Monday, March 4, 2013

Vulnerability as a Romantic Strategy

Here's an article that originally appeared on
Makayla's Book Review Blo

Earlier this year I wrote a blog article about some advice I overheard from a financial planner who was appearing on a TV morning show. He advised couples planning to marry to set up separate checking accounts. But the advice struck a dissonant chord with me. What kind of message does this send to the special person you’ve chosen as your lifetime romantic and marriage partner? “Okay, let me get this straight,” I can hear her tell me. “You say you love me, that there will never be anyone but me, and that we are one flesh, but with your actions you are saying I can’t be trusted not to abscond with all our liquid assets?” Worse yet is that she may not be saying that out loud, but instead storing it in her heart as resentful doubt. Of course, there are definite advantages inherent to separate accounts. It’s neater, and if the account won’t balance, it won’t cause an argument. But my ultimate question in the article was whether those advantages outweighed the connotation of mistrust, something that could damage the relationship longer term.

Today I’d like to return to the same theme, but from a different angle. Let’s flip the question on its head, shall we? At a deeper level, the question of separate accounts is about vulnerability. And the question I want to ask is whether vulnerability can be used to strengthen a relationship. Isn’t love about sharing, and isn’t sharing secrets, and the vulnerabilities they represent, a way that lovers deepen their emotional intimacy? So the single checking account decision is a message of vulnerability (and transparency) that should strengthen the relationship in a small way. It should work so long as the bookkeeping each of us does on the account is sufficient to keep from annoying the other. How about another, lower level example? My wife and I work from home, but usually on different PCs whose files are synchronized through an Internet-based utility. We share a single email account, and you wouldn’t believe how cluttered that inbox gets at times. We’ve talked about setting up separate email accounts, and we always agree on the manifold benefits. But we’ve never come close to actually taking that step. We’ve always sensed that the messy transparency of the single account, the sharing of potential vulnerabilities, is good for our relationship. Worth the mess, and I want my wife to know that there’s nothing I do in the Internet realm I would hide from her.

Let’s wrap up with a more dramatic example. My novel, Coinage of Commitment, has a love triangle that changes the story’s frame of reference in the book’s second half. I don’t like to talk much about the triangle because I think it’s a story feature best “discovered” by the reader. So I don’t even mention it in the book’s description. One of the female protagonists tells the love of her life that she is assuming a posture of emotional vulnerability and dependence on him. She does this as a way of inducing him to meet her emotional needs by loving her more. He is startled by the gesture, but he responds, if awkwardly. But her pledge, and how she lives it over time, will be a major factor in resolving the book’s surprise ending.

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