I learned in Philosophy of The Family class that every person we encounter in our lives carries off with them a small part of us, just as we carry in ours a small part of them. We become, in effect, like horcruxes for the people we encounter, only instead of just one soul, we hold many. This is, apparently, how we “grow” as people — by collecting these shards of being and experience from interacting with other people, and making them parts of us.
(To those who didn’t get what a “horcrux” is, it’s a Harry Potter reference.)
For the most part, this isn’t much of a problem. So many people walk in and out of our lives: it’s all part of being human. Most of these passing strangers don’t have time to share enough of themselves to impart to us a significant piece of themselves. But then there are a few — in the face of the horde we will come into contact with in the course of our time on earth, they are “few” — who share with us things: Secrets, Wishes, Dreams, Hopes, Time. They make a gift of themselves, pouring their lives into ours to the point that they do live on, and live in, us. We bear the “burden” of their lives.
If this is true, then maybe it is their mini-life in us that motivates us to care about certain people more than others, to be concerned and actually be capable of feeling for someone. We understand them because somewhere, a part of us is them. And so we care, and that care can evolve into many other things: friendship, brotherhood, love. All this as a result of sharing and investing in each other.
But what if one party shares more than the other? Does that mean that it’s possible someone lives in me, but I don’t live in them? That someone has claimed a territory all their own in my being, but that I cannot exercise the same claim?
These are the questions that have haunted me recently. To explain why, however, I have to give you a context. A scenario, if you will:
I have someone I consider a friend. We talk almost daily, to the point that our conversations have become a routine to me. He’s said a lot. On my urging, he’s revealed a few rather personal things — hopes, dreams, frustrations, and the like. All of which, obviously, have entailed we share lots of time, so I have gotten to know him — not deeply, but a good amount.
Often, in our conversations, I’ve felt an urge to reveal just a little about my background, my self, even indirectly. Usually, however, I stifle these urges. I have, however, tried to drop hints, in the direct-indirect way of girls, hoping he will catch on and ask me something back. For example, I visited his blog and talked about his posts with him, even broached the topic of “trading” links, hoping he’d agree to take a peek. He never did, just kept on talking of something else, and I didn’t push the issue. I didn’t think it was too important, at the time. I let the conversation flow towards its natural conclusion.
In hindsight, I realize that I do this out of fear of saying too much, particularly because he is a ‘he’ and I’ve been taught guys can’t handle opening up to as well as girls can. My guard is always up, my moves always calculated. I try to gauge his comfort level, to craft my words so that they do not get too personal and, perhaps, too much to handle. In theory, the plan is to dole myself out in increments, but I rarely get the chance to dole myself out at all.
Once, I had the opportunity. On a really bad day, I posted a one-line vent on my page. He asked what was wrong. In fact, he pestered me to tell him what was wrong. But no matter how much I wanted to tell him, I couldn’t bring myself to. I was afraid if I said something, he’d be overwhelmed and run.
It’s been like this for a while. I think of myself as a very open person, but often I’ve caught myself trying to be this easier-to-swallow version of who I am, avoiding revealing myself beyond words of advice or comfort. On the rare occasions I decide to take the plunge and show a bit of my true colors, I am sheepish and awkward, which makes the sharing just as awkward, often ending in an awkward silence before segueing awkwardly to a new topic.
I find it’s much easier to bare my soul to a blog where I do not see the audience, and therefore do not have another’s reactions to predict or interaction to gauge. The point here is what may or may not be the results of my reticence and role-playing. For one thing, I end up caring, but I don’t think he cares quite so intensely about me because, well, what does he know? Despairing Facebook status updates, Plurks, or Tweets are their only window into my inner world and its preoccupations, and I usually make sure to word them so cryptically that they could safely fall under the banner of being “emo.”
But everyone’s pretended at least once, right? It doesn’t really hurt anyone…
Definitely, I’ve been hurting myself. Actually, according once again to my Philosophy classes, I’ve been “doing myself an injustice” by demeaning my own value — I’m not worth enough as myself, so I have to be someone else to be accepted. I’m not loving myself, the “greatest love of all” according to the Whitney Houston song. And I deprive myself of a connection, a line of support that could have possibly kept me from drowning (but maybe that’s too dramatic).
It gets worse. Not only am I not being fair to myself, but I’m not fair to others too. How? Let’s return to the premise stated in the first paragraph — that we grow by the impartation of those little bits of being others give to us by sharing. With what I do right now, I receive, but the other person gets only a lie. The connection remains merely one-way. The other person doesn’t get to grow.
It’s not just me I’m hurting. And when the façade finally cracks and they see the real underneath…
Perhaps the problem is I’m too clingy, afraid of losing the friends that come my way because right now, friendships seem so hard to make and so easy to lose. I hope the answer is as easy as that, but from experiences the answers to our soul-searching questions are very rarely simple and clear. In fact, they’re so complex that it takes time for us to understand them, much less articulate the conditions. I claim that as an excuse for why this is so incoherent.
Nowadays, this friend and I don’t talk as much. Our conversations aren’t as long as they used to be, and sometimes they’re more labored, like we’re both trying to draw them out longer than they should go. I catch myself trying too hard to be the same self that I first showed — bubbly and interesting, witty and wry — and then I feel slightly disappointed in myself for trying so hard to keep up this façade of myself, this “Sparknotes Condensed” version of me.
But even with these conditions, I do worry about him. When he mentions something’s wrong, I do care — just like I did with some before him with whom I’ve kept this burden uneven. They’ve all become invested parts of my life, but I know that it isn’t mutual. For some reason, I’ve barely shown myself beyond what’s on the surface. I’m no more than a very strange, colorful acquaintance — an exotic bird or butterfly, a shadow of a friend.
I wish I had the courage, or at least a good rationale to stand behind what I do, but I don’t have either. I don’t know what compels me to hide, to mistrust myself, to think that my true face might scare people away. And so I continue keeping a glass wall between me and this friend, like other friends before him, caring through the glass but unable even to figure out a way of safely expressing that care without being too personal, too smothering, too coddling, too clingy, too much of “me.”
What silly fears, but how paralyzing they can be.
Of course, I do have friends I drop the wall with, friends who have more or less seen everything and borne with it — though I have to say, many of them are either really mature, really loony, or both. And I don’t keep up the wall with everyone — when I’m in a confident (or over-confident; or bitchy) mood, I let the walls down and don’t give a damn. But even though I don’t play this mask-wearing game all the time, the fact that even some of the time, especially in the pursuit of cultivating meaningful friendships, I feel pressure to be a little bit of someone else worries me.
I know what the consequences are. I just don’t know how to begin avoiding them.
~ NC Nolasco/NC Thirteen
(No, I haven’t decided on a proper pseudonym yet.)
Well, so much for personal reflection. I don’t think I’m cut out for philosophizing and psychoanalyzing myself at the same time. Take heart — NC is not an emo beatnik. She’ll be back and better as soon as she gets a semi-decent sleep, and stops being so darn insecure! :)) Cheers!