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Brené Brown Wants You to Drop Your Armor

Brené Brown is everywhere.

If you didn’t catch her TED talk or her appearance on Oprah’s SuperSoul conversations, you might have seen her recent Netflix documentary “The Call to Courage.”

Even though she’s a shame and vulnerability researcher (which wouldn’t seem to have mass appeal), everyone loves her.

Because we ALL feel shame. We ALL feel vulnerable. It’s actually a relief to get those feelings out in the open.

But when Brené shifted directions to write about business and leadership, I didn’t think her new work would have anything to offer those of us interested in better relationships. How we behave in the workplace has nothing to do with how we date, right?

Hmm….

Given the amount of time we spend at work, our workplace culture shapes us. We learn what other people value most in us. We learn what’s okay to talk about and what’s not okay to share. We adapt to our environment, and those lessons go back home with us.

Problems arise when your workplace culture requires that you “armor up.” You push down inconvenient feelings, you maintain a façade of perfection, and you make sure no one catches you being all-too-human.

This is what Brené describes as “armored leadership.”

It’s when we strive to protect ourselves rather than open up to uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. We want to make sure we look good, even if we don’t feel good.

If you work in a dog-eat-dog environment, that’s often the only way to survive. But then you come back home…

And you find yourself pushing down inconvenient feelings, avoiding hard discussions, and choosing looking good over feeling good.

You take your work armor and wear it into your intimate relationships.

“Armored dating”–my term, not Brené’s—is incredibly common.

We feel as if we have to wear armor to succeed in the dating pool, which can feel as cut-throat as business.

Here’s what some of your armor might look like:

  • You make him do all the work (making the first move, asking you to become exclusive) so that you don’t have to risk rejection.
  • You present yourself as the kind of woman he wants, rather than revealing your true self.
  • You avoid complimenting him or showing him appreciation because you don’t want him to know how much you like him.
  • When something happens that makes you feel uncomfortable, you brush it off because you don’t want to jeopardize the relationship.
  • You focus on achieving the goal (exclusivity, commitment) instead of considering whether momentum is what you really want.
  • You play it cool even when he hurts your feelings, because you don’t want to let him know he’s gotten to you.

That armor feels essential. It makes us look better and keeps us safe. Why would we give it up?

Because it’s not getting us what we want.

What we want is a healthy, resilient relationship with someone who sees us and loves us for who we truly are.

But wearing armor makes that impossible. We don’t show up honestly. We don’t have honest conversations. So a relationship may work in the short-term, but at the cost of having to keep this cumbersome, inflexible, and frankly uncomfortable armor on at all times.

Anyone can be cocky and confident with armor on, but you know who’s REALLY brave?

The folks who show up without any armor.

It’s risky. It’s messy. It’s scary.

But it’s the only way to get to something that’s truly great.

That’s what Brené describes as “daring leadership”—and what I see as “daring dating.”

It’s when you stop trying to “win” at dating and instead start showing up with the intention of making something truly awesome happen.

Here’s what daring dating might look like:

  • Walking up to a cute guy, instead of sending him subtle signals all night in hopes he will approach you.
  • Telling a guy you’d like to see him again, instead of playing it cool and hoping he asks you out.
  • Being frank when your dating goals and his are a mismatch (e.g., he says, “I wouldn’t date anyone who doesn’t like X,” and you say, “Thanks for letting me know. I’m probably not a good fit for you, because I don’t like X”).
  • Disagreeing with him.
  • Asking something of him.
  • Having hard conversations, even if they might end the relationship.

Daring dating is definitely risky, but in the best possible way:

It weeds out the wrong guys and appeals to the right guys.

A guy who runs at the first tough conversation or honest comment isn’t a guy who can make you happy in a long-term relationship. A guy who can’t deal with your feelings isn’t someone who can support you.

But a guy who appreciates the emotional risks you’re taking might just be a winner.

Your honesty gives him permission to be honest. Your vulnerability gives him permission to be vulnerable. Your mistakes give him permission to make mistakes.

That’s what a great relationship looks like:

Not two perfect people without any flaws, but two imperfect people who are nevertheless perfect for one another.