Seen, Known, Loved: Messy Hair & Vulnerability

I hope I’m not alone when I say that dating is not my thing. Though I don’t believe that I’m an awkward person, there’s something about the first few dates with someone new that makes my skin crawl. Do you open the door? Does he? Does he pay for dinner? Do you? What do you talk about? What do you do in those awkward silences in the car? When those silences last for more than a moment, I find myself saying things that I probably shouldn’t—things like “I HATE dating!”

But there is a sweet spot in new relationships that we all wish we could stay in forever. It’s that perfect time when you’re both still on your best behavior; when dates are no longer awkward but are actually really fun; when you still haven’t had a fight and when the romantic possibilities are endless.

And then things change.

All of a sudden intimacy happens and you’re a little bit too close to hide behind your best foot forward. You’ve stepped out of the shiny phase—the time when your hair looks perfect and both of you are fully armed with a lifetime supply of ChapStick—and you get to see each other, actually see each other for the very first time.

And that’s really scary.

It’s one thing to be rejected because you didn’t try hard enough or because you wore a stupid outfit on your first date. But if you’re rejected after this point, it’s for things that you can’t control — not for poorly controlling the things that you can. And that hurts much worse. That sting goes much deeper.

However, like most things that are hard and semi-terrifying, there’s also something absolutely wonderful that can happen in this moment. That person can look back at you, inches away, without the buffer of ChapStick or perfect hair. They can really see you, and really begin to love you. Not for who you pretend to be, not for your best foot forward, but for who you really are. Messy hair and all.

There’s a fantastic woman named Brene Brown, who is an author and a researcher primarily focused on the subject of vulnerability. After years of research and thousands of interviews, she found that true connection with others is one of our soul’s greatest needs. She also found that the only way to really have this kind of soul warming connection is to allow yourself to be really seen and really known.

The only way to get to this place is through vulnerability, and I wish that wasn’t true. Vulnerability is that moment when you’re left wide open to the possibility of the sting, hands limp, defenses down. And that is a scary place to be.

We live in a world that puts such a high price on perfection—a world where we are constantly buffing out and disciplining away our flaws, hiding them beneath pants that are made to flatter and kind lighting.

But there’s no courage in that quest—no authenticity and certainly no positive end result.

We cannot be fully loved if we are not fully known, which leaves us with a decision to make. We can either hide and protect ourselves, ensuring that although we wont be loved, we definitely wont be hurt; or we can go with something a bit more daring. We can choose another way to live — a way to live and breathe and love that’s wild and audacious. We can choose to stay in that moment when someone we love’s eyes are piercing straight through our carefully crafted façade, deciding not to wiggle away in favor of allowing them to really see into our depths. We can choose to gather up the courage to tell the whole truth of who we are with our whole heart.

We can choose to have to have the courage to be imperfect—to be authentic—letting go of who we think we should be and allowing people to really see who we are in the places we prefer to keep hidden. It’s only then that we can really be known, and only then that we can be loved in the way that our soul so deeply desires.

Vulnerability is choosing the daring hope that someone will see us and know us and choose to love us because of what they see—not for the show or for our perfectly styled hair.

There’s just nothing more courageous or deeply beautiful than that.

Image via Better Than Fine

Stephanie May is a world-traveling journalist who is in love with coffee, with life and with all things beautiful. When she’s not traveling (and especially when she is), she’s writing for The Lipstick Gospel and tweeting at @lipstickgospel.


  • Reply February 27, 2013


    Absolutely brilliant – and I scrolled through the comments to see if anyone had posted the link to Bene Brown’s absolutely amazing TED talk on vulnerability – I can’t see it, so here it is:

    As a therapist, I have to say, I wish I could just print that link out on business cards and hand it to not just my clients, but everyone in my life. It really IS the way to live. xx

  • Reply February 25, 2013

    Ali Madden

    this is so so good, thank you for posting.

  • Reply December 15, 2012


    That was beautiful.

  • Reply December 14, 2012

    Meredith McKeone

    Beautiful! Thank you!

  • Reply December 11, 2012

    Stephanie May

    Thanks Tal! You’re the best.

  • Reply December 11, 2012


    love this blog! vulnerability while scary, will take you deep and far. love knowing and doing life with you friend.

  • Reply December 10, 2012

    Stephanie May

    Thank you so much Audrey! What a beautiful thing it is when fears and concerns become joy and love. What a scary process but what a beautiful thing!

  • Reply December 10, 2012

    Audrey Johnson

    Beautiful and so true. It’s at once our heart’s deepest desire and fear to be known so intimately. What a great post – perfectly encapsulates all of those fears and concerns as well as the joy and love.

  • Reply December 10, 2012

    Stephanie May

    Thank you Melissa!! :-)

  • Reply December 10, 2012


    This is so true and so beautiful. Vulnerability leads to the deepest connection and love.
    Just fyi, the image up top was taken by a Seattle based photographer, Andria Lindquist. And she is AMAZING.

  • Reply December 9, 2012

    Stephanie May

    Thank you Shannon, Ellie, Tina, Ginny, Michelle and Tawny! I love that you guys have connected with these truths as much as I have. There is nothing more humbling than to open yourself up like this- but nothing more deeply beautiful. It’s such a learning process, but such a good one. Thank you for reading and commenting! You made my day! :-)

  • Reply December 9, 2012


    This was so wonderfully put. Thank you so much for this. As a single lady, it’s important that I read this and chew on this for a bit. I have definitely put a stronghold around me when I meet people; I lack vulnerability but I am working on it.

  • Reply December 9, 2012


    Thank you for this reminder, Stephanie. So true and so needed to be written.

  • Reply December 9, 2012


    Cue the angel choir! Thank you! So perfect. I really needed to read this today. After opening up and sharing my most vulnerable self to the man I thought was finally, after 40 years…”the one”… only to be followed by rejection. My heart so hurt and broken. I feel like the 8 year old girl being picked on in school. Reading this today has been healthy for my soul. I will continue to believe the man God has planned for me is still out there waiting to meet me…

  • Reply December 9, 2012


    Thank you!! This was so great!

  • Reply December 9, 2012


    Steph, this is so honestly and beautifully said.

  • Reply December 9, 2012


    Absolutely beautiful Steph!!!

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