How to Face a Vulnerability Hangover

Dear Social Introvert,

So, I am a single mom to an amazing 10-year-old girl. It has been just the two of us for over eight years. Our life is wonderfully peaceful most of the time.

I have had a few dates here and there, chatted online off and on, but always let things fizzle out before getting even remotely serious.

A few weeks ago, I started chatting with someone, and we have clicked in so many ways. We’ve met; our kids have met; and everyone is thrilled and happy. But part of me is screaming on the inside.

Don’t misunderstand, he’s been fabulous. He would be thrilled to see me every day, but he isn’t hurt or put off when I say no. It’s just the mere fact that someone even wants to see me every day—or misses me when I go offline, or go to bed early, or turn off my phone—is so overwhelming. I’m not sure how to get past the feeling that it can’t work out if he wants things I don’t want.  

I hope I’m making some sense, and I would love to have another introvert’s opinion. It’s only been a month, but I fear I will just run away to my happy introvert world again.


Afraid to Move Forward

Dear Afraid to Move Forward,

My dear, you burnt yourself out.

But don’t beat yourself up over it. This is an extremely common mistake that everyone makes when a new relationship is getting off the ground, whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert. You’re on an absolute, total dizzying high because you finally, finally met someone you dig and who digs you back. OF COURSE you wanted to jump right in. This is a 100% natural impulse, and honestly, I’d be surprised if you weren’t encountering this problem.

Do you think it’s safe to say you rushed into things a teensy bit too fast? Maybe a little faster than you wanted to? Because I was surprised to hear that after eight years of being single, you let him already meet your daughter, and you’ve met his children as well. I promise this is not a criticism of your actions. It’s great that you felt comfortable enough with someone to share one of the best and brightest parts of your life. It was obvious from the onset of your letter that you love your daughter very much and that the two of you share a special bond.

Which is why I think you may be suffering from what our friend Brené Brown would refer to as a vulnerability hangover. You took a big chance and really opened up. You shared your daughter—the amazing co-creator of the peaceful world you two have put together. You’ve let another person into your world, and he probably won’t know its specific rules. In other words, he is going to push and even step outside its boundaries. But although he’s going to shake things up—unintentionally, of course—I’m sure, he will try very hard to fit in. But it will be a learning process.

This process—letting in someone new—is overwhelming and scary and complex, which sounds like it’s making you view the process as a problem. You’re not sure what to do. You say you feel as though it would be safer to retreat back to what you know—just you and your daughter. I, however, see this situation much differently. I don’t think it’s an issue. I think it’s GREAT.

Afraid to Move Forward, what no one ever really discusses is how peace can get a little boring. I know it’s a strange thing to say when we work so hard to obtain it. But peace requires a lot of hard work and discipline; it’s often the result of vigorous routines we’ve put ourselves through to clear up the clutter. And it’s a very worthwhile pursuit! However, what often gets lost in all this discipline is fun. This new man of yours, he sounds fun. You sound like you are having fun!

Will you get hurt? Maybe? Most likely? I don’t know. But Afraid, you are a single mom. You are one of the most badass, courageous types of human beings on the planet. If you get hurt, you will overcome the heartbreak. That’s not even a question or a concern. I understand that you’re afraid to take a risk; every sane person on the planet is scared of showing another person their delicate underbelly. But you need to do this. You need to get over your vulnerability hangover, move forward with this man, and let him into your life.

You told me that he’s not hurt or put off when you explain the need for space and alone time, which is a great sign. Continue to have these conversations. Share your fears with him, and give him the opportunity to work on balance with you—the balance of a relationship where both parties can meet each other’s needs without hurting one another. It sounds like he’s very much interested in pursuing this. Don’t let the exhaustion from your vulnerability hangover turn him away or send you packing. Ask him what he wants, and see if you can compromise on the level of interaction you share.

I have to get extremely real with you for a second. Taking this risk? You owe it to your daughter as well. She is growing up, and it’s going to happen faster than you think. One day, she will want to go off and create an adult world of her own. Don’t you want to be a role model of what it’s like to live a brave life, a life where you take risks and overcome heartbreak and rebuild worlds when necessary? I don’t even need to ask because I already know this is what you want. You’re looking this situation square in the face, knowing it would be easier to run, but you’re trying to work through it and stay. It’s the same impulse that made you send a letter to me asking for help.

This impulse is your intuition. Listen to it and let it grow stronger. It’s telling you to give this guy a chance—and I agree.

Go, have fun!

Sending you all my best thoughts,

The Social Introvert

Have a question about a personal or professional relationship problem? Email the Social Introvert at [email protected]!