I listened to Lena Dunham’s “Woman of the Hour” podcast for the first time a few days ago. I realize I’m dreadfully behind the times as the episode I listened to dates back to November 2015. I’m pretty much always a few seasons behind on all things entertainment related, I’ve come to accept this social irrelevance as part of who I am. I didn’t watch The Hills until my freshman year of college at which point the last season had been over for roughy six years? Nonetheless, Lena’a podcast on friendship peaked my interest on a topic other than friendship. As Lena shared her letters with her pen pal, she discussed emotional vulnerability in writing. Lena’s friend, Ashley Ford (also a vey accomplished writer), confessed an ex boyfriend had described her own writing as “emotional porn“. Both women were hurt and offended by the phrase and their anger struck a chord somewhere within me.
I think the scariest part about writing from a vulnerable place isn’t laying it all out there. Laying it all out there can feel SO refreshing, like a weight lifted off your shoulders. Even if people read what I write and diagree with every word I feel fulfilled. The scariest part of making yourself emotionally vulnerable is the thought that there are people out there who will accuse you of subjecting them to “emotional porn“. It’s as if they’re accusing you of throwing a child’s temper tantrum and splattering immature vulgarity onto the page. Writing about some of the most emotional or most meaningful experiences isn’t always comfortable. Those experiences are sometimes heart wrenching, sometimes graphic, and usually require the writer to bare parts of the soul you might never see over casual conversation. I always cherish that writing because I believe in sharing our stories. Over the years I’ve realized there is a class of people who don’t view storytelling the same way I do. Perhaps this class of people wants everyone to keep their “vulnerable stories” to themselves.
I understand living through a situation and not choosing to share your story. It is a personal choice to be open and vulnerable and I recognize there are many reasons why an individual might choose not to share. I respect that choice. The class of people I am referring to are not the people who neglect to share their stories but rather those who are dreadfully uncomfortable with the vulnerability of others.
Newsflash! Reading about rape is uncomfortable. Reading about child abuse is unsettling. Stories of drugs or bullying or depression can be extraordinarily difficult to read. But why shouldn’t someone tell their story just because it’s bound to make some people uncomfortable? I see little likeness between therapeutic writing meant to spread knowledge and comfort victims with the raw, exploitive films to which this writing was compared.
A friend once told me I probably shouldn’t go into too much depth on a particular topic because I risked oversharing and freaking potential new friends out. At the time my friend’a suggestion was jarring. I realized a fundamental part of my personality was based on this need to share the deeper meaning and learnings in my life. I was caught between questioning my own tendency to bare it all and a “if you don’t want to discuss deep topics, I don’t want to be your friend anyway” mentality. In the end I settled into the latter mind frame but kept my friend’s opinion in the back of my mind. Over the years I discovered how common the fear of emotional intamacy and authenticity is among the community.
“Emotional porn” is a very vulgar phrase. The word porn expresses more than vulnerability, to me it expresses something uncomfortable, exploitive and ultimately unnecessary. I believe there is the thought that people can only share their stories if those stories are horribly atrocious (ie. Holocaust survivors, child warriors) or completely vanilla. Most lives are not horribly atrocious and most people aren’t all milk and cookies. Does that mean any story shared with vulnerability and rawness from the people “in between” is thus lewd emotional porn?
I lack empathy for those who dismiss the necessity for writing simply because it makes the reader uncomfortable. I want to grab these emotionally underdeveloped humans by their shirt collars and sternly reprimand “If you can’t respect someone else’s willingness to be strong and open for the sake of helping themselves and helping others feel less alone in the world…WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” At which point I’ll probably be kicked out of whatever social gathering I’m ruining…but I must say, I would rather not surround myself with people who are so uncomfortable with all of the realness that makes us human.
What are your thoughts? Have you listened to Lena Dunham’s “Woman of the hour” podcast? Does emotional vulnerability ever make you uncomfortable?
P.S. Does anyone else gag when the porn is used to describe anything other than actual porn (which also might make you gag). Food porn! Room porn! Ew! I hate it!