For men, shame is most often manifest by feeling ashamed to be seen as weak. What was the most shameful thing you experienced in elementary school? Chances are that it involved being beaten up or bullied on the playground. I don't know if that is cultural or in our DNA. Whatever the reason, men have a very deep need to be seen as strong and capable. In my experience, women want men to be this way and can be pretty hard on them when they seem otherwise. Where they might be empathetic and supportive to another, they often look at men showing the same emotion as weak. These dynamics can keep many men from sharing their doubts and worries. They worry that doing so will cause them to be seen as weak.
In "Intentional Courtship," I share a number of experiences where I felt weak or rejected--sometimes without rational reasons. I wrote about the experience of having my heart broken. I wrote about my own emotional pain and trauma, which was part of my journey. That was hard for me. But I didn't want to give the world another work of Latter-day Saint idealism. I wanted to give you an honest book to help you feel understood in your own pain and disappointment.
So let me pose the question, was it cowardly of me to share my own journey, mistakes, and emotional ups and downs? Or was it brave?
I believe emotionally mature people will say it is more brave to share the things inside you than to keep them bottled up and pretend they don't exist. In fact, I have had lots of people ask me how to deepen a relationship and progress after the initial phase of dating. There are lots of ideas in Intentional Courtship. However, progressing from casual dating to a serious relationship has a lot to do with vulnerability. And that takes courage. The very word "vulnerability" indicates being vulnerable to being hurt. I make myself vulnerable when I share the rejection I may have experienced in a former relationship and how I felt about it. I make myself vulnerable if I tell a dating partner that I love her, and risk her being unable to say it back or rejecting me because she feels unready for that kind of deep emotion. Is it weak or cowardly to say "I love you" first? No. It is brave and bold.
A person may appear very confident and "together" on the outside, which can be a cover for fear and pain. Many women are initially attracted to swagger and cockiness and then later proclaim that they were married to a narcissist. What is the solution to this problem? For both men and women, it is a more mature understanding of confidence. A confident man is able to take emotional risks. It is ironic, because I am saying in a very real way that vulnerably showing your fear and lack of confidence is an act of confidence. But we all have fear and pain. Those who can show it to another person are braver than those who don't. If you are a woman and you can sit with a man in true vulnerability and fear and not become fearful yourself, you have done amazing work. Being able to receive vulnerability and be vulnerable ourselves is dependent, in large part, on a shift in our thinking. It is having a deep understanding and belief that vulnerability is not weakness. It shows confidence.
I don't suggest that taking emotional risks and making yourself vulnerable is easy. But it is the price of admission for stronger relationships and deeper connection. It is the key to progressing from casual dating to more serious commitment. It doesn't come naturally to any of us, so it requires intention.
Singer Don McLean wrote:
"The book of Life is brief;
And once a page is read;
All but love is dead;
And that is my belief."
At the end of the day, there is little room for ego in a place of love. And it is a choice. Friends, I hope you'll come on this journey with me. It is not the easy path, but it is the most fulfilling. Be strong and of good courage, and open your hearts to the greatest blessings of time and eternity.