by Randall S. Frederick
Given the success of the articles in this series, I’ve been able to listen to more people talk about their relationships and share that part of their lives. As a disinterested third party, I go over the reasons why we experience heartbreak, but more than anything I think the best part for me is the opportunity to listen. It’s really such an honor to be someone who absorbs these stories. To hear someone, maybe for the first time, talk about fears and loves and past and feelings. How all of these boil together and make them human. Some weeks, I am able to hone in on something, to notice patterns that people separated by age, distance, and circumstance are each and all going through. Call it collective unconscious, call it coincidence, but conversations will begin to tilt in a certain direction and one by one, I’m able to explore a theme that week.
This week, the theme was authenticity. Five separate, unique, individual conversations where the theme was, “If this person knew who I was – the real me – they would run away.” What I noticed in the lives of the people I talked to this week (as much as my own life) is that those kinds of thoughts not only have closed off the potential of honest relationships (the past), they set a precedent for failure (the future). It becomes a pattern, a cliché even, that you feel you fall into “every time.”
“I’m not the cool girl. I’m the girl who wonders why a guy doesn’t call. I just feel like I have to create this false identity of ‘The Cool Girl’ to get people to like me, but that’s not who I am. It’s not.”
“I feel like every time a guy gets to know me, it scares him away.”
“Oh, no doubt. There’s no question. I hide who I am for the first year entirely. At this point, it doesn’t even matter how much I’ve fallen for you. I’ve learned that no one really wants to know who I am.”
“I’ve exhausted two therapists. Clearly, if I tell people what has happened to me and who I am on the inside, it will either scare them or give them burnout of the soul.”
“I feel like the reason I look at porn so much is because I can never share who I am and what I want with my partner. If I told her what I really thought about during sex, they would flip the [expletive] out, no question.”
Have you said something like this? I have. Being honest with our partner is a scary, difficult thing to do. It feels like once you put our whole self out there, now people can are no longer rejecting you for a personality quirk or for saying odd things, they’re rejecting everything about you. Everything. If you put all of your chips on the table, you could lose ev.ery.thing. Well guess what, you’re not the only one who feels that way.
Whether this is just coincidence or my eyes and ears becoming more attuned to seeing the themes all around us, in the latest issue of Vogue magazine, supermodel and actress Cara Delevingne says she feels the same thing when the cameras stop flashing and she goes home.
“If I ever found a guy I could fall in love with, I’d want to marry him and have his children. And that scares me to death because I think I’m a whole bunch of crazy, and I always worry that a guy will walk away once he really, truly knows me.”
For her, the lack of honesty is about a fear that if she “opens up”, she will consume her partner (or be consumed by them). For her, it’s better to be a little wild than to focus her attention on one person. She feels that if she becomes too involved with someone, the loss could be tremendous and devastating. I can certainly relate to that.
In my case, I find it difficult to open up my life because there are so many sad stories, so many traumatic events, that sharing who I am gives me a great deal of anxiety. I tend to “spread my life out” through writing. The number of people who know the whole story and how it all connects? They could be counted on one hand. I don’t say that as a backhanded brag. I say it because sometimes, the impression that your life is “too much” or that you’re “broken”? That’s a true impression.
But even though that is true, you’ll notice I still put myself out there. While it is important to be honest, even authentic, you don’t have to show who you really are to everyone. This took me a long time of dating – and not doing well at it – to figure out. You feel like you’re lying because you are. But that does not necessarily mean you owe someone the truth, especially the whole truth. At the root, the question here shouldn’t be “Will this person accept me if I tell them everything,” it’s more about whether you accept yourself and can collect all those pieces, then present them altogether.
Is it okay to tell a story?
About five years ago, I was dating a woman and thought the world of her. She was beautiful, she was funny, she was interesting, and I really felt like she thought the same of me. I gave her a key to my apartment and told her that was a big step for me. “I want you around, but more than that, I want you to know that for me this means you can come into my space anytime you want. I want us to be honest with each other.” And, at the time, I thought that was true. But, as it goes, she came into my apartment one afternoon while I was masturbating and I didn’t hear her come in.
Now, unlike most women, this wasn’t the problem. In fact, she wanted in on the action. She wanted to know what I was watching. But I refused. The whole memory seems strange now, but instead of saying, “Wow! Yeah! Come on!” I got angry. I felt like this was an invasion of privacy – who did she think she was, just walking in on me and wanting to participate? No, I wasn’t going to tell her what I was watching. That was too much. Too much! She needed to leave!
But it gets even stranger.
The entire time we dated, she would say that “Real love is being able to walk into the bathroom while the other person is using it.” For her, real love was about absolutely no boundaries. “People who really love each other know everything. Everything, Randall.” And a few days after the scene with the porn, she walked in while I was using the bathroom.
That was it. That was the dealbreaker for me.
And those are things that happened.
In hindsight, she knew who I was and wanted to know more. She wasn’t afraid. But I was so convinced that nobody could love “the real me, completely” that – even while talking a good game about how much I trusted her, how much I loved her, and how I didn’t want there to be secrets between us – I still pushed her away. I was convinced no one could love the real me.
We broke up a few days later and began the long process of turning over everything that went wrong there. I dated other women. I “got close” to other women, but I learned more from that broken relationship than I did with the ones that followed. Two years after all of that happened, I told a woman I was seeing about the things I preferred, sexually. She was absolutely great with that (so, turns out I didn’t need to hide that part of myself). The woman I saw after her? Same story. Fully on board with it, was excited about it, absolutely great. And I began to realize hiding that part of myself was a terrible idea. Rewinding the clock, why did I have to hide and lie? Why did I say “I want to be honest and open with you” and hold all of these secrets? And where did I get this idea that once someone got to know me – the real me – they would run away?
Think of the people who really know you – your parents, your friends, the barista on Colorado Blvd. – those people like you. The real you. They love you. The real you. Sure, there are things that annoy them or even frighten them. But they see you as a real person and accept you, love you, want to be around you. It’s not just “one or two people – the Great Loves of a Lifetime.” We have this idea that we can only ever be ourselves with The One. That’s not true, it turns out. The people that like you for you, the real you? That’s lots of people.
My friend Syd annoys me to no end because she is a Know-It-All. But I know enough about Syd to know why she is that way, so I don’t care. I trust her wisdom and I trust that when she says something, she’s got my interests in mind. In the end, she’s right 98% of the time anyway.
My friend Sara comes with lots of drama. But I know why she has drama, and so it begins to “make sense” and I love her for that. Likewise, Sara has heard me say some really nasty things. She has seen me freak out. Even cry a few times. But Sara accept that about me – parts of myself I don’t like admitting to myself, much less show someone else.
The same is true for you. The people in your life, when they know who you really are, they don’t run away. They stick it out because they know who you are. You’ve shared and they’ve shared, and in time, you grow closer. That’s what every strong relationship is like. You have to make a decision that, knowing this person’s faults, you’re going to stick it out with them because they’re not “a Know-it-All” or “Drama” – they are a real person with a real life and real life is messy, complicated, and confusing sometimes.
I like what T.D. Jakes said about relationships. He was talking about the friendship (possibly even sexual relationship) between the biblical characters David and Jonathan one time (see 1 Samuel 18:1-4) and said that being intimate with someone means you take off your armor (the things that protect you), you hand them your sword (the things that can hurt you) and you say, “If anyone can hurt me now, it’s you.”
The people who run away (or in my case, push away) are the cowards. And yes, there will be people who will “flip the [expletive] out” and ditch you. But speaking as someone who used to be like that? We regret it. What we saw sticks with us and we realize, with time, what a mistake we made because you were great. We were afraid of intimacy and infected you with that same fear. We’re sorry. As an adult, we are so terribly sorry for doing that to you.
Likewise, speaking as someone who was closed off and had all kinds of walls up, you’re not as “scary” as you think you are. Like my friend Sara, I have had a lot of “drama” in my life. When I tell people about my life, they are always shocked. When I start to chain stories together, jaws drop and people laugh nervously because, “There’s no way all of that happened.” And they don’t know the half of it! But what I’ve learned is that people actually like you more when you share your life with them. When you are honest. When you normalize their lives. When they realize – oh, you too?! I thought I was the only one. And as someone who was “on lockdown” for several relationships, again, we regret it. We regret that our past made you feel like you and I never had a future. We did trust you. It wasn’t your fault.
This doesn’t mean you have to tell them everything right now. Some things shouldn’t be said right away, seen right away. I’m still protective of the especially sensitive parts of my life (for example, I might say “I had a rough childhood” but the details are vague until I know I can trust you with that part of my life). But at some point, we have to let them in or we run the risk – like I did – of them hitting a tripwire and blowing us both up.
Here are some common areas that we hide:
Abuse – an especially sensitive area to share with someone. we certainly don’t want someone stepping in and vocalizing an opinion when we, ourselves, have not yet figured it all out.
Family – every family is crazy. every family has secrets. some are pretty embarrassing.
Gender Roles – when we don’t fit the expectations of our gender (a guy who likes to wear scarves or the girl who like to play football), we’re afraid we might not be “normal.”
Insecurities – one of the big ones since telling people where you feel sensitive and weak is like giving them ammo to hurt you later.
Quirks and private behavior – will you accept me when i haven’t shaved in four days and fart? what about when i need to go back inside three times to make sure i turned the iron off, just to be sure?
Sexual appetites – sexual interests, kinks, and desires are especially taboo. everybody judges everybody else and no one wants to be rejected at such a personal level.
Sexual history – once you shame me, i don’t want to share.
What about you? What would you add to this list?
I would love to sit here and tell you to stop trusting your instincts, or “it gets better” or some other nice platitude, but you know you. You know who you are. You know the patterns of your life. And sometimes you’ve lived more years and more lives than your birth certificate reflects. There might be good reasons for feeling exhausted by having to “put on a show” or “hiding who you really are.”
You’re not being secretive, you’re not hiding, you’re being careful because you’ve learned that when you put your whole self out there, it really hurts when that whole self is rejected. But I want to challenge you to put some of yourself out there, more than you have, because chances are the people in your life will still love you and accept you. And there’s a strong chance they’ll love and accept you even more now that they see you’re a complex, complicated person just like they are.