You know that friend you have with whom you can talk about anything? You can communicate openly and be yourself. Always. There’s nothing you can’t discuss.
Isn’t that a great feeling?
For me, that friend is someone I’ve known for a number of years. Most of my friendships with guys begin when they have a romantic interest in someone I know — a friend, my cousin, my sister. This was no different. This friend had a thing for my sister, and that’s how we started talking. We were in our early teens and became inseparable. We’d spend hours pedaling our bikes all over town, talking about everything. Then we’d go home and get online and talk some more. He became like a member of my family, and in many ways, still is.
When I got my driver’s license, our antics moved to Walmart, Target, diners, the mall. We’d roll down all the windows and put the sunroof back (even in the winter) and sing along with the radio at the top of our lungs. We were constantly together and constantly doing ridiculous things, but it didn’t matter. We could say anything. We could be ourselves. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as open and carefree with anyone as I have with this friend.
But time goes on. Gone are the days of playing hide-and-go-seek in Walmart and him hanging out at my locker, watching to see if the guy I had a crush on even looked my way. While we don’t speak every day, we speak frequently, and we’ve remained a part of each other’s lives.
I’ve always looked at him like a brother, and so I feel like I’ve seen him grow up. I’m tremendously proud of the person he’s become. I know it hasn’t always been easy for him, but he has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. The past three years have been some of the most difficult ever for me, but he’s always been endlessly supportive, realistically optimistic, and immensely helpful. He never tells me that he’s sick of hearing about it. I wish that I was half the friend he is. When I finally get to Philly, I’m so glad he’ll be there.
At his wedding last weekend, I walked up to dance with him during the dollar dance. He greeted me with an enormous bear hug (my favorite), and as we commenced dancing, he said, “I love you so much. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“I love you, too,” I replied. “And I’m so happy for you.”
I was struck by how easy this exchange was. It’s comforting, though, to know that even after all this time, we can still be completely open. I know he meant what he said and I meant what I said, even if those words aren’t frequently thrown around. I think to myself how great it would be if every relationship were like that even as I know it can’t be so.
People who know me know that I don’t throw the L-Bomb around very often. I don’t say things like, “Love you, mean it!” or finish my texts or Facebook messages with xoxo’s. It’s not my style. The only people I ever say “I love you” to frequently are my parents.
My failure to express myself in such terms undoubtedly makes me seem like a cold-hearted bitch to some people, but it’s mostly because I feel like it’s a very overused expression, and if I say it, I want the recipient to know that I really do mean it.
The more I’ve thought about it lately, the more it’s occurred to me that it’s really hard to be open with people. There are so many times when I want to tell one of my friends that I love them, that I appreciate them and am grateful to have them in my life. But what stops me sometimes is the feeling that those kinds of sentiments aren’t welcome. When you try to force something, it never goes well. Nothing is worse than telling someone how you feel and having them recoil. Family, friends, significant others, anyone. Some people just seemed totally closed off, and it makes others afraid to approach them. Any chance at open communication is pretty much dead there.
And sometimes I just want to tell my friends what’s on my mind, but I don’t always. With some of them, it’s likely about maintaining appearances (“Everything is great! Life is AWESOME!”), which can be really taxing after a while. With others, it’s more that I feel they’re just sick of my shit. I don’t want to push them away. But then when I need a friend (which, admittedly, has been a lot lately), I go into slow leak mode.
And I’m not going to pretend like I’m never guilty of poor communication. I’m the Queen of Closed Avenues. How do you think I came up with the idea for this post? But if it weren’t really important to me, I wouldn’t be writing this out for the third time (version 2 was so much better, but alas, sometimes WordPress feels the need to log you out without telling you, make you log back in to save, and when you’re back in, you discover your whole post is gone at 2 a.m.).
I used to be a lot more open. Maybe it was naivete and not realizing that it’s possible for every fiber of your being to just hurt. Maybe it was because I hadn’t yet realized that you can go for days or weeks feeling like a boa constrictor has wound itself around your chest while someone lights your head on fire. I figured all of that out pretty early, though. Starting in 7th grade (or preschool, as was the case with my Grandma’s suspicions), people always asked me if I was depressed. “Something about your eyes.” Years later that question would get a clinical answer.
So maybe I make a bigger deal of things than other people do. But does that mean I should never talk about it? Does that mean that I have to do just as everyone tells me I should in order to find the miracle equation to happiness? All that does is make me afraid to talk to people. I don’t want to be bossed around. And if there’s one thing I know with absolute certainty, it’s that if 1+1 = 2 for EVERY other person in this world, that will not hold true for me. Everything can add up, but the outcome will always be different and not what seems like the next logical step.
I used to talk to my friends about everything. I didn’t have secrets because I didn’t need to. I knew I could talk to them about anything and I was always there to listen to them, too. It was give and take, and it was wonderful. I miss feeling close to people like that sometimes. It becomes especially hard when you’re away from your closest friends for long periods of time, too. There’s an awkward readjustment period (for me, anyway) that makes it hard to talk.
In any case, we grow up and things change. People become more private, which is understandable, but there’s a difference between being private and being closed off.
Somewhere along the way it became really difficult to say what’s on our minds. There’s always so much risk involved in being honest.
Somewhere along the way it became easier to cut people down than to build them up.
And somewhere along the way, it started to seem like a better idea to just bottle everything up and hope in vain that the cork never blew.
I keep coming back to the same set of questions: why is it so hard to be open with each other? Why do we tend to shut down when someone tries to open up avenues of communication with us? Why do we claim to want honesty, but then complain about it when we get it? What would things be like if we just said what we meant? (I could keep going with this for a while, but I’ll stop here. This is what it’s like in my brain. All the time.)
What if open communication and honesty were simple, enough, simply enough?