First published in Thrive Global on September 9, 2019

We all want to be seen as through the eyes of the one we love. Deep connection with another human being is both deeply satisfying and simultaneously terrifying. I got to thinking about vulnerability and courage and how visceral and present it is when you are getting to know someone for the first time. Yes, I am talking about the dating game, but I could just as easily be talking about friendship or even a work setting as much of it applies. Emotion, which is heightened in the novelty of a situation, strengthens the metaphor of dating to give us a way to perceive and understand the relationship between courage and vulnerability making the concept accessible and concrete.  Imagine you are going on a date or meeting someone for the first time. What would your starting point for the date be?


Curiosity is the spark

Having recently been on this journey, I can speak life into the metaphor. It begins with curiosity. There is a natural curiosity that sparks an interest. That spark is ‘find out more’. Now, if it starts the modern way, which is online, the process can be a little slower initially, but if you go beyond the technology you’ll see that there’s a desire to know more and a willingness to discover another person.  Your checklist might look something like similar interests and values. Maybe age and education are important. And certainly, there will be physical attractiveness as well. The point is curiosity is key here. Without it, we don’t move forward. Otherwise, let’s face it, we swipe left or politely move on. Online is a masked world after all, and you can never be sure who you are communicating with.


Flirting comes next

This is where things start to get playful. No one is up for taking anything too seriously, so you flirt to see if there is enough there to go beyond curiosity. That takes paying attention, and it takes reading the vibe. At this point, you are working out just how far you can go with flirting but you don’t want to go too far. So, now you meet for coffee. It’s pretty low key and non-committal. It’s easy to bail if things don’t go well. Now you’re face to face, albeit a low-key affair and it takes being fully present; that is if you want to really connect: No real connection is possible without it. This is where vulnerability shows up.

Onto dinner and a second date…

So if everything has gone well to this point we go to dinner. Over dinner, the conversation and the connection deepens. I start to share my perspective on things and you start to share yours with me.  This is where the deeper stuff can start to surface and we are still both very attentive to the vibe. I share a piece of me and you share a piece of you. At the end of the date is where I summon the courage to ask for the second date and give you a chance to reject me (thanks but no thanks) if we aren’t on the same page. Whether or not there is a second date we have shared time together and shared an experience. The one thing we can never get back is time. There’s no creating more of it. That you have given me yours and provided a mirror for me to see myself is appreciated.


The next step

If we are still connecting and we make to the next step, this is where passion ignites, the spark is now aflame and both are exposed. You see me and I see you. I share my fears and concerns, you make it safe for me to do so and trust builds quickly. No pretence, but rather honesty and transparency instead. Connection built like this defies reason. It is raw and it is vulnerable. When I lean into the vulnerability and have the courage to give myself a voice, I let go of “what if”. I let go of what is probable and a whole new world of possibility opens up. My context for life shifts and the world occurs differently.


It’s upside down

It seems to me that we all want to be known and to be understood. We want to be validated and make our own unique contribution to the world. Why then do we don the ‘mask’ and fail to show up as our most vulnerable selves? In a word it’s fear: Fear of rejection, fear of being laughed at or taken advantage of and so we armour up instead. The irony is what we seek to protect ourselves from and the very act of protecting ourselves harms us more. Vulnerability is the most appropriate response and connection that we can have with another human being. That is what it is to be intimately connected to another.

What would happen if we began our relationships from that place of vulnerability instead of working our way there and getting scared off halfway when we get rejected? If we turn it upside down and begin at the end our world will never be the same.