Health & Beauty

What an Emoji Taught Me About Vulnerability

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I am surrounded by strong women.

Women who are ambitious, witty, kind, successful, and wickedly smart. Women who are also wonderful liabilities in that they have a strong tendency to talk to strangers, travel on a whim, and forget all decorum after a glass of wine or two. These are unequivocally my favorite things about them.

Although we each possess distinct and bold traits, our shared talent is a seeming reluctance to ask for help. We excel in being there for one another, yet when it comes to asking someone to be there in return, we tend to cope alone and bring each other up to speed only after the moment is behind us. So one of us identified an unusual tool for us to remove some of the hurdles in asking for support—an emoji.

The idea was inspired by a TikTok video touting the notion that “no one should cry alone.” In the wake of some difficult moments for all of us (not to spoil it, but dating is awesome), we selected the wilted rose emoji. It wasn’t one we utilize frequently, and its droopy, melancholy posture also seemed comically appropriate. It says everything that isn’t easy to say: I’m hurting. Can you hold space for me?

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While we haven’t relied on it much, our emoji has created a soft place to land, a safety net for our fierce and well-earned independence. The first time it was deployed, a friend was sad and anxious when she hit send. Without having to explain or actually say anything at all, that little rose told us that she needed a friend. I couldn’t call her that moment, although I could let her know that support was coming the second I could offer it.

What I find so wonderful about our emoji is that it’s fundamentally anchored in mutual respect—respect for each other’s needs, emotional bandwidth, and time, while still being enveloped in sincere love and compassion. It’s rooted in a shared understanding that we all need help sometimes, and while we can’t always drop everything to be there for each other, we are there. And when we can drop everything, we certainly will.

Most importantly, it’s a simple tool with the power to both pave the way for vulnerability and counter the false narrative that we’re a burden when we’re in need of help.

Wilted rose emoji with a petal having fallen to the ground.
(Photo: Unknown)

I was once told that, “All you need in life is one 2:00 am girlfriend.” The one who always answers the phone, even at the wee hours of the morning, no questions asked. In my case, when I made the call, she booked my bus ticket, picked me up at midnight, and then transformed herself into a human life raft—all while taking care of her nine-month old. Some superheroes wear comfy clothes, glasses, and reheat their coffee six times in a morning.

Vulnerability and the required courage it takes to say, “Can you help me pick up the pieces?” is a muscle that’s strengthened through practice. It would be naive to say vulnerability will always be rewarded, but I believe that the bravery it takes is because we get to know ourselves a little better each time.

Whether I am turning to a 2:00 am girlfriend or dispatching an emoji instead of defaulting to showing my tears only to the four walls of my apartment, I am learning to practice vulnerability. As someone with people-pleasing inclinations who fears disappointing anyone, I’ve discovered it’s a conscious and sometimes uncomfortable endeavor.

However, I find holding faith that others can receive me as my most raw self to be grounding, and the closeness it cultivates a source of magic. It’s been one of the great lessons of my adult life.

My hope is that we will all strive to be one another’s teachers while we learn that vulnerability and independence are far from mutually exclusive—and that we will celebrate each other when we tap into vulnerability’s brawniness.

I will lean on a wilted rose emoji any day.

This is the first in an occasional series of articles in which we explore off-the-mat musings about what it means to be human. No asana needed.

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