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Vulnerability and Romantic Relationships: My Struggles Navigating These Spaces

A zoomed-in photograph of a wall with differently coloured flanks.

 Humans thrive on connection. As a kid, it was easier for me to share what I was feeling, what I wanted to do or not want to do. I was more open to the idea of putting my true self out in the world without any sort of fear. I was free. But, things changed as I grew older. I learnt that the world is a painful place and people might use what I share with them against me, not everyone is my friend, and not everyone who says I love you to me really loves me.

Over time, in order to protect ourselves, we humans develop certain defense mechanisms. Just like some of you, mine was to build huge walls around my heart. I convinced myself at a very young age to not depend on or to share my feelings with anyone. The heterosexual men in my life were brought up with the belief that any form of vulnerability equals weakness and therefore, they ended up building even larger walls around themselves. So, their emotional self was practically inaccessible to both, them and me. These walls did work as a shield but also stopped them and me from forming meaningful and fulfilling relationships. So, what does being vulnerable actually mean?

Being vulnerable puts you in front of the world, just as you are, along with your fears and your strengths. To me, being vulnerable is facing the fear of being judged, rejected, or being abandoned. To better understand this fear I have, I am dividing it into two parts. One is emotional vulnerability, and the other is physical vulnerability.

At the beginning of any relationship, there is a journey of discovering things. When I thought about it, I noticed a division when it came to my opening up in relationships. The first part consists of things which were relatively easier to share for me. For example, favourite food, favourite colour, films I love to watch, my hobbies, etc. The second part consists of the hard-to-share things. The things which I don’t want to say out loud, even to myself. The scary things such as childhood trauma, why it is difficult to believe in certain institutions like marriage, body-image issues, or, why am I so emotional and sensitive? These put me in a vulnerable position. But, then they also allow me to connect with the person I am sharing all this with. On the other hand, being vulnerable also has another meaning. 

When I used to hear the phrase ‘sexually vulnerable’ in the news/media, it used to bring back some haunting memories. It used to bring back the horrors, the experiences that I and my body have lived through. This made me resistant to human touch. I couldn’t connect with whoever I was involved with romantically, one of the major reasons being that my love language is physical touch. Ironical, I know. And so, while I was protecting myself from being vulnerable      sexually, I was also depriving myself of feeling trust, respect, and passion in a relationship, some of the foundations of a meaningful relationship for me.

 It took me some time to realise how important being vulnerable or, for that matter, being vulnerable during sexual engagement was for me to have great sex and how empowering it is for my sexuality. After much thought, I decided to open up to my partner about my past experiences and other things I never used to openly talk about. In the moment, as I was breaking down the barriers I had placed, I felt authentic, accepted and validated. It led to tender, exquisite moments in love-making when I loved my body and felt comfortable in my own skin. I allowed myself to be seen, to be felt in a very private and tender way. It was a connection that occurred in a place beyond thought – much deeper than what we could achieve in even intimate conversation.  I was no longer scared of physical touch, and my partner made sure that I was comfortable. As my most authentic and unprotected self, I felt loved and cared for. And this, till date, has been one of the most healing and powerful moments for me in our entire romance.    

I have to accept that, just like all of us, vulnerability scares me, and yet it is necessary to ask the questions we are embarrassed to ask, and to talk about the things that make us, us. Being accepted as I am, and being respected for that still remains one of the purest forms of love for me. I broke down my walls for someone. I let them in. I made myself vulnerable. And ultimately, this vulnerability is what allows me to evolve and grow as an individual, especially within relationships. Scary, but definitely empowering.

Cover Image: Unsplash

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