At times in my life I felt like I didn’t have anyone to truly connect with. Friendships felt shallow, conversations didn’t go as deep as I wanted them to, and my bursts of “uncomfortable honesty” elicited uneasy responses from my fragile, budding relationships.

I’ve spent a lot of time attempting to be unafraid of sharing myself with others, which has caused more than one person to be weirded out by my intensity. I’ve had emotionally unavailable friends, especially when I was younger, where genuinely profound conversations were not an acceptable thing to engage in. For a long time I believed I wasn’t going to find people who were willing to be as raw with me as I felt inside – perhaps friendships like that didn’t exist? (which, in hindsight, is a rather silly thought to have entertained)

Despite all that, I continued to work on just being myself (which was especially hard in junior high – woof). It made me feel vulnerable and nervous at all times, and there wasn’t much reward for it. But I didn’t know how else to be, how to act, or how to respond, and I experienced a lot of rejection as a result. Being ourselves is such a hard thing to do, particularly in our teenage years. However, the actions and moments that feel like vulnerability will eventually turn into strengths – at least that’s what happened for me.

Of course I made friends eventually; good, loving friends who truly cared for me as I was. People who interpreted my acts of vulnerability as a positive thing, and reciprocated in full. I can see that persistently being myself, though incredibly difficult and desperately lonely, has brought me in contact with some truly amazing people.

One of those people is T. She was one of the few who I was close with during those difficult, early years. We became friends the summer after I turned 15 and remained entwined in an amazing relationship for a decade. As life, time, and physical distance became unrelenting (as they are wont to do), a gap formed between us. We were growing apart, and when we did try to see each other things were slightly strained and not particularly enjoyable; we both felt we reverted to poor past habits and behaviors, unintentionally bringing out one another’s youthful idiocy when we were together.

As life went on and years passed, we started reaching out to each other again. Small texts, a meet up at a large social event, etc. The years crept by and we realized we were silently just… calling to one another, missing each other. So, we decided to re-introduce ourselves. “This is who I am now.” We understood that it was a necessary exercise in order for us to shed the expectations we had of each other from when we were younger. We created a completely candid space in which to unpack everything that had happened, admit to our private thoughts, establish new scenery, and collapse into a renewed loving friendship. It was hard, it was scary, and it took a long time, but the new relationship has been exponentially rewarding.

Then there’s J. He’s the first person that I completely poured myself into. We had a young friendship, delicate and new, and when the opportunity presented itself early on to tell him how I felt, I took it. I will use this most famous of famous quotes, In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” I had never met someone as amazing as him, and after he opened my eyes to revelations that changed my life’s course, I just couldn’t keep that to myself. I was terrified, but he accepted me with a level of modesty and grace that I’d never before experienced. He thanked me for my honesty, my openness, and wasn’t afraid of how I chose to express myself. I carry that moment with me, always. 

He and I ended up as fairly close friends, having lunch every 4-6 months and staying in regular communication. Our lives were, and are, distant and different with hardly anything in common, yet I considered him to be one of my dearest friends. We lost contact after a few years when I left the country, and then he moved out of the state, and eventually it became nearly 5 years since we’d seen one another or spoken (aside from the random happy birthday text). A week after Christmas 2017 we decided to get together in person – the first time since 2012. I had my doubts and nerves about how things would go. Would the connection still be there?

Magically, wonderfully, we shared an immediately open and reciprocal excitement to see and hug each other. I felt shocked and overwhelmed with happiness – it was so real. How many people could I see after 5 years and instantly end up that happy and comfortable? I know now that this kind of connection is something quite special, and I have the great fortune of sharing it with my other friends too. My friendship with J taught me a lot about the power of vulnerability, and I’ve been able to translate that strength into many other rewarding friendships.

The acceptance and joy I have received after struggling so much – to be myself, to be comfortable – is indescribable. By being vulnerable I was able to discover a great strength for building lasting relationships. Opening ourselves up to others is hard, even when we don’t know how else to be; you’ll experience rejection and hurt, but you’ll get genuine care and compassion. Then one day you’ll realize you’ve fallen in love with all these amazing people who know and accept the real you.