Vulnerability In First Love

Vulnerability came up this week in class after the graduate students (in Northwestern University’s Adult Development class) completed an assignment that asked them to reflect on their first romantic love relationship.

 It reminded all of us that the first time you try to get close to someone in a romantic relationship, you are vulnerable in new ways. Your sexuality, sharing, your physical appearance, your emotional ups and downs, your secrets, and more….are exposed for another person to accept or reject.

 Romantic relationship, especially the first one, raises questions of, “Am I acceptable?” “Am I loveable?” “Am I good enough?”  All these are normal questions that people wonder about, especially if they come from harsh families or have had bad experiences.  Every time you allow yourself to get close to another person, you will be vulnerable but, with a first love, everything is brand new.

 In the same exercise, I asked the students to also comment on their “first best friend”, another important person they loved. Many observed that their childhood best friend was a person of proximity and someone with whom they felt comfortable and shared interests. Some students said that their friend was different from them, more exotic and had characteristics they admired and would have liked to see in themselves. Others said that their friend was similar to them, perhaps equally smart or non-conforming, and therefore made them feel less alone and more normal.  

Their answers reminded me of a previous post (“What Makes A Friend” 11/7/2010) I wrote with my childhood best friend and we compared notes on the attraction of decades ago that remains a firm friendship today.

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