Vulnerability has become a buzzword in the last few years. With women generally being on the forefront of diving into therapeutic healing modalities, exploring the inner workings of their emotional landscapes, many men are being asked to keep pace and follow the form of their feminine counterparts.
These requests are often met with both a desire to please, and the trepidation that it evokes largely due the internal conflicts related to the updated cultural expectations, that run contrary to the roles men have identified with for many generations.
Going by its standard definition, vulnerability implies weakness. It’s defined as the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of attack or harm, physically or emotionally.
The social roles that men have been valued and revered for throughout the ages have been structured around protecting and providing for those around us that were physically weaker.
Being asked to be a more vulnerable man is confronting considering the cultural scripts that have conditioned men away from things that might have them be perceived as weak for exposing their inadequacies.
A part of our neolithic survival strategies men learned to size each other up. Men that displayed signs of weakness and an inability to perform under pressure were a threat to the whole tribe and likely risked ostracization, their value as a mate depreciated, and having their social standing demoted. So it would make sense as a survival strategy that men would have a tendency to try to hide any sign of weakness.
Researcher Brene Brown, who has made it her mission to study the impacts of shame on the human condition; defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
This re-definition makes it a little easier to recognize the possible courage and bravery displayed in certain intentional acts of vulnerability.
Displaying bravery is often something that elicits respect and admiration, not only from one’s male peers but also from potential female mates. It’s also an integral part of the masculine “warrior” culture that we’ve inherited epigenetically, and through myth and storytelling throughout the ages.
Even if we do reframe the definition, why do men find this kind of courage so confronting?
Firstly, many men feel an automatic resistance to being told how they are supposed to be. This is partly due to the same type of shame-based internal narratives that would have a man hide his inadequacies. If we are not living up to some cultural standards, it hits the same nerve of unworthiness that triggers our fear of ostracization or rejection.
We’ve arrived at an era, where much of the developed world no longer lives with the looming threat of war and violence. We have more physical safety than ever before. Men are much less relied upon to provide a physical buffer against violent acts. In a way being stripped of this role has been a vulnerable experience in and of itself for a lot of men. This innate drive to use our power and aggression to dominate and protect gave men a sense of value and purpose.
Our modern era of gender equality, also leaves a vacancy in the department of male purpose, in that we are less and less needed to provide, as women have learned to be significantly competent at providing for themselves.
Men have been expected in many ways to adapt to this shifting cultural tide in just a couple of generations.That’s no easy task.
There’s a common assumption that to be vulnerable simply means that we are putting ourselves in the position of exposing our deepest emotions. While this could be an expression of vulnerability, it’s not the only one.
Vulnerable experiences also include:
Essentially, anytime we encounter a risk, whether it be risking a certain identity construct we’re attached to or risking losing something or someone, we will inevitably feel an inherent vulnerability in the act.
Men have largely been taught to be doers and fixers, needing to have the upper hand to assert our masculine worth, by having things figured out. This encourages men to hang out largely in the problem-solving territory of the mind. The mind is designed to grasp and comprehend, label things, compartmentalize, be able to rationalize abstractly and aim for predictable outcomes. Whereas the territory of risk taking and emotions is much more nebulous. These exist in the realm of uncertainty. Constantly in flux and unpredictable. They require us to be present. To be embodied. To connect with sensation based experience where things are shifting and changing, moment to moment.
So if there is so much risk and uncertainty involved, what’s the value of vulnerability anway?
In our closest relationships, vulnerability is a precursor to intimacy. And intimacy is the meat and potatoes of a healthy, evolving relationship. When we reveal our deep truth we invite others in. That invitation is the opening for connection. On a whole, women need to feel a sense of heart connection, and sense that you are not hiding things, to feel safe to open their bodies and be sexual.
Bringing our authentic truth also builds trust. This is not just true for romantic relationships but all relationships.
It’s those little risks we take which let people know that we’re not here to manipulate them or take advantage of them. We are letting our guard down and showing our humanity and humility. These acts of transparency lets others know we’re not a threat and are not trying to hide something or manipulate outcomes in our favor.
The fact is most people hide their truth often as a learned strategy to try to maintain a sense of control over how others perceive them and a sense of safety in not rocking the boat. And that can often be a wise choice. Inviting in more vulnerability is not about advocating for a total breakdown of our social filters.
Healthy vulnerability requires discernment. A capacity for us to be sensitive enough to feel what’s appropriate with a given person and a given moment. Sensing into what can be metabolized by the other. For example; what you might choose to share with a therapist, close friend, or intimate partner would be different from what you bring to a young child.
This sensitivity is part common sense and sometimes must be learned through trial and error. It’s also developed as we get more acutely aware of our emotional landscape. As we explore the subtleties of our embodied experience, we naturally become more attuned in the awareness of our nervous systems, which are constantly modulating in relationship to the other nervous systems it comes into contact with.
The other high returns on vulnerable acts are connected to our growth and expansion. The common cliché that growth happens on the edge of our comfort zone is quantifiably accurate.
We have zero access to new possibilities or potentials if we don’t step into unknown territory. If we are always leaning back towards what feels safe, secure and predictable, we stay on the shores of that landscape. Vulnerability requires us to confront our fear, to be in the feeling of a free fall, not knowing if we will have solid ground to land on. And the truth is we don’t always land our leap into unknown territory. We can fall flat on our face. But even that can be the gift.
We might end up with some bruises or scars, but we also end up with the new muscle growth that came from the exterion into that edgy risk. Which will tend to make the next leap a little less tenuous and more proficient.
So, maybe I’ve sold you on the potential value of vulnerability. But bringing it back to the initial question of the article; Can a man be vulnerable and still attractive to women?
I’m going to answer this generally. As all women are not wired the same. They were raised in different cultures, different households, as well as the race, religion, and environments they engaged in growing up. All women have different conditioning, needs, emotional wounds, sexual desires, etc. These factors all have an influence on what's attractive to her.
However, on a more primal and nervous system level, I believe certain dynamics are experienced by women more universally.
To be vulnerable and maintain attraction or potentially even enhance it, a man needs to be grounded in his truth. What I mean by that is he needs to have accepted his basic goodness and the okayness of his experience. To trust in himself and the integrity of his actions. The emotionally exposed version of vulnerability will often not land well if he delivers it from an expression that has an overlay of approval seeking, shame or self-judgment tied to it.
This type of “unclean” vulnerability is coming from a disempowered place where he is putting the burden of validation on her. I’m not saying you can’t do vulnerability like this. But in terms of maintaining attraction and sexual polarity, a man needs to have backbone.
A strong spine with an open heart, and even tears in your eyes, can be a turn-on for a woman. It’s showing her that you have enough strength and dignity to be able to reveal something deep about yourself, without collapsing or pleading for approval.
Vulnerability is powerful because it’s an act of courage. It’s a willingness to fail forward with an open heart. To trust in something larger than one's own insecurities. To act without needing to protect one’s fragile ego or identity structures requires a man to confront his insecurities. This might come in the form of asking a woman on a date or asking for what you desire sexually directly, without coercion, manipulation, or posturing requires a big pair of balls, and can be a turn on for many women.
Without the risk to go deeper, to reveal our inner worlds, to be daring enough to ask for what we want and say no to what we don’t, our relationships will not sustain themselves. They will become dry, sterile, and devoid of meaning. Emotional intimacy is the juice, the life force, and the portal to new layers of discovering another human being. Depth of openness, which also includes how we are expanding ourselves outside the relationship, is what can help a relationship to stay fresh and vital in the long term.
Vulnerability is not an easy practice and it never will be. That’s the nature of it.
Having a safe container to learn the art of healthy vulnerability is essential for the development of men as we collectively evolve our roles and responsibilities in the 21st century. You can choose to remain attached to outdated paradigms of masculinity or you can be at the forefront of the men that are choosing to take on this next level of operating. It’s not an easy task. Which is why most men that attempt to clumsily fumble their way through it alone don’t make a ton of progress. Without a map, without accountability, it’s going to be very difficult.
The power of having a coach that has traversed this territory is you don’t have to figure it out. And the added value of a men’s group is that you get a dojo to practice your new chops in a relational context. This kind of container provides an intentional space, where it can be modeled by others, and refined by the awareness and feedback of men that are dedicated to the same craft. It also is a space where the need for feminine validation is absent, which can help a man to let go of his performative side that tries to get it right and leave a positive impression on a woman.
I’m curious… Are you feeling inspired or deterred to lean into more vulnerability in your life?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Your questions. And your rebuttals.
And if you’re ready for coaching in this arena, reach out to me.