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Jaime Cundy
Jaime Booth Cundy BSW, MAPP

Lessons in Vulnerability: The Toothbrush Dilemma

What does a toothbrush have to do with vulnerability?

When I was first starting out in my relationship I had what I felt was a huge dilemma.

At what point should/could I leave my toothbrush at his house?

I know that this doesn’t sound like a very big deal, but the simple act of leaving a toothbrush at another person’s house took on great symbolic meaning for me. Being the person that I am I launched into an information gathering mission. I asked friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances and even one stranger, what the accepted protocol was. Everyone had different opinions ranging from ‘just use his’ to ‘two years’ to ‘are you seriously asking me about a toothbrush?’.

You wouldn’t think a toothbrush would be the cause for such a grand public inquiry, but to me this toothbrush became a symbol of my own vulnerability. For me it wasn’t really the toothbrush…it was what the act of leaving a toothbrush meant.

I didn’t want to leave the toothbrush there and then have someone come over and ask him whose toothbrush it was. In my mind this was a legitimate reason to not leave it behind. I was fighting being vulnerable with someone so much that the idea of someone using his bathroom, making note of how many toothbrushes there were and then going out to him and interrogating him on whose toothbrush it was…seemed plausible. And by not leaving my toothbrush there I was doing him the grand favor of not having to have that conversation before ‘he’ was ready.

No one in the history of existence has ever done that…and if by chance you are out there Mr/Mrs toothbrush counter…send me a message…we need to chat.

The issue of course wasn’t the toothbrush…it was that by leaving it I was saying something. I was admitting that I had strong feelings for someone, and by doing that I was giving up all of my power and control. By leaving my toothbrush I was giving him the opportunity to reject it, and me.

That thought brought up all of my the past experiences…every single reason that someone could possibly have for not wanting me to leave my toothbrush ran through my head. They all sounded oh so familiar and they all ended with the idea that; “You’re not _______ enough.”

Thankfully I was able to recognize these thoughts for what they were this time. I understood that these thoughts were coming from my own shame and fear. They are the same voices we all hear when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, whether it be before a big exam, a job interview, or a new relationship. Our inner critic has a way of speaking its mind…loudly.

If we listened only to the voice of the critic it would be impossible to move forward in our lives. I have spent years allowing this critic to stifle my own progress, which is one of the major reasons I chose vulnerability as my 2012 ‘One word’. I didn’t try to ignore what they were trying to tell me, I acknowledged what they were saying. But then I acknowledged something else;

I didn’t believe them anymore.

I trusted in my boyfriend…and once again I affirmed that I was worthy of a true connection. I trusted that he was not really the type of person to make a very big deal out of a toothbrush but even more so I trusted that he would understand and accept that I am the type that does.

I also trusted in myself, I trusted that the only way that I was going to be able to achieve an authentic connection was to be authentically myself. I had to be myself…but I also had to be willing to relinquish control. I had to just let go, jump off the edge, and trust that I could fly.

So after discussing it with him (and having him laugh at my hesitation) I took the giant baby step of leaving my toothbrush, hiding it in the medicine cabinet to spare him from having that awkward ‘whose toothbrush is this?’ conversation.

The craziest thing happened after I took this momentous toothbrush step. The world didn’t end. All those insane ‘what if’ scenarios didn’t happen. In fact all that happened…. was that I felt happy…and I felt at peace. The silence that comes with muzzling your inner critic is worth the risk. There was beauty in this breakdown…and in the end I realized that vulnerability doesn’t have to be an excruciating can be the most wondrous experience in the world.

By blocking myself from the uncomfortable feelings that vulnerability can bring…I was preventing myself from experiencing the joy, happiness, and humor that it also brings.

Then one day my toothbrush was no longer hiding…it was in the jar loud and proud for all to question. Sometimes vulnerability can surprise and delight you…if you let it.

Copywrite @ Jaime Booth Cundy 2012

Again since music plays such a vital role in my experience I thought I would share the song that encapsulates this experience for me: Let Go by Frou Frou

About the Author
Jaime Cundy

Jaime Cundy is a writer and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program.