on vulnerability + saying “i love you” {part 2}

{If you missed Part 1 of this story, you can read it here!}

 

Happy Friday, friends! I’m back to share the rest of the story I started on Tuesday. If you remember, I was on a trip to Mendocino with Allyn and his family, after we had just started dating a couple months before. I knew I loved him, but I didn’t want to be the first to say it. I was hoping that he would tell me he loved me, and that this trip would be the catalyst for him to say it. We were resting during the middle of a hike, sitting side-by-side on a log in the sunshine, when our conversation took a turn I did not expect…

“Do you want to stay together?” he asked. “Long-distance, while I’m gone in New Orleans this summer?”

I’M IN LOVE WITH YOU, YO-YO HEAD! I wanted to scream at him, using one of my grandma’s favorite expressions. ARE YOU CRAZY? OF COURSE I WANT TO STAY TOGETHER!

But I didn’t say that. When I feel hurt, my first response is never to lash out. Instead, I hide and retreat. My thoughts swirled in a panic. Does he not want to stay together? Does he want to date other people? But I thought this was serious. I thought we were on the same page. I thought we loved each other.

I think about that conversation sometimes, looking back from the vantage point of our happily interwoven lives. I feel confident that even if we had completely bungled up that conversation and misunderstood each other, we would have found our way back to understanding at some point. I don’t think we would have broken up or “taken a break” while he was in New Orleans. Because neither of us actually wanted that. The only reason Allyn was bringing it up {I would later learn} was that he wanted to make sure that I didn’t feel pressured to stay with him while he was gone. He was all-too-aware that we had only been together for a couple months, and that he would be away for the whole summer, and he didn’t want me to grow resentful or feel trapped in a relationship with him. Perhaps, in some ways, I was a bit of an enigma to him, too. Perhaps we all are enigmas to each other in some ways, especially when we are first getting to know each other.

Right now I’m listening to the audiobook of Brene Brown’s Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution, and I’m so inspired by what she says about vulnerability.

I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability.

When I fell in love with Allyn, I was letting myself be vulnerable. But I wasn’t fully embracing that vulnerability—not yet. I was in love with him, but I was still afraid to say it. I wanted him to say it first, because that would have made the confession feel “safer” to me.

During the trip to Mendocino {spoiler alert} we did not say “I love you” for the first time. But that conversation we had, sitting on the log under the dappled sunlight, was a really important moment in our relationship. If life was a video game, during that conversation we would have “leveled up” our vulnerability power—and, in turn, our connection power, and our honesty power, and our trust power too.

It took courage for Allyn to bring up the question of our impending long-distance relationship. And, in my own act of courage, I did not retreat or hide from his question. I did not try to “play it cool” or act like I would be fine either way, breaking up or staying together. I did not hold my cards close to my chest, so he wouldn’t see how much I cared about him. I did not try to mitigate the risk I took in loving him.

Instead, I took a deep breath, and I was honest. I let him know how I felt, even though it was scary to put myself out there. I told him that of course I wanted to stay together, and I didn’t want to date anyone else but him, and my feelings for him were serious. Like, really serious.

His response? That he felt the same way. I could hear relief in his tone.

We had this habit then, in our pre “I love you” days, of adding a lot of modifiers to our statements of affection. I don’t remember our exact conversation. But I’m sure Allyn said something like, “I really really really like you.” To which I would have responded, “I really really really like you, too.” {Meaning, of course: “I love you.”}

I remember feeling this enormous welling of relief in my heart as together we talked about when I might come to New Orleans to visit him—both of us knowing that we were All In, that this wasn’t just a decision made from convenience; no, we were both consciously and full-heartedly deciding to stay together, even though it would be hard and even though we would miss each other. In many ways, that long-distance summer would end up making us an even stronger and more sure-footed couple than we had been before Allyn left for NOLA.

The week after we returned from Mendocino, I learned that none of the stories I was telling myself about why Allyn had seemed a bit “off” or distant during the trip were true. In fact, his behavior had nothing to do with me at all. We didn’t have Internet or good cell reception at the vacation house in Mendocino, and he was feeling stressed out about work for his grad school courses; he had expected that we would at least have half-decent Internet so he could be in contact with his teams. So, if anything, it was actually a good sign about our relationship that he felt comfortable enough with me to just be himself during the trip!

{us in new orleans, summer 2014}

It wasn’t long after we returned from Mendocino that I found myself next to Allyn one quiet morning in his room, feeling a surge of gratitude for him and for our relationship, and knowing I was going to miss him so much when he was gone that summer.

“I really really really like you,” I said. But no—that wasn’t enough. That didn’t come close to capturing how I felt about him in that moment.

“Actually, no,” I corrected myself. “I don’t like you. I LOVE you.”

Just like that, those three words were out there in the space between us. I had finally been brave enough to express in words what had been building up inside me for months.

“I love you, too, Dallas,” Allyn said. Simple and sure.

We kissed. I felt filled up with light. I said those three words again for good measure, wondering what exactly I had been so afraid of. It turns out, telling someone you love that you love them is one of the most spectacular feelings on the planet. And having them say it to you back? Now that is miraculous.

The clouds parted. The angels sang. We sat there smiling goofily at each other, our chests split wide open and our brave little vulnerable hearts on full display, beating, beating, beating.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some “free-writing”:

  • Write about the first time you said “I love you” to someone. What was the experience like?
  • Write about a time you have taken a risk and been vulnerable.
  • When you feel hurt or attacked, what is your typical response? What are the stories you tell yourself? Are they true?
  • How can you embrace more vulnerability in your life?

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