A few months back, I immersed myself in a deep conversation with my Uber driver. We all know how intense Uber conversations can get!
As it so often happens, the conversation turned to intimate relationships, and I asked him about his most recent one. He softly yet directly told me that he didn't feel comfortable talking about her. I paused and took that in. This was a rare experience for me.
After a few moments, I thanked him.
We were complete strangers, and I probably would never see this guy again. However, he chose to respect himself enough to refrain from talking about something that was too painful for him at that time.
I used to think that if someone wasn’t able to put everything out on the table right away, then I couldn’t trust that person. I wanted to know what Chapter's Seven and Eight looked like so I could fully relax and enjoy Chapter One. I felt I needed to be met with the same level of intensity I was bringing to the table. I would implode, often feeling violated, when my sharing wasn’t reciprocated.
I was constantly violating my own boundaries, and therefore the boundaries of others as a result.
I remember going on first dates and asking men, ‘Sooooo, what would you say is the biggest flaw that your last girlfriend would point out about you?’
Of course I was immediately turned off after hearing the answer! It was so early on in the dating process, it was impossible to have any positive momentum that could withstand, sustain or balance that kind of heavy information right off the bat. In reality, by trying to find out ahead of time what the potential pitfalls were, I was actually looking for ways to protect myself from getting hurt rather than allowing myself to get to know someone in a ‘natural’ way.
You can imagine why I was single for quite some time.
Thank goodness I can laugh about all this now! I so desperately just wanted to relax and let go.
After about 128,476 first dates, I reached a crossroads. (I’m totally exaggerating, but not really.)
I could continue doing this and stay single -OR- I could allow myself to try something different. I could embrace and breathe into my own anxieties, even if my brain would try to steer me in another direction. I had to consciously choose to stop scanning for danger and creating a reality that matched the fearful one in my head.
I had to allow myself to be wrong.
You see, we are living in a world of ever-increasing transparency.
Hear me out.
Transparency itself is not a negative thing at all. It is a beautiful gift, as long as what you are sharing isn’t meant to falsely mold yourself to fit into some new-wave norm of self-acceptance, and you’re not violating your own boundaries along the way.
The problem with this world of ever-increasing transparency is that we can quickly jump onto a new spiritual bandwagon phrase and easily lose our true selves in doing so. We can often unintentionally but nevertheless aggressively probe others to share deeper in order to feel safe to share what WE ultimately want to share.
We want to be seen.
I understand the importance of feeling seen in our fullness. But if you aren’t comfortable sharing something, manipulating someone to do so for your own benefit can be very hurtful.
We gotta slooooow the fuck down.
Life doesn’t work that way, or rather, it cannot be forced that way. Vulnerability is a process. It takes time to peel back the layers that lie in the inner world of another human being. Trying to rush this process can kill the journey before it has even begun. We can unconsciously turn ourselves off from people when we attempt to force open their vulnerabilities before we allow ourselves to peek at their greatness.
Instead, we can still be authentic without purging our demons in another person’s face right away. I learned I could feel just as deeply connected to someone as they express their love for a dog as with someone who spends hours sharing their childhood pain. (If someone is not willing to share much of anything after quite some time, that is a different story and not what I am referring to here.)
The very act of accepting someone where they are at, FULLY in their expression, is an invitation in itself for them to feel safe to go deeper.
Privacy on what we hold sacred is just as significant as transparency.
Our culture has a new love affair with an immediate ‘pressured transparency.’ We need a balanced version of this.
YOU are the one that gets to choose what YOU want to share. If someone is not willing to be patient and compassionate as you share your vulnerabilities at your own pace, then they are probably struggling with that within themselves.
I have a close girlfriend who has shared so little of her childhood to me, yet she is one of my dearest friends. Her version of transparency is very different than mine. In fact, she doesn’t dismiss her pain and struggles but rather consciously chooses to express them differently; she has her own version and a much slower pace. I admire her immensely. I can also deeply feel her heart in spite of that difference.
And that is what I realized I was craving most of all.
You can have someone express all the words and pain they have experienced with their chosen words - and still not FEEL them with your heart.
Four Steps to Honor Someone's Vulnerability Boundaries
1. If you aren’t sure, ask for permission.
If you feel like venturing into a topic that you intuitively feel may be intense or too sensitive for someone, simply ask them if it’s too much right now. Check in with the person in front of you.
It’s so easy after going on numerous dates to treat everyone the same and tick off your checklist of questions. It takes skill and focus to be fully present and attuned to another human being emotionally.
2. Honor their boundary, even if it doesn’t make logical sense to you.
THIS IS A BIG ONE! This doesn’t mean you can’t gently ask for understanding. The key here is really being gentle. I would suggest doing this at a different time than when they are in the middle of sharing a boundary. They are probably NOT ready to talk about it in that moment.
3. Create a space that they feel comfortable enough to say ‘no.’
Give them enough time to feel safe with you. Often times when that person really ‘gets’ that their ‘no’ doesn’t offend you, and you are not taking it personally, a safe environment to share will naturally manifest itself. Plus, that person will probably feel more respected by you than by most other human beings on the planet!
4. Acknowledge them for saying ‘no.’
Now, this may seem like a confusing one. But really think about it. We live in a world of fast paced everything! So much around us has become a quick fix. (Even this article is a four-step guide! HA!) This is the current world we live in, where we can easily feel like we are in a pressure cooker to get some kind of result: relentless Tinder-swiping, Starbucks drive-thru. It’s no wonder we expect to know someone’s deepest darkest secrets within a few iced-matcha tea dates.
If you can, for a moment, simply acknowledge this person for being brave enough to speak their truth about their own limits, you will have contributed immensely to their sense of self-worth. And who knows? You may have even inspired yourself to stand for a few more of your own boundaries along the way.