I think that, to some degree, we all have a love/hate relationship with being seen — with letting another person see all the parts that make up who we are, whether it’s our joy, anger, grief, ambition, or something else.
On the downside, if we show the other person parts we usually keep hidden, and they leave, we’ll feel hurt. The more of ourselves we let them see, the more pain we’ll experience if they decide not to be with us.
On the plus side, the more of ourselves we allow others to see, the more it’s possible for them to “love us for who we are” — for them to embrace all of our parts, no matter how unique or socially unacceptable those parts may seem. I think most of us crave this kind of love, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not.
The “Unvarnished You” Is a Gift
So, being seen is both risky and potentially rewarding — that much, I think most of us understand. What we don’t grasp as often, I think, is that letting ourselves be seen can also be rewarding for the person we’re with. Giving them a glimpse of who we are, beneath the polite, competent “social mask,” can be a gift in itself.
I know that, when I’m with another person, and they become willing to show me a part of themselves they usually conceal, my body suddenly feels relaxed and alive. It’s as if they satisfy a yearning I didn’t even know I harbored until that moment.
This happens even if the part they show me is typically seen as “negative” or unwelcome in our culture. For instance, although we tend to see anger as a “negative emotion,” it’s such a relief for me when someone who normally holds up a pleasant and even-tempered façade gives me a blast of their fierceness. When I’m with a woman who does this, it’s often a turn-on.
The Pain of “Relationships” Without Relating
Of course, the idea that just letting someone deeply see us can be a gift flies in the face of the conventional wisdom. In our society, the “value” we offer each other depends on our accomplishments, possessions and appearance — how much money we make, how “hot” our bodies are, and so on. Conversation isn’t about seeing and being seen — it’s about communicating our “selling points.”
I suspect this way of thinking is the reason so many of us are dissatisfied with the relationships — “intimate” and otherwise — in our lives, no matter how “successful” our peers say we are. Of course we feel unloved and unappreciated — because we aren’t letting anyone see us, we aren’t allowing anyone to love us for who we are.
We think working on our credentials, possessions and looks will make us “stand out” and get noticed, but there are plenty of people with all of those things (many of whom are unhappy). What’s rare, in my experience, is a person who’s willing to give me the gift of who they truly are.
Yes, it feels vulnerable to let someone see us — “negative” and “unacceptable” parts and all. But opening ourselves in this way, I think, allows us to be genuinely appreciated, and can be a liberating experience for people we’re with as well.