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Being Vulnerable Makes Me Feel Afraid
Kaitlyn McQuin explores past lovers, leaning into fear, and the moment when she embraced vulnerability
It’s been one year and ten months since I’ve been in a relationship. And, for the past year and ten months, I haven’t
had someone to bring me wine whenever I want it had a partner to call when I felt upset, a go-to person to share my affection with, or someone to take me out regularly and tell me I’m beautiful and have a great butt.
I mean, I know I’m beautiful and have a great butt. Obviously. But it’s nice to have a handsome person tell you these things from time to time. And do other things
to for you. Like, pick you up and throw you onto the bed help you set the kitchen table.
I jumped back into the dating scene in February 2019, just one month after my break-up. I needed a rebound. Or several. And, while I had some seriously fun dates like cocktails, cake, and car make outs, a wild night out flitting around Bourbon Street, and a homecooked meal equipped with charcuterie with meat the man cured himself, none of them really stuck with me.
Except for one.
I could write about him for days, and, believe me, I have, but, for now, I’ll just say that he delighted me. But, it just didn’t work out. And, I think my lack of vulnerability had something to do with that.
And, I think my lack of vulnerability had something to do with that.
A few months ago, I was jogging in the park when I thought I saw him. It looked just like him – the hair, the stature, the way he walked. My central nervous system went into overdrive. My legs got heavy, my arms started to tingle, and my heart nearly beat out of my chest. I stopped dead in my tracks, but quickly continued moving forward so my legs wouldn’t buckle beneath me.
“Oh my god, is that,” I thought. “Oh, never mind.”
It took me one second to realize it wasn’t him and ten minutes to recover. I could no longer run, because I was breathing way too fast. And as I continued to walk, I felt that my body had become drenched in sweat and my hands were clammy.
I mentioned this to my therapist, and she was like, “Wow, that’s whack.” And you know what? She’s right. It was whack. It felt like an inappropriate reaction for the circumstance. It was just an ex in the park in the very small city that we share. It was just an ex whose “break up” was amicable and mutual. It was just an ex who… stuck with me.
I asked my therapist why she thought I reacted in such a way, and, without pause, she said, “I think this means you felt unsafe.”
Before this exchange with my therapist, I always associated safety with whether or not a situation was life-threatening. You know what I mean?
For example, I feel unsafe when airplanes experience high turbulence. I feel safe at home. I feel unsafe if a man yells at me from his car when I’m walking down the street. I feel safe in groups of friends. Before this moment, I had never considered emotional unsafety and the impacts it has on our physical body.
I had never considered that perhaps this man I swooned so hard over had maybe caused me to feel emotionally unsafe. Or, perhaps, I had never truly allowed myself to experience him on an emotional level because of my hesitancy to be vulnerable and because of my fear of rejection.
Dang, Kaitlyn. You just went there.
Sure did, baby. Buckle up for (emotional) safety.
I thought back to the last conversation I had with this guy about why pursuing romance might not be in the cards for us, and I thought about what he said.
We’re both really busy. This was true. We were.
We don’t see each other often enough to cultivate something stronger. Again, he was right.
Shouldn’t there be more… passion?
Boom. There it was. Passion.
I felt passion, so I was confused to hear this. In nearly everything we did, I felt passion. And, as someone who prides herself on her keen intuition, I’d wager to say that he felt passion, too. But, did I let myself share it?
He excited me on a multitude of levels, perhaps all levels, and while he has been one of the very few in my life who has excited me in these ways, he’s also been the most difficult to open up to.
And that’s on me.
Every date we had, he initiated. The cocktail bars, the dinner and a play, the homemade meal at his house, all his idea. I, of course, wanted to be there, but when I think back on my commitment to initiating plans, to showing up and showing how I was feeling in those moments, it was lacking.
And it was lacking because I was afraid.
I distinctly remember one evening sitting in his kitchen, holding a glass of wine, and thinking, “I’m not acting like myself. Kaitlyn, act like yourself,” but I couldn’t. I was so afraid for someone to see me, because I wasn’t even sure I saw myself.
I was a year out of a major break up, I wasn’t happy with my career, I desperately needed to get back into therapy and work through some things. I was just… not ready. And my body let me know by protecting me in the best way it knew how – by staying closed off. By avoiding vulnerability. It’s been almost a year since we had the conversation. Shortly thereafter, I got into a major car accident that led me back to therapy, where I have been regularly for almost a year now. The amount of fear and vulnerability I face in each session is night and day compared to who I was just twelve months ago. Being in therapy has shown a direct light on all of the parts of myself that have been screaming out for air, the parts of me that know when I’m not acting like myself. The parts of me that are hiding. My therapist and I are bringing them to the surface one week at a time.
And you know what? It feels good.
Our bodies rejecting vulnerability is a brilliant defense mechanism. Because we’ve been there before, and we know how badly rejection hurts after we’ve laid it all on the table, our bodies are trying to keep us emotionally safe, and we have to give ourselves credit for that. We have to applaud our body’s memory for that.
Sometimes that happens when you’re sitting in someone’s kitchen drinking a glass of wine. Sometimes it happens when you’re afraid to hold their hand in the theatre. And, sometimes, well, sometimes it happens a year later, after twelve months of therapy, after vulnerability becomes your middle name, and after you remember that in the absence of vulnerability, there is no connection.
In the absence of vulnerability, there is no connection.
And I’ve learned in therapy that I desire connection, need connection, in order to feel alive. So, the sweaty palms in the park? The nervous fidgeting in my chair on a pizza date? The oh shit reaction when he draped his arm over me in public? All terrifying stepping-stones on the path to a vulnerable me that have led me to where I am today.
My little island of healing. My little island of vulnerable. My little island of connection. My little island where I am no longer afraid.
And everything it took to get me to this place was worth it.
In a world where people come and go, I’m finally ready for one to stick. And, for now, the one who stuck is me. And, I am not afraid to say that I am absolutely, unquestionably, inexplicably passionate AF about her.