Ask the Weekly with Colleen Loranger: Vulnerability and Relationships

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I’ve had trouble building up the courage to pursue new relationships (both friendly and romantic) due to realizations of personal shortcomings in current ones, especially with regards to communication and vulnerability. I fear harming potential friends or lovers because of my inability to communicate or be vulnerable with them. On the other hand, I feel that I’m allowing my insecurities to rule my life by waiting for an unrealistic and flawless “perfect me.” How can I reconcile these two fears?

Your “personal shortcomings” are just as you’ve qualified them: personal. When people love and care about you, they don’t care about your shortcomings. You write that you are unable to communicate or be vulnerable, yet this very question displays that this is not the case. I must surmise that you are more than capable of applying these qualities.

Your fear does not need reconciling; it needs confrontation.

What would happen if you decided to tell someone how you were really feeling? What if you put it all out there and everyone handled it and you moved on? Except now, you have become closer with someone. I think you’ve realized, after all this, that it’s not potential friends and lovers you are harming. It is yourself, and it is now. You are shutting down your potential every moment you hold back. The fear of future pain can often be more debilitating than the pain itself.

The good news is that change can happen, and it begins with the smallest of acts. It begins when you pass someone on the sidewalk and, instead of avoiding eye contact, you say hello. It begins when you send a note to someone you’ve been thinking of. It begins when you do the brave thing, leave your room and enter a social situation. Even though it’s scary, you do it because you know you’ll be feel better if you try it.

Last June, the Journal of Experimental Psychology published the poetically-titled study “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude,” in which authors Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder incentivized talking to strangers on public transportation. They found people were much happier after engaging in conversation, even though they consistently expected they wouldn’t be.

I bring this up because ever since I heard a summary of it in passing, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Connecting can be scary, but it rarely makes us feel badly in the end.

As for your flawless self, it’s up to you. You’ve decided you have flaws, but what if you decided they didn’t matter? They are prohibiting you from connecting to other people. Eventually these small acts become habits and bravery is no longer something you have to think about. It becomes part of you. People can, and do, change all the time. Stop waiting.