RAW + EXPOSED
Being truly vulnerable in relationships
Written by: Tess Guinery ; Edited by: Jenny Webb for White Magazine
It seems ironic for me to be putting words to paper about my good friend “Vulnerable Vivianne” in a time when I am so intentionally and bravely choosing to not let her rule my life. My current situation sees me dotting the map all over the East Coast with a car full of possessions and a heart full of determination to seize the day, all the while embracing the instability that life with a stuntman husband and two-year-old hurricane brings.
Hellos and goodbyes are constant and heartfelt, with all the emotion that comes with each ceremony feeling light or heavy in equal measure when I farewell and welcome my husband as he chases the dream and all its erratic scheduling. Yep, life is a hurricane.
I still haven’t figured out what vulnerability truly is but I warm to the idea of living in a balanced state where I can comfortably be vulnerable without being a hot mess. One of my go-to daydreams is of a community of people doing life together, perhaps living in huts and eating hand-caught fish by a fire under moonlight, no pretence, unscathed by the hustle and bustle of the reality and survival mode we all find ourselves defaulting to. It’s a beautiful thought but difficult to try and apply that same serenity to my current scenario of living-out-of-a-car, mood-swinging toddler, out-and-about husband and my own loopy inner thought life.
Reality is grounding, life needs to be lived and boxes need ticking! That balance of openness in a culture often too busy to deal with honesty of hearts can feel impossible to achieve; underneath us all is likely a storehouse of unshed tears bottled up as we grit our teeth and just “get it done” for years on end. It sometimes feels as though we are discouraged out of any state of healthy vulnerability.
Not once in my life have I seen a friendship last where openness has not been a central feature. I’ve witnessed friendships start with small talk and surface level intimacy, the “what-do-you-dos” and the “where-are-you-froms” that never venture to any real sense of intimacy. After a while, these conversations fizzle and you’re left dissatisfied and unacquainted where it counts.
I always try my luck to bulldoze into the “tell me something real” zone beyond the chitchat—some never return while others engage and begin to gradually leak their own real talk. These moments are joyful and result in girls’ weekends away, sunburnt as heck, choreographing dances to Britney and Beyoncé, talking till midnight about the deepest emotions and feeling wholly vulnerable and exposed as though at the point of no turning back.
It’s in these moments that you recognise there are people that still wondrously like even your most unlikeable traits. You are truly seen—what a scary beautiful thought. It is the moment where our true humanity is present and our self-taught defenses, diminished.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it”—the proverb habitually spoken from the mouth of my dad from the early age of nine, when boys were rapidly on my radar. I think dad was well aware of my “heart on my sleeve” nature and decided that the recital of this profound proverb would sink into the fibres of my entire being. And so it felt like the longest wait ever for that true undoing crazy kind of love and found it at the ripe age of 25.
I remember the earliest scenes when I was falling hard six years ago. This sort of consuming infatuation had me doing cringe-worthy things like learning the lyrics to “Halo” and preparing to sing it on acoustic guitar to my new-found love like some grand and original gesture. Thank God for sisters that speak truth and who steered me well clear of Nicholas Sparks-inspired crazy. I fell so hard that these soppy ideas were considered on the daily.
However, despite all my gushing and serious crushing, I still found myself with a level of caution around my heart. What could have been a level of wisdom was perhaps in truth more a fear of really being seen. On the outside, I was showcasing my brightest side to him, yet all the while feeling a strange internal hollowness in what I was contributing. As though I was on show externally but not fully open inside.
This one day we thought to conquer the magnificent slopes of the mountain that sat so quietly behind my parents’ house. We were four months into our relationship and it was clear that this man was crazy about me, and the whole world needed to know it. He wore his vulnerability with confidence, it did not sway and it certainly wasn’t fickle—it was something I had never seen in a man before, attractive as heck! My heart was in awe but my long held struggle with self-worth couldn’t yet believe his beautiful authenticity.
We continued to trek up the 45-degree angle of the mountain side and he ran ahead to a barbed wire fence where he decided to lay his body over it. This was not an uncommon thing to see him acting out strange, daring and wild notions, but I did wonder what the heck he was doing. As I got closer I realised. He looked at me and said “Climb over”—he was sacrificially laying his body over the barbs to get me to the other side. My heart exploded as I realised to myself, “He is all in”.
His patterns of authenticity led me to a place of connection, where I didn’t have to try to be vulnerable because it was happening effortlessly. I accidentally found myself embracing vulnerability as she led me to the most wholesome relationship I have ever experienced. One year later we were married and I was telling him everything and anything, besotted and entirely exposed to the point of no return. The thing I found most strange in all this was that the more I told him the more he absurdly found me and my million zillion quirks attractively beautiful. Could it be that vulnerability is actually an underrated law of attraction? Who would’ve thought? Oh the friendships that could be had if we just got real!
He chose to bravely put his heart on the line, looking like a fool among his tribe of bachelors. There was no labour of love too lame for him. I remember him driving off in a car full of lads as he yelled out the window, “Tess, I freaking love you!”. He chose to live unlocked and similarly unlocked something in me. It’s a daily subconscious battle we passionately defend to continue to “unlock” our marriage. We use whatever is on offer to keep this boat afloat, even if FaceTime is the only tool of choice that lets the distant convos roll and the motherhood end-of-the-day tears flow.
At the end of every trial is always reward. My travelling stuntman finishes his action-packed stint and is back in the day-to-day where we together enjoy the mundane for a change and even find ourselves gasping for air rather than yearning like when once apart. This in itself requires a new level of vulnerability. And so goes the flow of marriage and all its enriching beauty. Oh to be seen and to also see.
In so many subtle and unpaintable ways, I am truly living out my dream with Vulnerable Vivianne faithfully by my side. Perhaps you know her too. Maybe you’re still getting acquainted, or you saw her and ran the other way. Be patient and kind to yourself, taking those scary plunges one syllable of a sentence at a time. Let those golden words tumble out of your mouth and when it happens accidentally, try not to rescue them too quickly.