It would happen like this; I’d walk in the door to MCF’s office and he’d say, “Hi, how are you?” My response would perhaps catch him off-guard, maybe peak his interest:
“Hi…I’ve brought you something. You’ve taught me a lesson of extreme value for which I wish to thank you. However, I find myself unable to describe this particular discovery in vague or general terms. Nor do I trust myself to be able to meaningfully explain, so I wrote it out. Although my intention in doing so was to give this to you, I am quite concerned that the necessary level of detail would constitute ‘oversharing’ at the very least. So, I leave the decision up to you. Perhaps you would prefer to receive my sincere thanks without learning anything more about me. Or you may accept my letter, but choose not to read it. If you do read it, I’m confident you will understand why I feel so strongly the need to thank you, but you may also find the contents alter your opinion of me. Shall I give you the letter, or simply thank you and we can let the subject go?”
If one were to open said letter, it would read:
Not so very long ago, I used to believe that if someone cared enough, they would force me to talk to them. I concluded the reason no one did force me to talk was because they didn’t care enough – I wasn’t worth it. Pretty ironic considering that the one person who did force me to talk harmed me so seriously. Even years later, after accepting that I was a victim and not responsible for his trespasses upon me, it still never occurred to me that he also provided evidence that people who care for you do not force you to talk or be vulnerable. All these years spent trying to put my past behind me, and still I believed what I needed most was someone who cared enough to force me to talk to them.
I’m not sure how I came to believe this; I was born so extremely extroverted. The epitome of no filter, unlike other kids; I didn’t think like them, didn’t have the same interests or beliefs as my ‘peers’. I was always different, with my Mom trying so hard to teach me to think before I speak. I used to literally gasp for breath because I couldn’t talk as fast as I was thinking and I refused, couldn’t even comprehend the idea of slowing down; once I absolutely couldn’t go on, I would finally pause, gasping for as deep a breath as possible, then return to my 1000 mile per hour rhetoric.
It would probably be laughable, looking back at my naive desperation to communicate and share everything inside of me with anyone and everyone. I was as tactless as I was insatiably curious, never intent on causing harm but forceful in personality and expression. Perhaps I’ve retained hints of these origins as professional tools, but this is hardly an apt description of the person I’ve become. The world took precious little time in teaching me how honesty and authenticity could be used to harm me; how unforgivable it is to be different, how harshly the world will judge one for even honest mistakes when they don’t fit the mold.
I became an introvert because it was the only way I could survive; even so, it hurts. It hurts to be fearful of showing who I really am, doing so even with those closest to me. It hurts to actively filter every single thing I consider saying to anyone through my analytical mind multiple times before I dare speak a word – after all, there are consequences for sharing thoughts, opinions, ideas and questions with the external world. For as long as I can remember, it has only ever felt safe to be authentic within the confines of my own mind. Even as I’ve hid myself away, I’ve continued to be judged most harshly – by myself. After all, if there wasn’t something wrong with me there’d be no need for such exhausting measures, right? I know other people don’t live this way – in hiding, in fear.
I have lived in fear for so long and tried so many times to shed its constant companionship. In many ways I’ve made progress, yet my true personality remained completely obscured. After working hard to adequately conceal myself for so long, it’s no longer a conscious action – just how I live, who I have become. I remember meeting you in my interview, unable then to imagine trusting anyone as I do you. I remember the day I started here, when you told me you expect great things from me. Years later, my first instinct is to say you passed all my tests, although that isn’t quite right.
That first year and a half I was equal parts fascinated and utterly confused by you. Your mind works so differently from mine; you are refreshingly intelligent yet kind, so calm and stable. You are always willing to listen, offer sound advice but also seem to value enjoying life. I hope you don’t take offense, but testing people is what I do. As if all interaction must be studied carefully, detailed notes taken and compared under repeated and varied circumstance; not trusting any outcome or conclusion unless it can be replicated. This is how I’ve spent my life approaching building relationships. Most people fail to live up to my high expectations and in return I give them nothing of myself. For a rare few, I am eventually able to map them out and can predict interactions and responses with great accuracy. Only then would I find someone trustworthy and begin to open up.
As I said, you didn’t really pass my tests. You took my tests and seemed to rewrite the rules, when I hadn’t even told you the rules in the first place. You’d ask me questions and I’d prevaricate or simply go silent. You would sometimes push for more, other times simply accept whatever I did (or didn’t) say at face value. Either way, you didn’t withdraw in response. I couldn’t ever seem to understand your patterns, which made you both fascinating and potentially dangerous. How do I deal with someone who doesn’t act like anyone I’ve ever met before? You never seemed to want anything from me, yet you have been a constant resource, never turning me away no matter what brought me to you. You are reliable, kind and understanding, always there and never pushing me away regardless of how I behave toward you or what secrets I bare; trustworthy in every way.
It was nearly a year and a half to the day, after two months of misery, when I finally broke down and sought you out for advice about my budding career. It still took me two tries to share my difficulty, and you solved it with one word: passion. After that day, a word appeared quite suddenly in my head which I immediately ascribed to you – mentor. I’d never had a mentor, never wanted one as such a relationship requires trust. Yet somehow that’s exactly what you’d been doing all along, gently mentoring me as I twisted myself up trying to understand what interest you had in me and what you wanted from me. That conversation about passion, combined with my finally having a reference point from which to understand our relationship, was the turning point for me. All at once I found myself deeply trusting you. I know you care about my wellbeing, you’ve demonstrated as much at every opportunity, and that you would defend my need for privacy even when that need may be unwarranted (after all, it’s not like I’ve ever told you enough about myself for you to have half a chance at divining why I require so much secrecy, what I am so careful to hide).
By my count this letter is only the second time (in now more than three years of association) I’ve extended you an offer to learn more about me. However, just as I stated during a previous conversation, I believe you will agree this is not really work-related. I was a bit shocked by your quick response, “Well, then, we’ll not go there.” You ask so many questions of me, always have. Yet, when I finally offer a glimpse of what’s hidden inside you brush it off as if we only ever speak of things directly related to work. That hasn’t been the case in years, if ever. I suppose I shouldn’t blame you for taking my statement as a warning, for that is exactly what I intended. However, I was also completely honest in saying that, were you privy to the relevant information, I would welcome your advice as to what is and is not warranted in my actions and beliefs.
You have shown me infinite patience, kindness and compassion. Ever since we first met you have supported, even championed, me. You have always believed in me, even in the face of my own fears and doubts. You never stopped asking me questions, showing genuine interest in how I’m doing and truly listening to whatever I may have to say, and yet never pushing me past any limits I set. You have celebrated the highs with me and been a source of strength and wisdom during the lows. I have relied upon you so many times as a source of calm strength and stability, and you have not once disappointed. The only conclusion I can draw is that you sincerely accept me, a gift so influential I’m constantly drawn back to your door. I truly do wish I could see myself as you do, but that just doesn’t seem possible when you remain in the dark about so much of who I am outside of my career.
Even so, your steadfast yet gentle encouragement eventually opened my eyes to an element no longer existing in my life, buried so deeply that I’d forgotten such a feeling was even possible – that of wanting to talk to someone, wanting to open up. At first I assumed this to be nothing more than a random discrepancy on my radar, easily written off. But this alarming desire continued to occur each time I saw you, and only grew stronger with time. After mentally assigning you the role of ‘mentor’ it was as if a wall came immediately crashing down and remains do whenever I’m near you. Suddenly I was slipping and giving responses that hadn’t yet registered in my brain but were already spoken aloud. I was terrified of what I’d revealed on several occasions. Either you have an even better poker face than I ever imagined, or without the context I guard so carefully, these momentary slips didn’t seem particularly out of the norm. I almost hope its the first, as hiding so much of myself so actively from someone I trust as must as I do you makes me feel indecent and unworthy of being in your presence.
Fighting this urge to speak openly, constantly growing in strength, has literally reminded me of who I am, locked away deep inside this fortress of mine. I’m an extrovert; I’m miserable and scared because I’m living out of fear rather than just being me and accepting the natural consequences of not fitting in to our cultural norms. I hope you can forgive me if this sounds a bit dramatic, but my struggles are real and so intense I’ve chosen to bury myself as the best chance of survival. Now I have survived; there are without a doubt things which are wrong with me, but isn’t that true of us all? So, my struggle now is not for survival, but for health and happiness. The question is, can I be healthy and happy bound and locked away all alone as I am now?
Although I’ll never again be that open, free creature of naiveté which once I was, letting go of the belief that if someone truly cared about me they would force me to talk has transformed so many of my relationships. You were the first person in my life whom I truly came to believe cares about me in spite of my ingrained expectation that you would force me to talk if this was in fact true. You somehow showed me I could rely on you, trust you, come to you in times of need, and you’d be there for me without my having to disclose anything. You’ve never made me feel as though I have to justify anything to you. How do you do that? It’s a rare gift. You support me, perhaps share advice, but above all you always seem to accept me. You don’t even expect so little as complete honesty from me in return. I’m not sure what I expected that day I admitted I show at most maybe eight percent of who I am at work, but regardless, you didn’t appear at all surprised.
You make me feel as though I am always enough. I may not share things freely or spontaneously very often, but now I want to, at least with you. My desire to share who I am, my thoughts and beliefs, hopes and fears with you is consuming. I thought it was difficult in the beginning when I was confused and thus mistrusting of you – that was far simpler to handle than the intense desire to open up I now grapple with. I think you know I’ve spent much of our association looking for the ‘do not cross’ lines between us. A few times I really thought I crossed it, but you have assured me more than once that in fact I had not. Perhaps the times you didn’t assure me are an indication that I have indeed gone to far on rare occasions? Or perhaps I’m nowhere near the line, wherever it may be. I honestly don’t know, but am once again ruled by perhaps my closest companion, fear of abandonment. You see, I cherish the trusting relationship we’ve developed. I prize it so much I can’t help but allow my decision making to be strongly influenced by this fear of inadvertently destroying that for which I am so immensely grateful.
So, here I am. Thanking you – thank you! I understand there are infinite reasons for you to remain separate from the craziness of my life outside of work and sincerely don’t blame you for pulling back. However, should you change your mind, there is so much I’d like to share with you, get your input on…if you didn’t run in terror before I could explain enough to seek your opinion! Even if where we are now is as close as we ever get, you are still the only person who was able to show me the path out of my inner prison, chained by the belief that what I truly needed was someone who would force me to talk to them. Now, I am willing to share parts of myself because I understand I am truly cared for – this need not be proven through force. You convinced me that I am worth caring for, and this paradigm shift has rippled positive change throughout so many of my relationships.
So, one last time please let me say,