"I'm going to be vulnerable with you," he said. "I'm going to share things I haven't shared with anyone."
I looked at Jack from across the candlelit table, and I felt a slow smile rise to my cheekbones.
"Tell me more."
There was just enough of a scent of autumn in the restaurant courtyard to keep the senses alert, but not enough to warn of an impending winter. We talked throughout the night over red wine and gluten-free appetizers. From business to spirituality to romance and failures and victories related to all, no topic was off limits. The dominant thread of conversation weaving in and out of time was the topic of vulnerability. I began to wonder, when is it acceptable to show vulnerability, when is it not, and why in the year 2014 is vulnerability still more well-received from women than men?
"It must be hard to walk that line, to be in a place where women expect you and all men for that matter to take charge of any situation, while we want you to lay your heart on a silver platter at the same time."
"Growing up, I was taught to bury my feelings, especially feelings that might be viewed as weaknesses," said Jack. "So it's really difficult to access them and share them sometimes."
This wasn't news to me. I have a father, a brother, close males friends, and a few former boyfriends who are all dear to me. I've seen what they endure to some degree. I've tended to their battle scars and stood by their side, hoping they'll someday risk breaking open again. But while I've recognized the reality of society pushing certain expectations on men, most of the time I'm more concerned with the ideologies being thrust upon me as a woman. And while I don't think I'm wrong for this, I don't think I've been right.
It hasn't been easy and there are more strides to be made, but there is no denying that our culture is finding it more acceptable for women to take ownership of their power in business and in pursuit of relationships. Conversely, has it become more unobjectionable for men to express their emotions or insecurities in any arena? I don't think so. That is of course, unless you're Sam Smith or Chris Martin.
In the book "Daring Greatly," author Brené Brown shares an eye-opening experience she had after giving a lecture about her findings on shame -- the "fear of disconnection, the fear that something we've done or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection." All of her research subjects were women. After her talk, a man approached her and asked if she'd conducted any studies on men. After she said "no," the man replied with, "well, isn't that convenient."
"We have shame. Deep shame. But when we reach out and tell our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us," he said to her.
Well, no wonder men have a hard time being vulnerable.
As I sat across from Jack, I reflected on recent times I was convinced that the men in my life were committed to misunderstanding me. In some instances, this instinct may have been correct. In others, it may have been that the wall I accused them of putting up was something I'd built all on my own, in accordance with my own inability to be vulnerable. For as much I have touted that I love being a risk-taker, have I shown this in the face of someone who is risk averse? Have I taken any great leaps when there was no net in sight? Not so much. Not lately.
"So where do you go from here?" I asked Jack. "How do you show your flaws and fears without feeling inferior?
"It comes down to taking pride in my vulnerability," he said. "I can say what my problems are, and I can share my feelings and uncertainties, and I can hold a strong posture and do it with pride. We need to take pride in vulnerability in order to find strength in it."
On any given day, we are all susceptible to being wounded or hurt. There is no shame in that, and anyone who tells you there is is missing out on the miracle of connecting with another human. But this post isn't just about connecting with other people. It's about women and men feeling like it's ok to be imperfect in front of one another. It's about being able to say out loud, "I need you and I accept you. I need you because I'm learning from you. I need you and I'm committed to understanding you."
This past Father's Day, in honor of my Dad, I shared a post on my views on modern society and the idea that women no longer need men.
... but we do. We do because we love them, and because they know how to guide us to the North Star through any storm. We do because when men with a quiet strength, wisdom, humor, and solid shoulders are at our side, our dreams multiply and we can do anything.
I still believe this. I revel in this. I know a plethora of powerful women who have made mountains fall. There is no question as to whether or not they possess all the sorcery in the world to build an empire. I believe we'll build more if we do it together through showing more of ourselves to everyone, men and women alike. It may seem counterintuitive at times, but we can cultivate healthier communities, grow more profitable companies, and develop stronger relationships when we allow one another, regardless of gender, to wear our vulnerability with pride.