“Adronitis: n. frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone—spending the first few weeks chatting in their psychological entryway, with each subsequent conversation like entering a different anteroom, each a little closer to the center of the house—wishing instead that you could start there and work your way out, exchanging your deepest secrets first, before easing into casualness, until you’ve built up enough mystery over the years to ask them where they’re from, and what they do for a living.”
— from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
I am afraid of you.
It doesn’t matter who you are. I am afraid of you. Whether you’re friend, foe, or frenemy, whether you’re someone I love or someone I loathe, I am afraid of you.
I am perhaps most afraid of those I love. I am afraid of being hurt. We all are, I know. We all shelter ourselves from the potential of being stung by those closest to us. We only hurt the ones we love, after all, so it should make sense that our loved ones should be on guard around us, right?
No. Why do we do this? Why do we beat around bushes, walk on eggshells, and ignore space-consuming elephants in small rooms? I don’t know. No, that’s not true; like all of us, I think, I both know and don’t know. I understand truly and deeply even as I am also completely, totally, debilitatingly dumbfounded.
But the fact remains: I am afraid of you. “You” being the proverbial, any person listening, or even the whole of all humanity. I am afraid of you. But I also love you.
I love you, and I need you, but I am afraid of you. And it’s the kindest edge that cuts sharpest.
It’s the betrayals, the mistakes, the broken connections. It’s the silent judgement that you’re too kind to tell me. It’s the secrets. Oh my God, the secrets make everything fall apart. The truth is the bond between us, but the secrets are how we’re taught to live.
Little white lies. Lies meant to cushion a person from harsh reality. But no little white lie stays little, nor does its color remain immutable. Maintaining that cushion, that buffer of separation between the harsh truth you’re thinking in your mind and what you believe the person before you can handle, it’s exhausting. It’s a task that grows and grows and grows, just like the bitty fib you told to spare someone your true judgement.
The little white lie becomes engorged, a giant ball of convulsing fat, stewing in itself and growing ever more difficult to maintain, let alone hide away. Its coloration becomes grimy, covered in soot and mucus and all kinds of unidentifiable slimes and mildews. Black mold takes hold and now the truth, the hard truth that came backed with love and concern, has become a dark pit of steaming hate and despair.
The falsehoods, be it pretending to like something you can’t stand or pretending that certain thoughts aren’t there on one side or the other, they eat away at the heart of the truth. They eat its very core away, so that when the truth finally comes out, it’s been perverted. No more will it be accepted as the tender worry of a trusted loved one. No, now it has become the sinister, hateful machinations of someone whose mind is unreachable, someone who was never really a friend, just someone pretending to be.
Not true, of course. That isn’t remotely true. The friendship was there, the care was there, the love was there; but the words unsaid spoiled the very heart of the thing. Deep down, it eats away inside. It eats and eats until there’s nothing left that can be repaired.
Or maybe it can be.
With enough love, and enough effort, anything can be repaired. Eventually, a thing may no longer have any of its original parts. But it can still be repaired. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of patience. It takes the patience to go on a journey, where each part is replaced one at a time, until finally it’s all new and fresh and strong.
But yes; I am afraid of you. I am still afraid of you even after thinking all this, even after writing it down as it came to me. I am afraid of you because we all still play the game, no matter how much we all seem to want the games to stop. I am afraid of you because I can’t be sure if you are truly my friend, my loved one, my family, my audience, my fellow kind-hearted passengers on this speck of dirt and water.
I am afraid of you because I worry that you are an imposter. I worry that you tell me fairy tales and keep the truth concealed. I worry that you hide what you really think of me, that your lavished praises are false, that your attempts to spare me from your harsher thoughts may carve a canyon between us, driving us further apart when all I want from anyone is to be closer.
That’s my desire: closeness. It’s my drug. I love so many people, and every new person I meet looks to me like another person whose soul I want to touch. I want to share myself with them, and I want them to share themselves with me. You. That’s you. I want to share with you.
I want to show you what made me me. I want to see what made you you. I want to share our mutual joys, the things we can’t stop talking about. I want to share our pains, our troubles, our pitfalls, and hopefully our eventual triumphs.
It’s love. It’s what I feel for everyone in my life, to some degree. Love. Platonic, romantic, and everything else in between and all over the map, the spectrum. Love.
I can’t let myself give into the fear. I can’t live without love. I love love. I love loving. I love to love, and I love being loved. I want to live openly, with my soul bared to a world filled with love.
But I must also protect my heart, my soul, my core. I must protect it from those who would do it harm, and I must protect it from my own recklessness. I just don’t always know how to do that. I never learned to do it without keeping people at a distance. Without putting a canyon between us and becoming an imposter, myself. Without little white lies and truths whose inner beauty has become a perverse and sinister decay.
So I will continue straddling the line. I will continue the dance, and I will even continue the game, albeit not always by the rules that seem to be most frequently at play. I will live as openly as I can, though the rules advise against it. I will try to share myself, even when it’s frightening. I will try to learn about others, though they may erect walls and dig deep moated chasms around their vulnerable, sensitive cores.
I will find the stories. I will find the stories, and I will celebrate them.
That’s all we are, in a way; we’re stories. We’re the stories of the lives we live and the lives we touch. We’re the stories of our opened hearts being damaged, because we left them exposed and vulnerable. We’re the stories of the people we, ourselves, damage. We’re the stories of what comes after we come away from the burning wreckage.
We’re the stories of our damaged hearts, now timid with fear, becoming bandaged and, one day, healed. Not without scars, but with a great deal more joys and sorrows to spur growth, and strength, and an appreciation for the dual nature of love. Love, which brings with it risk and pain and sorrow, but also such a great happiness that no words can do it justice.
We’re the stories of victory and failure. We’re the stories of scar tissue and brilliant smiles. We’re the stories of love. The stories of fear, of risk, of little white lies and pitted truths.
It’s all part of it: the dance, the game, the stories. The lies are a part of the truth as much as they define it by opposing it. It’s the truth of the story. The story of all of us, of community and interaction. It’s part of us, and it’s natural. But that doesn’t mean we need to take it and make it stronger.
Find what feels natural in the game. More importantly, find what doesn’t. Find where you can break the rules. Centuries of civilization have added so many instructions, addendums, restrictions, and clarifications that the very rules of the game contradict themselves at every turn.
So I’m not really asking to end altogether a facet of society that is as much part of our social fabric as language. I just want fewer rules. I want fewer bylaws and amendments that add thousands upon thousands of reasons to lie, to manipulate, to hold back truths and spread little white lies like the sordid love child of chicken pox and influenza.
Help me find which rules to cut. Help me by being honest with me, always. Understand that I’m still going to be worried that you’re holding back, but help me by continuing your honesty.
Help me find which rules are necessary, and allow me to help you find this as well.
If you see me holding back, call me out on it.
If you see me trying to be there for you, know that I only want to help. I won’t hurt you if I can help it.
If I do hurt you, tell me. Help me find a way to fix it. And forgive my clumsiness, please.
If you hurt me, don’t worry; I forgive you. I will get over it. I’ll get over it faster if you help.
If I seem afraid of you, don’t take it personally. I’m afraid of everyone, from the mass you to the proverbial you to all the specific yous that have crossed my mind while writing these thoughts out in a form where you (all the yous) can read it.
I am afraid of you. But I love you.
I am afraid of all the yous, and I also love all the yous.
Please don’t ever mistake my actions as wanting to create distance between us. Sometimes I pull away. Sometimes I get quiet. Or, sometimes, I get loud…but only externally, and the noise itself then becomes the wall, the chasm.
I do these things because I’m afraid.
But I will face my fear. I want to face my fear.
I can face it. I will face it. I will face it alone if I must.
But, in the end, I would much rather face my fears with you. With all the yous. If you’ll let me. If you’ll all let me.
Because I’d also like to stand firm by your side, or hold your hand, or fight back-to-back as you face your fears. It would be an honor, a privilege I would cherish for years, or a lifetime, or maybe more.
That’s the world I live in, in my mind. That’s the reality I want, the one I choose to see. A world in which we all fight our fears together. A world in which we express the love we have for each other, and confess the fears as well.
A world you have, I hope, at least briefly entered as I’ve described it. A world that, I suspect, already existed inside you, inside your dreams and longings, if not your reality.
It’s a magnificent world, for it is made of love. And though we get hurt, opened to that love, we reap benefits the like of which even Dorothy Gale could never have dreamed. Though in the end, she found her world of love, as well.
Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for sharing this world with me. When all is said and done, when the writing’s wound down and the emotions lay raw before you all, we’ve already brought some of that world into this one. We’ve brought it here by sharing, by connecting, by understanding one another on a new level.
I suppose I’m a bit less afraid of you now.
Maybe even a bit less afraid of all the yous.