I was walking with a student of mine, Jane, catching up on her life – specifically, her dating life. She shared that she had been dating someone for a while, but that it did not work out. I prodded for more details, and we had the following exchange.
“At first, he was very into me. We were getting serious – he’d even met my parents. Then, he started to pull back, and he eventually broke it off.”
“What happened?” I asked her.
“Well, I shared some vulnerable information with him, and I think he was uncomfortable with it,” she replied.
I could not imagine what this incredible girl could possibly share that would turn someone away. She was a quite a gem: beautiful, insightful, smart, successful, and deeply caring. As far as I was concerned, this guy had hit the jackpot with her.
She reminded me that her hearing is slightly impaired, and that she uses hearing aids to make of the deficit. She felt, as it proved to be true, that as soon as she told him about it, it was the beginning of the end. The words “hearing aid” likely conjure up images of the elderly shouting “What?” while watching TV or speaking into the telephone. Jane’s hearing aids, however, were tiny, and would never be noticed by anyone else. In the seven years that I have gotten to know her, I have never once had to repeat myself, nor have I even seen the actual devices. They are invisible to the naked eye, and yet, the idea of them made this guy uncomfortable to the point of wanting to end things with Jane.
I was quite surprised at her response, and decided to investigate further. “How did you go about telling him, and what exactly was his reaction? Are you sure you didn’t break up because of something else?”
She explained, “I was terrified to tell him, and I felt myself fumbling over my words because I was so nervous. I feel so hurt that he rejected me, but more importantly, I am now confused as to when to share this important part of me over the course dating someone. I don’t want to turn anyone else away from me, but this is information that needs to be shared. I feel so stuck.”
My heart was hurting for her. Even her parents had told her to keep it a secret from the people she dated, out of fear that no one would want to marry her because of it.
This issue is not exclusive to my student. Everyone has vulnerabilities that we are reluctant to share out of self-preservation or fear of rejection. When we start to date someone, it can be thrilling. Butterflies flutter, chemistry sparks, and each time we get together it can lead to a stronger connection. At a certain point, however that connection no longer feels liberating. It starts to become intimidating as we realize that the time to share more intimate aspects of ourselves is approaching. When is the right time to share such things? How do we share this information, and with whom do we disclose these things to?
The following are the three key elements needed in order to open up to someone you are dating: the right person, the right time, the right delivery.
The Right Person
When a friend of mine dated her now-husband, she told me that from the get-go she felt completely comfortable to be herself around him. Initially, she thought it was a result of her outgoing personality. As she reflected back on past dates, however, she realized that there were plenty of people she’d dated that she felt insecure around, or had been unable to be herself. Oftentimes, feeling that you can open up to someone is a reflection of the other person, indicating that the relationship is comfortable and safe.
In Jane’s story, she was extremely nervous to share something important with the most recent person she was dating. Sometimes, when we feel guarded or nervous to share whom we really are, it is a reflection of the other person, rather than ourselves. We must first examine the relationship and internally ask, Am I comfortable enough to peel off my layers? Can I share my earnest thoughts without feeling that they will be brushed aside or judged?
Sharing vulnerable information with a person who makes you feel less than comfortable will not lead to a deeper connection. Rather, we must only share such things with a person who has proven that he or she has earned the right to hear our story.
The Right Time
It is important to note that shedding all protective gear and opening up the first time you meet someone is not a good idea, either. People make the mistake of thinking that sharing intimate information right away will lead to a greater sense of closeness. However, the opposite usually occurs, as over-sharing leads to disconnection and awkwardness. Sharing too much, too soon is like blinding an oncoming driver with fog lights. This form of over-sharing or lack of discretion can cause the other person to turn away, and will ultimately be detrimental to a relationship.
Real vulnerability is sharing things little by little with the person who has proven his or her respect, loyalty, and love. It is okay to have some form of a protective mask on initially, but with time it should only be removed slowly until you are left bare with someone who has earned the right to hear your story. With any luck, the other person is doing the same. Hence the old adage: the right person at the right time.
The Right Delivery
Delivering vulnerable information requires confidence, so that it can be normalized to our significant other. In my student’s example, had she been more confident in her delivery regarding her medical needs, the other person might have received it in a more neutral fashion.
Although Jane was scared to talk about her hearing aids, they are simply a form of technology to make one’s life easier. From making life more convenient to providing lifesaving help, the advent of technology has helped every single one of us, myself included. I used a personal example to explain this to my student. “Jane, if it were not for modern technological advances, I would not be alive today – and on that note, my daughter would not be here, either. Both of us spent extended time in the hospital as infants with life threatening issues.” Many of us would not be where we are today if not for technology in some form. Describing her hearing aids as merely a common use of technology normalized it for Jane so she could describe her situation with more confidence to someone else.
You Are Enough
Whether it is our dependence on technology or some other vulnerability, we all have circumstances we may feel uncomfortable sharing. We worry that the disclosure will turn others away. I call it the “share it or not” moment.
In order to verbalize the issue in a confident way, we must first feel confident about it within. If we internally come to the realization, I am enough, regardless of the outcome, then we’re ready to share.
I was very close with another student of mine named Amanda. She had gone through the process of conversion to Orthodox Judaism in Israel, which is quite strict and grueling. After completing her conversion, she started to date someone seriously. She met with me to discuss a concern she had about her past.
“Sarah, I don’t know exactly when or how to tell him about my conversion. I know it must be brought up, but I’m so scared to do it. I’m afraid that he or his family won’t accept me because of it. What if it isn’t good enough for them?”
Before I could say anything to help her, she continued, “To be honest, I think about acceptance regarding my conversion a lot. What if the people in my life – or my community – don’t think I’m Jewish enough?”
I responded carefully but firmly, “Amanda, it’s not about what others think. Your conversion and your journey in Judaism cannot and does not depend on acceptance from every human being in the world. At this point, it is more important that you accept yourself. It’s about embracing the words, ‘I am enough.’”
The “share it even if you’re scared” moment is when you have the confidence to feel the message, “I am enough.” If your relationship has progressed slowly, and in a healthy fashion, then you are ready to reveal that piece of yourself. An addendum to Amanda’s story is that she did tell the boy about her conversion, and not only was it more than enough for him and his family, but from that point forward, their relationship truly flourished.
It is crucial that we come forth with our vulnerabilities by sharing accurate information with the people we date. This free flow of honest and appropriate communication is the key to taking the next step in a relationship. The best way to talk about our vulnerabilities is to do so with the right person, at the right time, and with the right delivery. You’ll be glad you did.