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Becoming Vulnerable Becoming Vulnerable
    by Joe Beam

Becoming One
Joe's latest book: Becoming One
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    A question about cyberintimacy provides the perfect platform for explaining the process most people evolve through as they fall in love. In earlier articles we showed that love has three components—decision/commitment, intimacy, and passion. We’ve discussed at length the role that physical attraction plays in developing passion and just began discussing how people develop intimacy. At that point this question arrived. In responding, I can demonstrate how people develop intimacy in a relationship.

Dear Joe:
I’m falling in love with this really great guy. We have all the elements: commitment/decision, intimacy, passion. We have clicked on every level: spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical (without sin, of course).
We’ve been “talking” for a year by email and instant messenger private chat sessions. It seems the Internet allows you to meet people from the inside out. I sometimes feel a sense of the backwardness of this situation, that I have allowed myself to become intimate and committed to someone I’ve never physically met. Yet I feel that I know him and want to be with him. Do you think I’ll still feel that way when we come face to face?

    Because intimacy in its truest sense means warmth, bondedness, and closeness, it occurs only when two people allow themselves to be extremely vulnerable to each other. It comes about when both decide not to hide behind any masquerade, but instead to allow the other person to see into the reality of who and what they are. That, of course, is a frightening prospect. Most of us wear various “masks” in different aspects of our lives so we can feel accepted and loveable. We may wear one mask to work, another to church, and yet another in our personal relationships. We choose a mask that will provide the greatest likelihood of being accepted in each specific environment.

    Removing all masks to let another see who we really are (“warts and all”) means risking everything in that relationship. If the other person doesn’t accept us when they encounter our undisguised selves, we feel absolute rejection. We likely won’t continue the relationship, even if the other person wants to, because we know that he or she has seen the true us and been repulsed by the discovery.

    So how does we grow past that fear and decide to reveal our true selves? We do it in stages. We start by sharing facts that are nonthreatening; facts that we feel won’t be reacted to negatively. As we share those innocuous facts of our lives (e.g. “I was born in the USA,”) we register every reaction of the person to whom we share. Any lack of interest or hint of displeasure on their part causes us to stop the process. We’re certainly not going to reveal potentially threatening facts (e.g. “When I was a kid I was arrested,”) if we note any disinterest or rejection as we share innocuous facts. On the other hand, as we register interest and acceptance we tend to reveal more threatening facts. We can become so trusting of the seemingly unconditional acceptance of the other person that we tell him or her things about ourselves we’ve never told anyone.

    And that’s just the first step.

Removing all masks to let another see who we really are means risking everything in that relationship.
    The more frightening step is the second one: sharing feelings. After all, some of the facts of our lives were things that occurred without our intention or control. Therefore, the facts of our lives tell only what happened; they don’t always reveal information about who we are or what we are like. Feelings do that. When a person can share feelings, he or she reveals self.

    Just as with facts, we begin by sharing feelings that we believe to be nonthreatening (e.g. “I like being an American.”) And just as when we share facts, we take note of any disinterest or rejection. If the other person pays attention and accepts our feelings as valid, we gradually move from innocuous feelings to more threatening ones (e.g. “I’m sometimes afraid I can’t control my emotions.”)

    When a man and woman can share openly with each other the facts and feelings of their lives—especially the facts or feelings that they fear will bring rejection—they are on the road to intimacy. The more they share of their realities—historically and emotionally—and continue to accept each other, the deeper their intimacy.

    Why does that happen so quickly in a chat room? Because of their relative anonymity, they can self-reveal very quickly because at the first sign of rejection they can end the tentative relationship and move to another chat room. In other words, it doesn’t hurt nearly as much to be rejected when you aren’t risking much in the relationship. Two people living in different parts of the world can easily end the contact with little sense of loss. Therefore, they tend to share a great deal about themselves in a much more rapid fashion than they would in a face to face situation.

    What can the rest of us learn from that phenomenon? Simply this, its unusually short time in developing intimacy illustrates with extreme clarity what we’ve said in this article about how intimacy develops. It comes from taking the risk to share with another and finding that the risk was justified. When acceptance follows revelation, the two people become very close to each other and feel intimacy.

    At FDI we find that in most marriages the couple hasn’t learned how to develop this kind of intimacy. In the next article, I’ll explain why it doesn’t happen and in articles after that I’ll illustrate how any couple can develop that level of intimacy.

    Now allow me to make a quick comment to the lady who wrote the email. Unless one or both of you have been lying in your correspondence (therefore wearing masks rather than truly self-revealing) the likelihood of a lasting relationship is very good. Unless your initial face to face meeting causes one of you to find the other unattractive to the point that appearance overpowers intimacy, you will do well. Just last week I talked with a woman who met her husband in a chat room. They had grown intimacy far beyond many married couples before they ever met. Because of the possibility of being deceived by the unseen companion, I don’t recommend the Internet as the tool of choice to find a mate. But I admit that I have seen chat rooms work powerfully in developing relationships. Sometimes for good, as in your case, and sometimes for bad, such as when it leads married people into adultery.

    We’ll discuss intimacy (or the lack thereof) between married couples starting next article.

    As you read these articles, feel free to ask questions of me at joebeam@familydynamics.net. While I cannot guarantee personal answers to all questions, I will answer pertinent questions in future columns.

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Previously in the series Love, Sex and Marriage by Joe Beam: What Makes People Fall In Love?How Do I Know if I'm in Love?
See Also...
Related Heartlight Resources:
Developing Intimacy
How Do I Know if I'm in Love?
Books by Joe Beam
Related External Pages:
Family Dynamics

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About the Author...
Joe Beam is a noted author and founder of the Family Dynamics Institute.

Title: "Becoming Vulnerable"
Author: Joe Beam
Publication Date: May 19, 2000



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