Prairies, vulnerability, and relationships

One of the paths at The Crane Trust

Out here in the open prairie, there's a sense of vulnerability. There are no trees, no buildings, no people to hem me in. I am exposed on all sides. My bright blue jacket is a stark contrast to the golds and browns and grays of the prairie waking up after a cold winter. I find myself walking slower out here, more cautiously, my head swinging from side to side searching for any signs of danger. My right hand clasps my runner's mace--just in case.

One mile into my wandering, though, I can feel a loosening in all my muscles as my body relaxes and my stride quickens. Now comfortable with my surroundings, the threat of danger has passed. I let my eyes focus on only what is right in front of me--a path through the tall wild grasses. I'm finally able to enjoy the solitude. There are not many places a person can go to get pure solitude without a hundred distractions.  
A bare cottonwood

I come to a lone cottonwood in the middle of the prairie. Her branches reach out tall and bare; her leaves--dried and gray crunch beneath my feet. There's a bleached white log next to the tree inviting me to sit awhile, to dig my notebook out from my satchel, and write. I am exposed from all sides in the open prairie, but still, I sit and write, spilling some of my deepest thoughts on this ivory Moleskine paper.

Throughout the rest of my hike, I think about this vulnerability on the open prairie and how it relates to new relationships. My husband and I have moved three times in ten years, so engaging in new relationships is something we've done often. I'm an INFJ on the MBTI, so while I'm deeply introverted, I have a need for significant relationships with others. These relationships aren't formed quickly; they take time and work, and my introverted side often just wants to ignore this need for connection because relationships are hard.

The newness is awkward and clunky and leaves our heads on swivels as we anticipate rejection. Not able to fully let ourselves be vulnerable, we hang back cautiously keeping conversations focused on the unseasonably warm winter in the Midwest. We glide over the surface of topics only an inch deep.

Vulnerability is difficult, but the payoff is incredible. Having friends who can eat tacos at your sticky table is oddly satisfying. Having one person you can tell even your darkest, most unflattering thoughts to is freeing. But to get here, we have to let ourselves be truly seen. We can't do this with just everyone, or it will destroy us. Vulnerability expert, Brene Brown, writes in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead:

"Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It's not oversharing, it's not purging, it's not indiscriminate disclosure, and it's not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them" (45).

Sometimes, depending on our stage of life, achieving vulnerability in relationships can take years. The older we get, the harder it becomes to develop meaningful relationships: we get busy, we get burned, we might even withdraw altogether seeking comfort in things.

When we are brave enough to consistently seek out these friendships, we will eventually find those rare and coveted relationships--the ones that allow us to go deep. Suddenly, there seems to be a loosening of our tongues, a dropping down of the barriers we so often hide behind. And sometimes it's impossible to even pinpoint what it was that allowed for this vulnerability. It may have been a rare act of generosity, too much red wine, a pan of lasagna shared at exactly the right time, a 17 mile run in the country, or maybe a combination of these events. When you find people who have earned the right to hear about your feelings and experiences, don't let go of them.

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