One of the hardest parts of a relationship is navigating intimacy, confidently. Not only sexual intimacy, but emotional. That said, the two are deeply connected. Turn one down and it seems like the other evaporates with it. Poof.
We all build up walls around ourselves to self-protect. It’s human nature, we’re told. And so we continue to justify behaviours of withdrawal, of deceit, of embattled egos. Then comes someone like Brené Brown who preaches and teaches us to embrace our insecurities, to face them full on, to claim them, and even name them. Oh my! As she has said and so oft been quoted,
When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.
Her message is loud and clear. Enough about denial. Time to embrace those things inside of us that make us deeply uncomfortable– ashamed even, perhaps. Time to write the kind of ending we all dream of by opening up the cobwebs to scrutiny. In Alain de Botton’s The School of Life book series, The Many Sorrows of Love, he writes in a similar tone:
Fortunately, perfection is no requirement for love. We just need to be able to explain our imperfections in good time, without pomposity, before we have hurt the other person too much with our madness.
And how true this rings. I think back on how many relationships, in their inception, were a battle of self confidence: me trying to build up the courage to admit to my then new lover that when I brush my teeth, the toothpaste never stays inside my mouth. That it gets everywhere. And that sometimes it even drips on my freshly washed PJs. It might sound trivial to you (often, that’s how insecurities work), but for me it was debilitating to the point that I reserved tooth brushing for long term relationships– for you know, partners that had already been vetted to be in it for the long run and wouldn’t dump me based on the paste all over my mouth.
In high school, there was a girl who had a mole on her left breast. I knew this not because I saw it, but because she told me. And everyone else. She hated it and years later would end up removing it. But in her late teens, she didn’t have that kind of chance. Given that she was stuck with it, she did something I will always remember as both brave and curious. She would tell her prospective partners. Before a first kiss, even. She would say it outright, “I need you to know, I have a mole on my left breast.”
And there, the air was cleared.
I remember thinking how radical that was. How she had revealed her biggest insecurity to be scrutinized by her latest boy crush. And I remember thinking how that could never be me; how I could never, ever do such a thing. Because, no boy would date me if he knew that I couldn’t brush my teeth like a learned adult. That’s how the irrationality of shame works, I think.
As I’ve gotten older– and perhaps in some ways (though not all) wiser– I have tried to embrace this high school friend’s philosophy: to lead with my insecurities and own them. To not let them cripple me and become monsters that will either hurt or surprise both myself and my partners. But damn, it’s hard. There are still, to this day, things I know I should tell my partner. Not because I am lying or cheating or doing something immoral. No. But just things that have come to shape and define the woman I am today. Things that, without knowing them you would never fully understand why I am the way that I am. And yet, things that I still have not had the courage to voice out loud. So I read and re-read authors and philosophers like Brown and de Botton, hoping that one day the truths they speak of will become like second nature to me. That one day, I too could rock up to the boy I love and tell him — sure with perhaps a tinge of gut wrenching anxiety — that when I brush my teeth, I can’t keep it in my mouth. And that’s just the beginning of a long list of imperfections… .
I never did this with my ex. And I know as a matter of fact that never opening up, never owning parts of my shame led me astray. It led me to return his love with a large dose of confusion. When I wasn’t strong enough to say I felt vulnerable, and why, I would instead — not quite unlike a child — become a grump or raging moralist about how there was always too much food in his teeth or about the cupboards he never closed. These I remember being the downfall of our relationship, the little things. But, I have to ask myself, were they really? Was a piece of spinach, as off-putting as it may be, stuck in his front tooth the reason why I lost love for him? Or was it because in my shame, I tried to climb to higher ground by putting him down?
These are the kinds of questions I battle with in my current relationship, wondering if or when I’ve gone too far. Too far from you know, as de Botton said, that marker that fits still within ‘good time’. Too far from that point to tell them about the insecurities that mark and mame me. And ultimately, that may undue us.
Now, the words “I have a mole on my left breast” has become synonymous with courage to me. And this is the kind of sentence I seek to weave and lead with in my life. But, ick! The sheer confidence of it all. And on that thought, where do I find a shot of vodka and the long dark tunnel to burrow myself into while I contemplate this for another few years?