The value of vulnerability

It’s ironic, actually: realizing how our most important relationships can hurt the most. I’m not going to look up the stats, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that the most reported cases of physical abuse happen in the home. It’s sad and at first surprising, but it makes a lot of sense. After all, it’s our family and friends who are closest enough to cause the most damage.

I thought about this a long time ago when I officially, consciously decided not to be a horrible older sister. (For how wonderful my brother is, I’ve definitely had my horrible spells.) There was a period of time when I literally thought to myself, “Wow, if I keep acting this way, there are going to be major future issues.” Because in terms of influence factors, I sort of have the big ones down: close living proximity + small age gap. It goes the other way, too; I’m quite aware of the ways my little bro has influenced me. So, ultimately, we both have quite a bit of power over each other, positive and negative. Knowing each other really well also means we know what is most emotionally hurtful, and that’s powerful knowledge. In the ideal relationship, that reality is acknowledged and left alone.

The same surely goes with friends. We invest so much time and energy into our closest friends, especially when the connection runs deep. We know their schedules, are accustomed to their habits, confess big secrets sans hesitation… yeah, the investment is definitely there. We “open ourselves up” to these people. It’s vulnerability, right? We make ourselves vulnerable in these relationships, but it’s usually the kind accompanied by trust. We trust the friendship’s consistency – the idea that they won’t hurt us.

But we’re all people, flawed, selfish, forgetful. So, transitive property: if people are not perfect, and people make relationships, then relationships are not perfect. So our friends can hurt us. But which ones can hurt us the most? As we all know, it’s the friends especially close to us. (Remember Julius Caesar and his supposedly loyal cronies??) The backhanded comment, the tiniest lie, or the barefaced truth that we need to hear – the magnitude of it grows exponentially the stronger the relationship is. Any stranger can tell me I’ve got an attitude problem if I freak out at a waiter who got my order wrong. Okay. But if my best friends were to tell me that “I’ve always had a serious attitude problem,” I’d probably dwell on it a bit longer.

A friend of mine in Boston recently experienced some pretty harsh treatment by a really close friend and roommate of hers. She said she had no idea what to think anymore, and the hurtful words probably wouldn’t have had that much of an effect coming from anyone else. That was today. Of course, some arguments clear up and other arguments conclude things, and emotional casualties are likely either way. They’re never high points in the day. But these dramas make us realize who really matters/mattered to us.

I just got to thinking about the trade-off between allowing relationships to happen and building emotional fortresses. In the first, we make ourselves vulnerable. In the second, we’re safe and emotionally sheltered. But, to utilize my recently-acquired [very] basic Macroeconomics knowledge (yay macro!), if the risk [of the bond] is higher, it’s probably a great deal more valuable, too.

Interestingly, realizing how vulnerable we’ve made ourselves in a relationship also makes us see how much it actually means to us. In a sense, it’s dangerous. Dangerous and really quite amazing.

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