There are some days when tears rest easy on the eyes.  Days when I can’t seem to grab my emotional equilibrium.  Sometimes that emotional tenderness lasts for many days.  It all started when I breezed into my therapist’s office all cocksure as if I had the world figured out.  Well, of course, you know how this ends.  His probing and probative questions did their job well.  They opened me up.  But, by doing so, they also landed me squarely on uncertain ground.  I have yet to regain my emotional footing.  And so, tears rest easy on my eyes, neither spilling forward nor retreating.

“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something.  We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way.  We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. ”    ―  Pema Chödrön

But, the particulars of this shifting sand aren’t really the point of me telling you this story.  It is about how intensely alone I feel at these moments.  And, the reality that it is somewhat self-inflicted.  You see, this shaky tenderness is where I feel most frightened, vulnerable. A spot where I have an excess of feeling and few answers.  It is a place where my analytical, problem solving mind has no facts from which to derive an appropriate solution.  It is even a struggle to describe the nature of the problem itself.  Words fail me.  In essence, my IQ is of little use and my EQ is unprepared, a weak muscle unaccustomed to exercise.  And so, I’m left in a battle with myself mostly unarmed.

“let’s get away from all the clever humans who put words in our mouth let’s only say what our hearts desire.”   ―  Rumi

Unfortunately, most men aren’t taught to be vulnerable.  That it is not a sign of weakness or an opportunity to be exploited.  I am better today at recognizing the feeling itself.  I can put a name to it. This is helpful.  And, that recognition allows me to do small things that are useful.  I am not completely disarmed by it. So, I send a short note here or a quick text there.  Unlike the not too distant past, I make small gestures for connection.  And, they bring a measure of solace.  But, these little gestures belie a greater need for deeper connection.

I struggle to pick up that phone.  Call a friend and just talk and not feel so damn alone.  I understand why.  But, the intellectual clarity doesn’t overcome the emotional barriers to taking action.  Will you, can you be there for me?  Can you hold my hand, head, or heart without crushing it further? Can I open up to you and be vulnerable without having any answers or expecting you to?  These questions mostly went unasked and unanswered over the last few days.  A lonely tenderness that could have just been a mere shaky tenderness.

This is not just an articulate and elaborate way to say that I need a hug. (Though I would certainly accept, appreciate and relish one right now.)  Instead, my intent is really two-fold. The first is simply to express clearly this uneasy feeling of vulnerability – this shaky tenderness – within which I have been so thoroughly wrapped.  The expression itself is therapeutic.

The second, is to point out something you probably already know – but need reminding. That person over there who you think has it all together, who seems to have so many of the answers.  Yeah, that one.  He or she feels so very vulnerable at times too.  And, the same small gestures of warmth and comfort (without trying to make it all better) are the one’s we seek and find comfort in.  Even though the very thing that makes you think we have it all together is that we struggle with allowing you to see that shaky tenderness, the signs are there for those who look with kind eyes.

We need to build our friendships on truth and wholeness and expansiveness. We need friends who can be with us in our loneliness, not people who will cheer us up so that we don’t feel it. We need friends who get furious with us when we are not being real or true to ourselves, not when we don’t do what they want us to do. –Geneen Roth


  1. Still waters run deep. So many of my dearest friends are like you Carl – complete and utter opposites of me. If it makes any difference, I’ve always envied people their self-possession when I’m in the middle of one of my outbursts.

  2. A wise (and adorable) friend once quietly suggested that I listen to the story in my head & then try it out on him, to see how it played. I was, and remain, grateful for this advise.

    Sadness & vulnerability are often created by old stories, which have little relevance to present circumstances. Still, sitting alone with those characters can obfuscate truth & lead further down the rabbit hole. Sometimes picking up the phone & calling a trusted friend is useful. Sometimes picking up the phone & calling a friend whose trust you doubt is even better. Clarity. The rest of the story. Happy endings (or continuings).

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