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In pondering the state of affairs between men and women and relationships these days I keep encountering something that I think is missing in many romances today and that’s being open to being vulnerable.

Let’s face it, dating and relating can be scary stuff, filled with the risks and possibility of pain, loss, hurt, and other emotions most of us would rather not encounter.

So we build walls, watch out for red flags, bolt at the first sign of risk, never even try, or hold back our hearts. Books and workshops aimed at women and men advocate all sorts of strategies, tips, and tricks to get the upper hand in love and to mitigate the risk of being the one who ends up with the short end of the love stick.

But the more I ponder it, the more I think these approaches may actually be preventing the very real and deep connections many women and men are truly seeking. The “true” in true love, so to speak.

Opening one’s self up isn’t easy. Showing your soft underbelly, exposing your weakness, and simply being human both make us vulnerable and at the same time open to the vulnerabilities and imperfections in others.

Let’s face it, we may all go around trying to convince the world we’re perfect, but the reality is none of us are. Being real, being open, accepting oneself flaws and all isn’t weakness — in fact I’d argue it takes a huge amount of personal strength, self-love, and confidence to be who you truly are and to reveal that person lurking deep inside, behind the facade and the masks we all wear to protect ourselves and garner social approval.

Sure there are going to be people who the real you doesn’t work for, you may face rejection when you reveal that part of yourself. They may cut and run. But in love especially, isn’t it important that who you truly really are is the very person your partner digs more than anyone?

Not that I am advocating laziness, or being bat-shit crazy, or insisting people love you no matter what. Of course part of being your true self is also striving to be the best version of your true self that you can be. Embracing your vulnerability is not a get-out-of-being-a-good-partner-free card. It’s about accepting responsibility for bringing your best self to the situation, and asking the other person to do so in return. Sure there will be days you don’t, or he doesn’t, but overall there’s more good than bad.

So if what you seek is the real deal, next time the impulse to retreat, cover up, or pretend arises, try pushing through the risk and the pain and just be who you really are. Put it out there. You may end up failing miserably. You may get hurt. You might get judged. You may be rejected.

But then again, you might also find another person who is also dedicated to a life lived authentically, transparently, and vulnerably. Someone who gets we all have good moments and bad moments and that life and love are a journey of all of the above.

When you do find it, there will be no need for walls and pretense and games because they like you for who you truly and really are — the person beyond the combination of cells and proteins and chemical reactions that make up your physical outer self, the part of you that has always been and ever will be, your soul. You.

And when you find someone who sees that part of you and is still all in, that’s the good stuff. That’s where you’ll find the one who will be there through the thick and the thin, the rich and the poor, the sickness and health, the till death do you part. The real happily ever after.

Let those who have ears hear.