We had been talking every day since we first met, which was a year ago. By now, he was on the other side of the world, we were 8,500 miles apart, and technology made that distance seem like a minor logistical concern. We talked for at least two hours a day, about everything and nothing. I found it romantic that we were on the opposite sides of the day, our conversation time traveling in between. I found it romantic, that he would find time for me. Even our handful of not-dates (before the distance happened) were romantically perfect: kismet, fog, rain, perfect meals, bokeh lights through car windows, the bottles of Pale Pilsen, a hug full of yearning, a kiss on a cheek.
My friends were convinced that he was playing me. They were convinced that if he really wanted to be with me, he’ll say so. Heck, he’ll do so. Meanwhile, I was tired of the distance, tired of being careful with my words and actions so that it wouldn’t be misconstrued. I was tired of trying to become psychic or psychological as I figure out what his words meant. I knew that he cared, I wasn’t just making this up. Nobody could spend that much time and effort with a random chick if he didn’t care. Right?
I wanted to be vulnerable with him. I read somewhere that being vulnerable meant being able to open up no matter what the consequences. If this was poker, I knew that my chances of winning were pretty damn good. He obviously wasn’t in this for the sex, because 8,500 miles isn’t that near enough for any kind of dastardly deed. He must care. Hence, my vulnerability was well-played. I didn’t have much to lose, or so I thought.
“Think of me. Think about being with me,” I told my long-distance not-love not-affair, randomly. I decided to spring this on him. (On me, before I changed my mind.) What followed was like the worst written song in history. First, the crescendo:
“I do,” he said. I paused, I needed him to be sure. This song’s bass lines become more pronounced when I said, “No, I mean…”
And the song tinkled down with some light notes when he said, “I know what you meant the first time.”
“And?” Anticipation, an ominous rest. The whole world waited with bated breath.
“I think that being with you would be… terrific, actually.” My heart welled up, a melody rises from the jumble of notes.
“So why aren’t you with me?” A hopeful, tiny voice.
“Because you..” he started stammering, “… don’t deserve someone like me. You deserve someone better.” The song ended with a screech, bubbles burst, and the rose-colored glasses broke against the floor.
“Bullshit,” I said.
Bullshit, I said in my head. This isn’t what happened in movies. No one is supposed to turn down someone who lays her heart out in the open like that. I was in my 30s. I didn’t have time for someone to figure out if they were on the same level with me.
That day, I learned the price of vulnerability. It’s all fine and good until one has to deal with the very real consequences of being refused. Ducks don’t line up just because I decided to be vulnerable. Actually, it doesn’t mean diddly squat in the real world.
What being vulnerable meant, apparently, is that I’m ready to be honest with myself. That someone’s refusal didn’t lessen or heighten my worth. That no matter what people said or thought, I am me. And that’s why vulnerability is so scary, because we find ourselves without our masks, stripped of games and control. All we’re left with is the stark reality of who we are.
Being refused wasn’t as terrible as I thought. When he said that (and continued to politely turn me down), I realized that I was still myself. I still had my self-worth and self-esteem, even if he didn’t want me at that time.
And that was alright. It stung, but it was alright.
There’s no need to vilify him, or his actions. As far as I’m concerned, he did the right and smart thing by refusing me. My head was in the clouds, I wanted things he wouldn’t have been able to provide. He needed to be sure.
Later, I told that guy: “what if, hypothetically, love isn’t about being deserved or earned? What if it’s a gift I decide to give someone regardless of what he or she can do for me?”
“That’s a huge truth, and I need time to digest that.”
Ah, rejection. You come in many forms.
I carried on, life moved me forward. And I found myself wondrously living out the best kind of life, ever.
In the end, the best result of vulnerability was discovering the hidden wells of strength that was available to me. And that I didn’t have to go very far for them. (And that I didn’t need someone’s permission to prove my vulnerability.)
Ailene Ponce Molina is unlearning decades of blissful singlehood and now doing her best to keep afloat with domestication and motherhood, even as being a military spouse moves her all over the world. You can read more of her writing at her blog, TheAilene.co.