Vulnerability

when i was in college, i had a crush on this one guy (one of many through the years). he wasn’t super popular, super cute, or super brainy. he was just a nice guy, a man girls felt at ease around, a man I suspect had had very few girls crush on him in his life. but still, a man i was comfortable admitting a crush on to my close friends.

on some random weekend trip to the nearest mall (an hour away) this guy told a mutual friend he suspected I liked him. That was it–he only told her he suspected it, without judgement or disgust. But I immediately stopped making eye contact, stopped smiling at him or making any sort of conversation. I was embarrassed that he knew, that he could pick up on it, that i had been so obvious. (which really, isn’t that what we want? to have someone know we’re interested and be interested back?) i don’t think i ever said another word to him, ever again.

it’s an all-too-familiar scene, albeit one more routinely conducted in middle or high schools. I just never really outgrew it. I suspect that even today, were something like this to happen, I would still blush and clam up. (it’s honestly a miracle Jon and I ever got together).

you know there is no happy ending here for K and me: he started dating the woman who would become his wife just a few short weeks later. of course i think everything turned out the way it was supposed to, but there’s still a part of me that questions what that alternate reality would have looked like, if i had been brave enough to admit my attraction and own my feelings. It doesn’t matter who you are, really–whenever a person encounters a fork in the road, there is always going to be the question of what lay down the other path (you can, I’m sure, insert the appropriate Frost reference here). i know there are billions of stories like this throughout history–fear of rejection has shaped more lives than the bravery of love.

the reason I bring this somewhat painful memory up is to pose this question: what kind of difference would have been made in my life if I wasn’t so afraid of vulnerability? Because that’s what I was REALLY what I was afraid of–a sharp dart to a soft heart. but in stopping short i was defeated already. where would I, could I, have gone, if only I hadn’t determined early on to quit? Not only with this guy, but maybe with a few of the others? Or with jobs, schools, homes? What shaping would have taken place, if I had been unafraid to try, at the price of a little pride? Would i be more fully rounded? Or would parts of me have been broken off, to leave me jagged and sharp?

i have been told ‘no’ enough times in my life to be used to it by now. Not to say it isn’t painful every time, but rather–you learn that the pain doesn’t last, that you’ll live through it and it’s not as bad as you think it’ll be. the build-up is worse than the actuality. (though admittedly, my pride took quite a beating in college).

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the human experience–about how happiness is only one small component to our lives. We shouldn’t strive for happiness, but for completion. Not for consistent comfort, but for accomplishment and triumph (which will always necessitate getting a bit dirty). Discomfort not the enemy, sorrow only a darker friend. As i wrestle with the choices in my life, as I second-guess and reconsider, I have to remind myself that I am being grown and pruned and made ever more lovely by both the rain and the sun. Vulnerability cannot be shirked, it cannot be avoided simply because it is distasteful or uncomfortable. It must be confronted, endured, and triumphed over–an enemy made a friend. It’s only very difficult, I am finding.

it seems to be a theme in my life as of late, as i reach the age where you’re supposed to have more of an idea of what you want your life to look like. my problem is, i think i know what that is, but i’m not sure i’m on the right road to getting it. i’m old enough to realize everything my mother said is true: I will never be that young again. I don’t get a second chance at this life thing. all of the moments NOW are what count because I don’t get them back again. I “believed” her but not in the way that counted. it hits me all of a sudden–my precious early twenties, those golden moments in the sun, carefree of student loans and broken AC units, all the lost years of opportunity to have children young: they are gone and I will never have the chance at them again.

then i remind myself: i am living my precious late twenties, i have sunlit moments still, and I may look back on this time of freedom and selfish fulfillment with longing, that Right Now is the only time i will not mourn ever. i cannot trade these moments I DO have for the moments I CAN’T have, because then I am robbed of my whole life.

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