“I am a completely different person at 24 than I was at 20,” a long-time friend once told me a few years ago. I remember how shocked I was, especially since I was 20. Now, at 23 and counting, I understand what she was talking about.
I like to keep my walls up—as if my last article didn’t point that out enough. And yet, despite my cold, guarded personality, I have changed. I still am the same person, more or less, I’ve just become a lot more self-aware. Not in a self-conscious way; rather, in a way that helps me understand how to relate to other people and make friends—not an easy task once you’re out of the classroom. I’ve found that the keys to building, nurturing and maintaining relationships, romantic or otherwise, are vulnerability and humility. They might seem the same at first glance, but are oh so different.
Those walls I mentioned? That coldness and guardedness? I never truly realized how I came across to others until I finally got up the courage to ask my closest friends. Some were more honest than others, admitting that I can appear uptight, and when I do talk, it’s usually complaining about someone or something. They encouraged me to listen a little more and to open up, not in a way that sounds whiny, but in a way that allows people to get to know me better.
Vulnerability involves a lot of trust. It means some people take advantage of that trust. Those who recognize how much of yourself you are giving, whether that be sharing your life story or going out of your way to be nice, are the ones who will grow closer to you and in turn share with you. It could take a while to find those people you can confide in, like it did for me, but it will be worth it.
Don’t take people or their vulnerability for granted. Just as you might be looking for someone with whom you can share your feelings and opinions, so, too, might someone else. When someone opens up to you, it’s not your place to give them advice unless they ask. It means, in my case, that I stop talking about my problems and quit complaining. It means that when others complain to me, I don’t try to overshadow their complaints. After all, suffering and pain are relative; comparing isn’t quite fair.
You can also understand humility as active listening plus some more. It’s not about listening to respond. You should listen to comprehend, sympathize and even—in some instances—emphasize with what someone tells you. If you try to compete with someone’s family issues, bad day, illness or stresses, that person won’t want to talk to you anymore.
I have dealt with many people who have prioritized their own feelings over mine. Their actions made me shrink back into myself. I attribute a lot of those situations to the wall and privacy I hold dear. But I’ve also been the one to do it to others. The “walls up-continue complaining” combo made it difficult for me to keep and make friends. That’s when I started to analyze myself a bit more. After much thought and reflection, these are the two intentional steps I’ve taken—and they have made all the difference in my relationships.