You don’t think I know? You think this is the first time someone hasn’t been able to make eye contact with me as they describe something difficult to talk about. You’re a recovering addict? You’re bipolar? You’re overweight? You’re anorexic? You’re Depressed? You have PTSD? What’s that? You’re medicated to treat borderline personality disorder? Take your time. Tell me now or tell me tomorrow. Or don’t tell me at all. We can speak of these things that are hard to talk about on the time frame that makes you most comfortable. You want me to know about the child you lost? You were raped and still struggle to cope with it? You’re only a few months removed from a physically violent relationship? You’ve had a double mastectomy?
Breathe. Whisper it or scream it. Cry or turn red with rage. When you’re finished there won’t be a cloud of dust where I was once standing? No. I’ll still be right in front of you. Trust me. I get it. I have my shit, too. And when I tell it to someone, I assume it will be our last conversation. I assume that I’ll be halfway through a sentence when I hear her car engine start and her tires squealing as she peels out of my driveway. I’ve been wrong often enough the times I’ve been right shouldn’t matter. But they do. They matter so much more.
This is how evolution has fucked us. Our bodies don’t know the difference between the fear of a lion and the fear of rejection. The terror is equal. Sure, some of us want to walk right up to the lion and try to shake her paw. But those people are the ones who are fucking nuts. The rest of us try to avoid this bullshit like our life depends on it. You’ve been to prison? You have HIV? Your father murdered your mother? You have MS? You think about taking your own life?
I can’t speak for all the men out there. I can only speak for myself. These aren’t the things that end a relationship or keep one from starting. These aren’t the things that make people want to run for the hills. For me, it’s a lack of kindness. It’s an inability to have empathy. These “issues” I’ve listed are all things someone has felt the need to tell me. They usually hold them up like a street sign that says, “Rough Road Ahead” or “Wrong Way.” To be sure, anything you need to tell me will be good to know. Your childhood was filled with sexual violence? You cut yourself? That twitch in your eye is from Tourette’s? Knowing will help me to understand why you’re having a panic attack after watching a violent scene in a movie. I’ll get it when you don’t want to step foot in a bar. I won’t touch the scars where your breasts once were until you ask me to.
Maybe it won’t work out between us. One day you’ll get sick of me eating meat when you’re a vegetarian. You’re a cat person and I am a dog person. I like rap and you like metal. Maybe we won’t be able to grow enough to overcome our flaws together. That’s a real thing that happens. That’s probably the thing that has ended most of my relationships. But they don’t end because the flaws exist. So, tell me when you’re ready. It doesn’t have to be now. It can be later. It can even be much later. I’m a smart guy. I’ll fill in the blanks until the time is right. Know that I am doing the same thing.
Here is one thing I can promise. I’m not going to try and fix you. What’s that? You’re epileptic? You can’t have children? You’re missing your left arm from the elbow down? What could I possibly say? How brilliant would I have to be to offer you someone who lives with their flaws a new perspective? I’ve known about it for thirty seconds. You’ve been living with it for years, maybe decades, maybe your whole life. I’m not going to swoop in and save you. I really think there is only one thing I can do if I genuinely want to help. This might be the only thing any of us can do. First, take the impulse to give advice and shove it so deep down inside that it has no possibility of seeing the light of day. Then, listen. Just fucking listen. Validate. I want you to trust the things you say and feel are valid, that they matter to me. I want you to do the same when I give voice to how I feel. And that’s it. We do this enough times and it becomes a habit. We break one cycle and replace it with a cycle of our own design. And maybe one day we can look back and laugh about how scared you were to tell me (or anyone) about __. We’re too busy feeling our bodies against one another to care. You’ve given me the gift of knowing all of you. Now let me give you the gift of acceptance.