You would think after nearly a year of laying “me” bare for all the world to see, first in the writing and publication of my book and then through the medium of this blog, that pulling back the curtain just a little bit more wouldn’t be all that difficult. But, if I’ve learned anything in this process (and I’ve learned plenty!) it’s that vulnerability just doesn’t work that way. To the contrary, every time we decide to reveal another piece of ourselves, particularly one that is quite personal, we take a risk – a risk that we will be embarrassed, made fun of, perhaps even ridiculed; a risk that we will be misunderstood or convey our thoughts and our heart in a way that, quite unintentionally, will cause another pain; a risk that we will alienate someone or be rejected; a risk that others will misconstrue our vulnerability as weakness and seek to take advantage of us; and even, on occasion, a risk that we will be abandoned. However, I’ve also learned (and been shown by others who I have come to admire greatly, Brené Brown, Kirsten Haglund and Leighton Jordan being a few who immediately come to mind) that there is nothing quite as liberating as being vulnerable and nothing that has more power to change a life and, on occasion, save one. I was reminded of that again a few weeks back when I saw the following note on Leighton’s FB page from a young girl named Ivey: “Dear Leighton, I know you’ve impacted many lives as Ms. Georgia, but you saved mine – and I will always be grateful for that.”
And so, after struggling to find just the right words for weeks, I decided to reach for my own curtain – one more time. Little did I know this season’s Bachelorette, Desiree Hartsock, would beat me to the punch. I’m certainly not here to defend “The Bachelorette” as a show. Heck, I don’t even watch it. I just happened to be flipping channels the other night, while taking a moment’s rest after my evening walk, and, like a bystander drawn to a train wreck, paused when I saw the obvious “drama” unfolding between Des and one of her suitors. Moments later, I heard her utter these words through a cascade of tears: “I’ve never felt completely loved by anyone.” “I can’t believe she just said that on national T.V.,” I thought to myself, “she’ll be crucified by the viewers.” They’ll say “her tears aren’t real,” that “it’s the corniest thing they’ve ever heard,” that “she’s a whiny you know what,” that “she’s disrespecting the guys on the show who have been pouring their hearts out to her for weeks – not to mention everyone who came before them (e.g., family, friends, former lovers, etc.), all of whom almost certainly showered her with their love and affection through the years.” And sure enough, the next day, the Internet was abuzz with all of that hurt-speak – and more. But, I can tell you this: The sentiment Des so courageously shared and the tears she shed in sharing it were real. I can also tell you that she meant no disrespect to those in her life who have loved her. Listen carefully to her words. She didn’t say “no one has ever loved me fully” – only that she has “never felt completely loved by anyone.” There’s a huge and important difference between the two.
How can I be so sure? Because her truth is mine as well. I too have shed those tears, though much more privately. In my case, I’m not sure whether my inability to feel fully loved (or, perhaps more precisely, to fully accept love when it was offered) is a by-product of my having grown up with an alcoholic mother or my sensing from a mostly non-emotive, perfectionistic dad that affection was tied to/dependent upon my being perfect – though plainly that was never the message he intended to convey. Maybe it was my own insecurities when it came to love and my “love-ability” – insecurities that were only reinforced by my too often being the “third wheel” in the love relationships I desired most. Maybe it was my fear, having been rejected a time (or two!) along the way, that if I again allowed someone to have full access to my heart, eventually they would abandon me, leaving pain in their wake that simply would be too great for me to bear. More likely, it was some combination of all of the above – and more. On the one hand, I’m grateful for whatever it was that brought me to this place, because it’s given me a keen sense of what a heart-in-need “looks like” and made me an above-average giver, which I believe is our true and highest calling as human beings. It’s the receiving part I’ve always found to be so difficult and continue to struggle with – not only where love is concerned, but well-intended and, dare I say it, on occasion, probably well-deserved praise. And for that piece, I’m not so grateful.
Suffice it to say, it’s a little late in the game for me to come to this realization, but I share this part of who I am for two reasons. First, because I know, from having had the privilege to listen to lots of hearts over the past several years, that Des and I are not alone in our struggles to receive love. I also know it’s not too late for others. And so my primary hope (indeed my prayer) for younger like-minded hearts is that they will be inspired by my candor to take, rather than avoid the risk of experiencing what it’s like to be fully loved and fully vulnerable. At the same time, it occurs to me that my sharing might help those who are committed to giving love to “people like us” understand that, as hard as it may be to believe, for some, it’s not as easy as you think to receive it!