One of my favorite bloggers InsanityBytes wrote a comical and insightful essay the other day on relationships between men and women titled You Don’t Have to Lie To Me. There were so many good points in the article, but this one particularly grabbed my attention regarding the need for men to be vulnerable in a relationship:
“Nobody’s suggesting men must be all emotional and touchy-feely here, but if you can’t give something of yourself emotionally, how in the world can there even be any intimacy in a marriage?”
I agreed with her. But it took the majority of my ride home from work (it is a long ride, like two hours — don’t ask) to pinpoint what troubled me about the common perception of vulnerability in relationship we have, which InsanityBytes had effectively captured.
And then the light bulb went on: Vulnerability is not exactly the same thing as being “emotional and touchy-feely.” It can be. But vulnerability, in its strictest sense, is the ability to allow what is on the inside of us to be known to the outside world. Whether that manifests as emotional and touchy-feely or something else entirely depends on what is on the inside of us.
Granted, vulnerability can often be associated with being emotional and touchy-feely because, as a general rule (which I will be accused of being sexist for but at the moment do not care) women are much better at vulnerability than men are. So the vulnerability we often see modeled is coming from women. Further, vulnerability often is associated with weakness. That is, to be vulnerable is to be willing to open up about our struggles and insecurities. We tend to equate vulnerability with weakness.
But in the context of intimacy, vulnerability is so much more than this. It is, first of all, about sharing all that we are on the inside, not just sharing our weakness. Further, I would argue — just as I did recently that women are unique in how they lead — men are unique in how they are vulnerable. In response to InsanityBytes I put it this way:
I think we must make a distinction between men being vulnerable and men being vulnerable in the way women might be vulnerable. Jesus was (and is) both vulnerable and strong at the same time. We men in our vulnerability should be willing to show our weakness but also willing to show our deep passion and strength as well, something that is rarely modeled.
So there are two parts here, actually. The first is that men being vulnerable in weakness will look different than women being vulnerable in weakness; I say this only because no man necessarily wants to be accused of being “emotional and touchy-feely,” but all men have a need to be vulnerable.
Secondly, part of men being vulnerable is not only to admit weakness but also express strength in their vulnerability. Said differently, vulnerability is not just about weakness: It is in fact one of the greatest strengths in a relationship that men have to offer.
Most men, however, do not know how to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time. In fact, for many men strength is the exact opposite of being vulnerable. Being strong means being stone-cold and emotionally distant. Men do not cry, do not show feeling, and do not get “emotional” not so much because they are incapable of it, but because they believe it is a sign of weakness. By this logic, to be strong is to be without emotion. Which, needless to say, is not what we see modeled in the Person of Jesus Christ.
But there is a reason for this: What often resides within many men in this fallen world is brokenness. So for most men, to be vulnerable at all is to run the real risk of showing weakness. The simplest solution for many of us men, therefore, is to cut ourselves off emotionally: Be tough on the outside, but unknown — and unknowable — on the inside, in order to maintain the appearance of strength.
This of course has its consequences. As InsanityBytes points out, “the number one reason for divorce today actually amounts to women feeling emotionally abandoned.” I would like to suggest the reason women feel this way is because men have abandoned their emotions long ago, and with it the capacity to relate. Relationships, in other words, require intimacy.
I have this crazy theory about women as it pertains to men — and perhaps not so much a theory as an idea. It goes something like this: Women are a tangible reminder to men of the intimacy they have lost. Women are both a reminder and an invitation back to the place of intimacy they once shared with their Creator, and were made to share with others.
And I am convinced that it is only by returning to that place of intimacy that the real strength men possess can be made manifest — a strength they were made to demonstrate to their wives, to their children, and to rest the world. A strength that does not merely dwell on the outside, but dwells deeply on the inside. A strength like Jesus demonstrates to us: Wide open and vulnerable, deeply passionate, unhindered by brokenness, and characterized by unyielding sacrifice.
Going through some of my belongings this week, I found a poem I wrote to my wife that that touches on this subject, which I now share with you in closing. Be blessed — and may all of us learn the strength and power of vulnerability.
I wrote this message and, in a bottle, threw it from the shore
that you and I might live as one, not two, forevermore.
I take you not to merely have or you to merely hold.
I take you as a dwelling makes a shelter from the cold.
I bear you up as one might bear a pearl within one’s hands
that ends the weary traveler’s search throughout the oceans’ sands.
I place you in your rightful place: A setting for a stone
That with its underneath embrace its beauty might be shown.
And if beat down the elements upon our vessel’s prow
along our sacred journey home, I will absorb the blow.
For I am yours and you are mine, and we are one, not two.
The dreams this bottle now contains are not for me, but you.