself of what I ultimately wanted: a loving, caring, balanced relationship with someone who was going to back me in the way that I would them.

Isn’t that what we all want? And deserve? Why is it so difficult to say it?

I figure it’s because admitting that we think we deserve it leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed. I didn’t want to feel exposed so it was imperative to keep my hard shell intact. And so this crazy fucked-up self sabotage continued: I performed a role and attracted players.

The truth was this: Attracting a man who was wholly unavailable or slightly detached made me feel wanted, like I had somehow won. He’s chosen me! He wants to see me! I must be worthy.

But the connections were flimsy and based on pretence. I became obsessed with hiding my vulnerability, maintaining the act.

On and on it went until the time came when I was catapulted into darkness. I remember being sat in my car, exhausted, having dealt with another deliberately provocative act of manipulation from the guy I was then involved with. I phoned my dad and said: “I can’t go on.”

I could not hide anymore. I had to face the truth about myself. I had to understand the patterns and learn new and safe ways of coping so I could secure a better future.

Showing vulnerability is often perceived as a form of weakness. Here’s what I have found: being vulnerable is not weak. Being vulnerable is to be human. We all possess vulnerability and as a race we are hard-wired to act upon it: fight or flight.

What I later came to understand was that I did not think I was good enough, worthy enough and so I looked outside myself for validation. At times I was selfish, stupid, inconsiderate. I cannot change the past, the years of distracting myself. I was on an eternal search for a pot of gold at the rainbow’s end – the idiotic, selfish leprechaun was there alright – but the most precious golden gem of all, love, was absent.

From the day I phoned my dad in early 2013 I spent the best part of another year detangling myself and learning to accept vulnerability – fear of being enough, fear of finding someone who’d love me as much as I would love them, fear of messing up – and embracing it as an important part of who I am.

Replacing the flimsy foundations with a bedrock of self-acceptance changed my entire view about making connections.

What I know now is that I was not lucky because these half-arsed blokes had chosen me. They were the lucky ones. Now they’re unlucky. See-ya!

On this day of love I want you to promise me that if you are stuck in this funk of validating yourself through someone else’s eyes, you’ll take steps to change it. You’ll look at your own vulnerability and see it as a strength. You’ll be really kind to yourself and not feel shame for wanting something better.

It won’t happen instantly. It will take time and energy but it will be worth all your effort.

Decide today to walk away from the leprechaun who’s got nothing of any substance for you and go in search of 24-carat gold. Make today, St Valentine’s Day, and every day that comes after it, about the biggest love of your life: you.

“What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.” – Haruki Murakami

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I'm a writer, journalist and communications officer based in the South West of England. I write about wellbeing, the outdoors and life in a rural playground.

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