Though I have learned to be less so over the years, I am, for the most part, an open book and a gal who wears her heart on her sleeve. I will make friends with a wall if we’re standing in line together, and I’ll give pretty much anyone a hug even if it comes as a surprise to him/her. In psychological parlance, I’m sure I’d be classified as an extroverted giver. I love to laugh, I can be loud, I curse a lot, I listen and help as much as I can. I like loads of different personalities. My only real beefs are BS, which I hate, and affected behavior and those who only take- that all just makes me tired.
Despite all that extroversion, I’m also quite sensitive, I internalize a lot, tend to blame myself first or at least initially wonder if the fault lies with me in times of conflict with loved ones, colleagues or peers. In most situations, I feel I’ve got to be quite careful with how I say things, how I act. Back to the psych parlance: I know I’d be considered very Type A, perfectionistic, hard on myself. God, I’m such a first child.
That this was OK with T is one of the reasons I fell for him. He has always loved the whole me despite the faults and things I’ve surely had to work on. He’s never judged, never made me feel that part of my personality wasn’t OK, just helped me see that certain aspects need work and refining. Our relationship has encouraged me to be my best self, but that has come from love and support only. What a gift.
What we didn’t really know was how to communicate during times of discord. We could laugh and love till the cows came home, but arguing was another matter. I’m a pleaser, he hates confrontation, and so we’d both retreat and things would fester. This is not an uncommon problem in relationships, and we sought guidance and figured out how to express ourselves and listen without (much) defensiveness or anger. Again, what a gift.
As we learned from each other, I simultaneously became more aware of how cautious I was with most others, how cautious most women are with most others in fact. That realization saddened me because it seems to suggest that there’s a wall, subconscious or very conscious, in many relationships -partners, friends, etc- that keeps some degree of real knowing and closeness at bay. If people are afraid to broach points of disagreement, disappointment or upset, doesn’t that preclude the kind of communication and resultant understanding that takes relationships to levels deeper than the surface? If we try to be perky and positive all the time, aren’t we imposing enormous burdens on ourselves while concurrently keeping others at a distance? And those of us who are parents, teachers or who work with younger individuals, what do we teach by not talking through things even when they’re tough, painful, scary?
I’ve written about this before in ways more specific to the cult of silence that makes motherhood so lonely and hard for so many women. If you don’t have anyone to confide in about all the myriad ways in which parenthood is not fun, then you’re left doubting yourself and your experiences, you’re left feeling isolated. It’s not a stretch to map this paradigm of non-communication to other relationships, like marriages, friendships, and those between parents and children.
Life is really experienced in the shades of gray that fall between the black and white bookends of time. In that regard, we should not fear respectful talk about difficult subjects and disagreements when they arise but embrace it, invite it in as an opportunity to grow closer, to enlarge our own perspectives, to learn something new, to become clearer about positions we’ve already taken, about the people we know ourselves and others to be. That is what allows true connection, and that is a gift.
-originally published on 15 January 2012