Not too long ago, as I was driving home from a meeting, a friend called and asked me to come over. When I got to his place, he seemed upset, but gratified to see me. He had just had a job interview for an opening which had seemed promising. But, his prospective employer had not been very accommodating. Noting that this once-promising opportunity evaporated, he expressed concern that his job search could lead to naught.
In telling me the story, not merely venting about the difficult interview, but also expressing his anxieties about the job search, my friend acknowledged his own vulnerability, something which all too many of us seem to reserve for our conversations with our therapists. Afraid to let any chinks appear in our masculine faÃ§ades, we don’t want to let others see our pain, our fears, our anxiety.
I have often wondered why some gay men (just like our straight counterparts) project this image of masculine toughness as if we fear any indication of vulnerability might make us appear weak or too “feminine” and so make us less attractive to others. But, when my friend told me his story, it only drew me closer to him. I saw him as a more complex human being, sensitive, alert to his feelings.
I find the men who come across as too icy, too tough as far less attractive than those men who manifest a little bit of vulnerability underneath their masculine exterior. Yet, all too often, I see gay men who, after offering a hint of vulnerability, instantly close up.
I wonder sometimes if that’s the reason so many of us cut ourselves off from the guys with whom we “hook up.” Acknowledging that we find someone attractive, that we desire him, indicates a certain vulnerability to his beauty. (Perhaps, we don’t like giving him that power.) Yet, after we have (for lack of better term on a blog open to the public) found our pleasure with him, too many of us cut ourselves off from the man who just moments previously we had so desired. Is it that we are afraid to acknowledge his power over us, to acknowledge our own vulnerability?
Instead of seeing sex as a means of connection, that desire represents (in part) a longing to bond with another human being, we dress it up so as not to let on that we feel alone. We see it as just sex, serving only our own pleasure. And not perhaps an indication that we are dependant upon others for certain things in life.
Beneath the rough veneer of our projected masculinity, each of us has his own weaknesses (as well as his strengths). We shouldn’t be afraid to let others see both aspects of ourselves. For those who cannot appreciate our weaknesses cannot see us as we truly are — and cannot be there for us in our hours of greatest need.
Because my friend was open to me about his job search anxieties, he found some companionship in his hour of need. His opening up didn’t only benefit him. It helped me as well. I felt closer to him than I had when he had first called, inviting me over. I felt our friendship deepening, strengthening and was honored that this man has enough respect for me to seek out my support when he felt vulnerable.
My friend is not the only gay man to acknowledge his moments of vulnerability to others. Many of us do open up (or attempt to) when we feel vulnerable. And I think those of us who do are among those who truly recognize the value of human relationships.
Relationships are key to human happiness. Indeed, the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber believed God was found in human relationships.
We have a greater possibility of developing such enriching, sustaining relationships when we acknowledge our own vulnerability, our own need for human affection, for human contact at times of crisis, times of change and at other moments in our lives, even those of greatest joy and accomplishment.