The other day I watched a TED Talk with the American professor Brené Brown who’s spent more than a decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She talked about how we can learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections to experience more authenticity and worthiness in our lives. How we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough — that we are worthy of love, belonging and joy. Her talk spoke to me since the concept of vulnerability has played a vital role in my own life these last few weeks. I’ve found myself on an emotional rollercoaster since a beautiful person entered my life and turned my world upside down for a brief moment.
My feelings were so strong from the first moment I laid eyes on him that I started questioning the concept of ’love’ and how I want to live my life. It blew my mind to experience such immediate and intense feelings for someone. How can a person affect you so strongly that you completely lose control over yourself? Is it simply chemistry between two human bodies or could there be a more powerful and divine force connecting these two souls?
I dove into a rabbit hole of existential questions that I’d never explored before. What is love? How do I love someone unconditionally? Is it possible to love someone that’s not your child unconditionally and is the love for your child necessarily unconditional? What is unconditional love even? From my understanding, ‘unconditional love’ is when you don’t expect something in return from the person you love. Your love is not depending on whether the person acts in a certain way or even loves you back. You simply want all the best in the world for this person and love them no matter what. So my question was: can I love this person unconditionally or is it something I have to practice for several years? I know that Buddhist monks practice this and enlightened people say they feel unconditional love for every person they meet, but then… what’s the point of a partner? If you can love everyone on this planet equally and without expectations, what role does a partner play in my life? Are we only meant to connect with people in a sexual way for reproduction purposes or could there be a bigger meaning to it all? Also, how do I even know that I’m truly in love with this person or if it’s just another form of attachment —that I didn’t just find someone who seemingly met all my criteria for a ”perfect partner” and then put him on a pedestal and labeled the excitement ’love’?
Extremely unromantic, I know, but when it comes to emotions I’m a rationalist. I refuse to be run by my emotions and I’ve always had this need to make sense of things — my body, thoughts, emotions, and surroundings. So when I found myself in a situation where someone else took the steering wheel of my emotions, I freaked out.
I’ve always been an individualistic person and lately, I’ve been practicing hard on letting go of my control need and admitting that even I need help sometimes. I can be way too proud — too inclined to do everything on my own. My first words as a child were ”Kan själv!” (”I can do it myself!”), and that’s the essence of my personality: I do just fine on my own and I don’t need anyone else. And that’s, of course, true – it all starts with self-love – but if you don’t feel that true love for yourself, an attitude like that will eventually make you feel extremely lonely.
Over the years, I’ve learned that behind my seemingly strong and independent person, there’s actually deep insecurity and fear. Fear of saying something stupid, of doing something ”wrong” (and I say ”wrong” because I believe that ”right” and ”wrong” is just a construction — but more on that some other time), of not being liked, of daring to be my true self. It’s incredibly scary to be yourself because when you’re only yourself you’re also incredibly vulnerable. It’s much easier to just fit in and be like everyone else because then no one can hold anything against you.
So we fill our lives with materialistic things that help us build the image of who we think we should be or how we want others to perceive us. If someone then were to comment on how you look or behave, your ego can always fall back on the fact that everyone else looks exactly the same, so you’re good. But to truly be yourself — to dare to say: ”This is me, take it or leave it”, takes courage. It all comes down to our fear of being rejected, of the need to fit in, and that’s something I’ve been practicing hard to let go of this year (I even wrote about it here).
And so all of a sudden I found myself in this emotional turmoil that I didn’t know how to navigate and where everything I’ve worked for was put to the test. It’s extremely scary to feel that strongly for someone — to open up and put your heart in the hands of someone else. I was honestly about to freak out a few times. All my defense mechanisms went off and my subconscious was manically looking for excuses to not be with this person.
And a few months ago, I probably would have left, but somewhere in this turmoil I found my inner strength and decided to be honest with myself. Do I want my fear of rejection to run my life? Do I want to numb the experience of life because I’m scared of what might happen or how I might feel? Yes, it hurts to get rejected. Yes, it hurts to get heartbroken. But I’m sure it hurts, even more, to wake up one day and realize that I’ve experienced life through a filter. A filter that I’ve created to defend myself and my ego from emotions that are too scary to deal with.
So I decided to go for the full experience. I decided to open my heart up and show myself vulnerable. For the first time in my life, I let my guard down and exposed my feelings. I made a promise to not play any games, to stay true to myself, to him, and to be honest and present throughout the whole experience.
I would have loved for this blog post to end with “and then they lived happily ever after”, but that’s not usually the case, is it? And what fun would life be if everything was that predictable? No, the universe had a different plan for us. We had only dated for a few weeks, but I think we both silently realized that we weren’t being true to ourselves — that there was something between us that just wasn’t working. And that’s hard to admit when you feel so strongly for each other. Not least to yourself. I wanted for this relationship to work so badly that I found myself slowly changing the person I’ve become. I noticed how I fell back into old thought patterns and how I held back on my own personality because I thought that would somehow make this person like me more. I held back on some of the traits I value the most in myself only because I thought it would please someone else.
Was this who I’d become? Was this where eight months of hard work had led me? I knew I wasn’t being true to myself, or him, by continuing this relationship. I also knew that my behavior had more to do with me than with him. Despite my attempt to open up and be myself, my insecurities and fear of rejection shone through and led me to doubt parts of myself that I’m otherwise proud of — parts that I value and that make me Me. It was a difficult situation to navigate because I wanted to be with this person so badly, but being with him made me less of who I truly am.
After being a mental wreck for a few days, I had to admit to myself that our differences weren’t healthy for either of us and that I wasn’t respecting my own boundaries by staying in this relationship. It’s easy to forget about your boundaries when your judgment is clouded by your emotions for someone, but that’s when you need them the most. I had to remind myself of who I am, what I expect from my relationships, and what I need in my life to feel good. I will not change myself for someone else. I expect a certain level of affection and intimacy. I want to be seen and heard. I will be treated with respect. I deserve to be loved for everthing that I am, including my history and flaws. I will not be with someone who’s not sure if they want to be with me.
If you’re going to allow yourself to open up and be vulnerable, it’s extremely important that you know and respect your own boundaries. You shouldn’t allow anyone to disrespect you, make you feel bad or doubt yourself. If you’re willing to put your heart in someone else’s hand, you must also be ready to stand up for yourself when the relationship isn’t making you happy. Because no one else will.
“If you’re willing to put your heart in someone else’s hand, you must also be ready to stand up for yourself when the relationship isn’t making you happy.”
It took some strength to make the decision to end it, but a part of me knew that it wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway. I learned that I still have some work to do with my insecurities, but I was also reminded that I want to be with someone who understands and sees all of me — someone who doesn’t make me feel like I have to prove or be something I’m not. We all have expectations and ideas of how we want our partner to be, and that’s perfectly fine, but how do you behave when you find yourself falling in love with someone who doesn’t fit into that image? Someone who has their own plans and dreams and who realizes that you might not fit into their future either? No matter how badly you want it, you can’t expect someone to change themselves to fit into your life.
It’s sad to let go of a person you feel deeply for. Especially when the feelings are mutual. You start to question if you should have stayed and fought. If things might have worked out if you only communicated better. I guess we will never know, and it doesn’t matter anyway. What has happened has happened, I won’t dwell in the past. I only know that I did my best in a difficult situation and that I’m proud of myself for handling things the way I did. I feel nothing but love for this person, and I know that the universe has a magnificent plan for both of us, together or apart.