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The aftermath of being vulnerable

If you have been with a beloved spouse or partner for decades, you probably shared your personal history and life story with this individual — any underbellies included.

This person you were married to, or committed to in some other way, heard about your adolescent acting-out behaviors, as well as your penchant for a cigarette when under stress. That individual knew the weight on your driver’s license was not correct and that you did not actually make the honey cake everyone raved about at the neighborhood dinner party.

In my way of looking at the world, the person you loved and lived with over the years did not offer frowning critique when you exaggerated the truth or were far removed from your “best self.” No judgments made, but maybe an occasional piece of advice.

When I would rant about something (the neighbor’s fiercely barking dog) or someone (a bombastic, local politician), my husband would listen patiently until he thought I had it “out of my system.” At which point he would say: “Are you done? “Feel better? Good.” I miss that.

Once you are without an in-house sounding board, things change. When that readily available listening ear is no longer present in your life, there are still things to say.

Apparently, I have a lot of things to say.

Over recent months, I find myself wanting to divulge personal information previously never shared with a friend or family member. My stepparenting angst, for example, or the fact that some nights all I have for dinner is popcorn — with lots of butter. Sometimes, I regret doing that, and I end up with a “vulnerability hangover,” a term coined by a research professor at the University of Houston (nytimes.com/well).

Have you ever experienced a vulnerability hangover? Experts say ... “Not to worry.” The person you shared personal secrets with is probably not obsessively pondering the divulged information, even if you are. They may not even remember what was said.

Research, in fact, shows “we tend to focus in the short term on things we wish we hadn’t done, but our longer-term regrets are about the things we didn’t do.” So there.

And I may have helped someone by divulging my emotions and idiosyncrasies. At minimum, the sharing probably engendered trust and more closeness — connectedness with the person receiving the information.

If what we divulge is offered up constructively, everyone wins, I think. There is a card game called “Actually Curious,” available on Amazon. I just ordered it — there are many versions, and there’s a coupon. I think a game may pave the way for a “win-win” in this area and help me plan ahead for future information sharing and self-revelation.

That said, a “vulnerability hangover” is a new concept for me — worth thinking about more. I am told “the aftermath” of vulnerability may be unpleasant or surprising, but it’s frequently worth it.

The creator of the game mentioned above, Michael Tennant, calls being vulnerable “a superpower.” It’s like “stepping over the edge.”

Now that’s something worth sharing. As we age, we should push our limits a little.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com