Stop. Do Not Enter. (Or, “How I Used to Be In Relationships”)

Stop. Do Not Enter. (Or, “How I Used to Be In Relationships”)

When I was in my early 20s, my boyfriend at the time to me told me something that was very hard to hear:

“You don’t have any true friends.” 

I was dumfounded. I had a number of people I considered to be dear friends and I could not believe that he would dare to suggest otherwise. 

“Of course I do!”, I argued, pointing out the people in my life who I knew would be there for me in times of need. These were the people I called “My 4:00 a.m. people.” I knew that I could call them at any hour of the day or night and they would be happy to talk with me or come and help me if I needed help.

“Oh, I won’t argue that you have people in your life… People who enjoy your company and find you interesting… but people who find you fascinating are not your friends. Friends are the people who can call you out on your faults. They are the ones who can tell you how they feel about how you treat them, or how your choices are what keep messing up your life. You don’t have any friends. All of the people you call ‘friends’ know that you don’t want to hear any of that. You might as well have a sign on your forehead saying “Do not be honest with me about my shortcomings.”

His words stung. I knew he was right. I hated, it, but he was absolutely correct.

I had no idea how I had broadcasted that message to the people in my life, but I knew that somehow, I had. 

I began to look for ways that I communicated  “Do not be honest with me about my shortcomings,” to the people in my life. 

It was hard work. 

For a long time, years actually, I was stymied.   

I eventually figured out that in order to be open to input from others, I had to be really honest with myself. The truth was, I was afraid of feeling the scary feelings that I had buried deep inside of me. I was afraid if others offered up criticism to me, constructive or otherwise, that I was not strong enough to take it. Inside, I felt like I might just crumble and all of the sadness I had been holding onto might come pouring out and never stop. So the only option that I could see was to wall off my heart in a mighty fortress.

After years of looking, I finally discovered that I had a set of tools to keep conversations under my control. 

I used my intelligence and intensity not just as a means to draw people in, but also to keep people at arms length. I had discovered that people were thrown off balance if I brought a lot of energy and intensity to the table. At first they were intrigued, but after a while, they found it to be draining. I could say or do things that I knew they would not address, because they knew I would be able to justify my behavior, present my point of view convincingly, or at the very least, outlast them in the argument.

I had an offbeat sense of humor that was a mix of cynicism, sarcasm and judgment. No one wanted to be on the receiving end of it…Because it really was not funny. 

I was defensive. I kept score and held a grudge like a pro. I blamed everyone else for my dissatisfaction in life and could hardly believe that others did not see situations as I saw them. 

I was impatient. I expected others to be like me and gave them little respect for the choices they made. 

In a few areas of life, I held myself to a very high standard and made sure everyone knew about it. Instead of being inspired by my choices, they were intimidated and often made poorer choices than they would have made before I spoke up on the subject. 

The list went on and on…

…but my life is much better now.

It took a lot of effort to tear down my wall. The sadness I had locked away has all been processed now, and I no longer have any need for a fortress around my heart. I have learned to welcome other people’s input. I get excited to hear how someone thinks my life might be improved. I may or may not take action on what they say, but I really am open to hearing it.

It was no wonder that my then-boyfriend and I spent most of our time arguing, and eventually broke up. I was not open to his input at all. I know that we are all born worthy of love, but I did not make it easy for him to love me.  Decades later, I still remember that conversation, but it no longer stings my heart.  I spent those decades determined to learn how to have “true friends,” even if I did not feel safe enough having him as one of them.

The beautiful thing is, in learning how to have a true friend, I have learned how be a true friend, and how to become vulnerable to others and myself. …and that was worth every painful inquiry into my once-upon-a-time troubled heart.