“Low-risk, High-reward” Relationships
A couple of months ago I read this article by John Gorman titled “How I Hacked My Vulnerability”. I had started publishing very personal content on my Medium blog and I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. It felt really good to get things off my chest, and it also helped me process my feelings better. Many of the people close to me have told me that they think I’m really brave for sharing my personal feelings and thoughts so openly.
But as John points out, a bigger part of it is that “…it subsidizes the risk. My feelings are broadcast instead of discussed, and then they’re divided amongst the audience. To give a more real-life example: This is the same reason I won’t sweat singing for hundreds of people, but if you ask me to play specifically you a song, I’ll clam up. My “vulnerability” is easy when I only have to worry about 10 out of 600 people on the Internet judging me, instead of 1 out of 1, in the same room. The stakes are more distant, more diffuse”.
I love his example because I love singing and performing, but I am super unlikely to sing for you if we’re the only ones in the room!
Most of this article struck a chord with me because of the connection to other people through sharing feelings on the internet and processing better through writing.
However, what really hit me over the head was him talking about “low-risk, high-reward” relationships he had with women for many years that were essentially long-distance relationships, but with less commitment or effort.
“I will be extraordinarily open and vulnerable with people who live far away. Why? There’s no real stakes in play. Like, what’s the worst that could happen? You’ll never see them again? Ha! I’ve been doing it ever since”. When I first read this, I was shook because I was doing the exact same thing with someone half-way around the world. I didn’t think it was a thing. What made it worse is that I mistook it for love when it was simply a co-dependency — unhealthy, albeit much needed at the time.
“We laugh. We cry. We think. We feel. We are something approximating boyfriend/girlfriend, brother/sister, BFF/BFF all at the same time. It’s the perfect relationship: low-risk, high-reward, and it sounds like we’re simply communicating our inner monologues to each other, and commenting on them”.
It’s taken me more than a year to be able to write about this because I’ve been trying to process what this means to me. I’ve tried to feel proud of loving (because loving is never bad? Right?). I’ve felt bitter about being “used” to vent out or as a sounding board. Felt angry at myself, them, the situation in general.
Even more than that, it made me think and think again whether I was being healthy in my emotional expression of what I was going through. Whether the love made sense or if I was simply self-sabotaging because it was too far-fetched to be true.
However, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t regret it. It was pretty great while it lasted. Even though I was extremely hurt when it ended, the sharing and vulnerability were nice while it lasted. It was reassuring to have a constant ear that was objective (and conveniently removed from everyday life) while going through a really rough patch in my life.
Brene Brown quotes Theodore Roosevelt in her book, Daring Greatly:
“ It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man[sic] stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who at the best knows in the end the trimuph of high achievements, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
I think that in the end, we’re all just works-in-progress. The hope is that our challenges help us learn and be better. Even when we get hurt or things don’t go the way we wished, it’s important to keep loving, be open and caring, set boundaries and respect others’ boundaries as well.
And of course, to keep stepping out into the arena of life with an open heart.