When Carl and I first started dating, I wrote an article about vulnerability.
Standing three feet into a great relationship, I had grand aspirations of beautiful intimacy—seeing each other for who we really are and loving each other more for it.
I had let him see a thing or two—my hair a mess and my makeup less than perfect. We’d shared bits and pieces of our stories and he knew that I had some mistakes under my belt.
“I’m not perfect,” I’d say casually tossing my hair over my shoulder, feeling like I was just being humble.
I knew I wasn’t perfect, but with a newly-in-love glow bronzing my skin, I felt kind of perfect. I felt cleaned up and admired. I felt loved and pursued.
I felt like my flaws had been wiped away by the warmth of his love and admiration.
And then things changed.
We were busy and caught up—swirling with obligations and long to-do lists. And as each day passed, I became more and more insecure—seeing our busyness and my fear as a possible sign of decline.
I became painfully sensitive, each swirl and each tiny interaction knocking me over completely.
I craved time and attention, both of which I was getting, but it never really seemed to be enough.
I was no longer glowing with confidence and love. I was shaky and insecure, needy and small.
I knew that I was becoming the woman I had always feared becoming—that “needy” and “too much” were pretty accurate descriptions—but I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t know how to get out of the insecure spin cycle that had me trapped. I didn’t feel shined up and beautiful anymore—I felt positively ugly.
And then we cracked.
In the hardest conversation we’d had yet, everything fell apart.
I told him that I was unhappy and he told me that I was too much—our worst fears sitting on the floor in a standoff. It’s done, I thought. I had no idea how we could ever recover. We both said that we felt like running away, like we had no idea how to fix this. The damage felt irreparable.
I began to panic—my imperfection had broken our relationship. I braced myself for the moment when he’d walk away.
And then something shifted.
Something miraculous happened and instead of giving up, he pulled me into a hug. We laid there, curled up together making apologies, one after the other.
“I’m sorry for asking too much of you.”
“I’m sorry for being insensitive.”
“I’m sorry for not prioritizing you.”
“I’m sorry for putting more pressure on you.”
As apologies and understanding stacked up, we wrapped our arms tightly around each other, our noses touching—the tension turning to forgiveness.
As he left my house that night, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror.
I was tear-stained with trails of mascara running down my face, my eyelashes in messy clumps. My hair was a tangled mess—I looked like I’d just woken up from a nightmare. Which in some way, I guess I did.
We’d passed clean, slightly-messy-hair-vulnerability a long time ago.
We were in full on, runny nose vulnerability—the ugly kind. It was the kind that you never want to get to, because you’re positive that the person’s going to leave if they see you like that. And I realized, with a gust of freedom, that we’d survived it.
In the years since that first fight we’ve had plenty more of those moments—moments when the truth is ugly, and so are we, facing off in a battle of wills, or expectations, or hurts.
We’ve seen each other at our all-time ugliest, not once, but over and over again. And each time we go through one of those ugly moments, I’m reminded of what I’m learning true love to be: True love isn’t the reward for being shined up and perfect, it’s letting a person see you and know you—the real you—and them loving you anyway.
And love like that is better than perfection.
Vulnerability, I’m learning, is one of the hardest things in the world. But it’s also the best. It doesn’t feel good at the time, in fact, I’m convinced there’s nothing scarier, but there’s nothing sweeter than to look into the eyes of somebody who loves you, and actually knows you—at your best and your worst.
What have you seen vulnerability do in your life?
P.S. Carl and I did a whole podcast episode about navigating conflict and communication when you're engaged, but the same principles apply to other relationships. Here is the link!