…confrontation is part of opening up and opening up is part of truly connecting to a person. If you’re not checking what it’s like to be in an uncomfortable discussion with them, you aren’t being real with them.
And then, of course, resentment grows and/or the relationship ends without it having had a chance.
I get that. “Confrontation” as disagreement is just a symptom of the fear of being vulnerable. Being too reserved, not sharing your thoughts or fears or dreams because you’re afraid that they’ll all point and laugh or because you’re afraid that you’ll offend someone and they’ll drop you faster than a really fast metaphor (simile) does something fast. Yeah, I get that.
See, I’ve always been what some people might call…
Um, you know what? Never mind. I’m sure there are other people who are much better at, you know, describing themselves, but that’s not me. (Note the “biography” to the left.) I’m just gonna slip out quietly and hope no one notices. I’ll let you know next time I come up with a good one-liner, though.
No? Okay. Fine. Fine.
So I hold back a little bit sometimes.
It’s not just anxiety or whatever. After all, the power of speech is very big in Judaism–or it should be–avoiding gossip or hurting people with words, and so on. As Rabbi Akiva says (Avot 3:13), “A fence around wisdom is silence.”
(It makes more sense in Hebrew, trust me.)
Anyway, words are very powerful, so it’s important to be careful with them. This message has been drilled into my head since I was young, and I agree with it, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I fail spectacularly with this, and I say things that hurt people, and that reinforces my resolve to be even more careful in the future. But on the other hand, holding back too much makes it hard to form lasting close friendships and relationships.
I’ve gotten better at this (or worse, I guess, from the point of view of people who have to listen to me). See, I knew when I was dating my now-husband that I would need to learn to get over this. We clicked, and he was great, but how serious of a relationship can you have when one person (me, it was me, in case that was ambiguous) is closed off? Not cold, exactly, just… reserved.
He could tell that I was holding back. It was definitely an impediment, and I knew that I was going to have to overcome this in order to move forward. We agreed that…well, I don’t know what we agreed exactly, but we were in accord that I needed to open up more.
I knew it in my head, but… but… see, I’m having a hard time even finishing this sentence because… and now I can’t finish that sentence, either.
What if he realized that the way this person who looks like me acts in public may be all good and fine, but the secret thoughts that she has are ugly and selfish and petty? That she’s a liar and a fraud and he doesn’t want any part of that? (Don’t worry, reader, I don’t have ugly/selfish/petty thoughts about you. I would never!)
So, like a total dork, I made a list of twenty or forty or fifty things that he didn’t know about me. Some of them were just topics that had never come up in conversation, but others were things that I’d never before said out loud. (The cigarettes at softball story from that smoking post might have been on the list.)
I typed it up. I saved it onto a USB drive. I brought it to the university computer lab. I printed out a copy, committing these words to paper, making them reality. (Yes, I know, the Conservative movement would consider them real even when they were on the computer. Esoteric Jewish joke alert!)
And then I read the list out loud, and not in numerical order: whatever I could force myself to say more easily came first, and for the harder ones, I took more time to brace myself. It took about a month to get through the entire list. Every time I would start a new item, my mouth would freeze up and my brain would go, It’s too personal, It’s too personal, You can’t say this. And I would force my mouth into the shape of the words and force the sounds to come out of my mouth and eventually, I got through it.
The crazy part, what I really wasn’t expecting, was that it was okay. He would absorb my stories and then respond as if I had just told him that I’d gone to a new restaurant for dinner the day before.
I didn’t understand. The person that I was without these stories was an entirely different creature than the one who had told them, in my mind. I didn’t understand why he didn’t kick me out of his life, or better yet, fire me. (No, never mind, nothing, I didn’t say anything, skip to the next sentence.) It worked out, for which I am eternally grateful, because he’s worth it.
Apparently, the me that I show to my friends and the me that I write about in my journal and then set it on fire and then swallow the ashes are not all that different after all. (See? I told you I would never have ugly/selfish/petty thoughts about you!)
PS: Ironically (okay, it’s not ironic), I forgot to take that USB drive out of the computer, and the next time I went to look for it, it was gone.
So, if by any chance, you found a black USB drive in a Bar Ilan computer laboratory about eight years ago, including a text file with a numbered list of twenty or forty or fifty embarrassing personal anecdotes–this is important and cannot be stressed enough–it is not mine.
Actually, it was a yellow USB drive.
And the list was in Japanese.