There’s something flattering about being described as “tough”, “poised” and “confident”. Unfortunately, none of these terms are quite accurate when they refer to me, though they’ve been used by friends, employers, family members and, yes, boyfriends. I guess it’s easy to come across as a tough, poised, confident woman when you’ve perpetually got your guard up. But I’m trying to open up despite it not being easy. In fact, it’s pretty damn hard.
I was a crybaby as a kid.
I cried over just about everything as a child. Dropped a popsicle? Tears. Someone looked at me the wrong way? Oh, you better believe there were waterworks. However, I realized as time went on that this was not a sustainable lifestyle (in addition to adults not taking me seriously, it made me a target for bullies), and things got easier the more I learned to keep my eyes dry.
Ignoring problems felt safer.
When I was very little, I definitely wasn’t afraid to talk about things that bothered me. Honestly, it wasn’t until I was in early middle school that this really began to change. This was when 9/11 happened, and it hit the area I grew up in pretty hard. It was quickly followed by the Anthrax attacks. The truth was that everyone around me at the time was pretty silent about all the bad stuff going on, and nobody really wanted to talk about it. As an adult, I now realize that they were just in shock and were still trying to process their own feelings, but as an 11-year old, I came to the conclusion that if you ignore something bad, it makes it easier to deal with.
I thought guys didn’t want to know the real me.
When I told my first real boyfriend that my favorite show was ‘South Park’, he immediately responded that I could never watch it around him because he hated it. When I dared to tell my next boyfriend that, no, I preferred not to cut a date short so we could go get drunk in his friend’s parents’ garage, he sighed loudly and said I should want to do all the same things that he did. And then there was the first guy I ever said “I love you” to. Not only did he not feel as strongly as I did, but he cheated on me repeatedly. As I later realized, each negative blow I got in my dating life made me bury more of my personality and emotions.
My current boyfriend is the reason I’m trying to change.
I believe that no person should ever change his or herself for their significant other, but in this case, it’s more a matter of me trying to regain something that’s been lost. Although my current partner has made it clear that he loves me and has tried for some time to get me to share my feelings, it wasn’t until he blatantly referred to me as a “robot” that I decided I needed to seriously work on opening up. This is also the first time in a long time I’ve felt safe enough to do so.
Am I emotionally stunted?
I get anxiety just thinking about sharing my feelings with most people, but I look at other adults my age and where they are in life, and I feel a bit behind. Learning to share my emotions at age 28 is something most people don’t have to do. Instead, most people learn how to healthily and effectively share what they’re feeling way earlier in life, so by my age, I should have a way better grip on it.
Sharing my feelings still feels weird.
Sharing emotions should be a natural human process, right? Well, not for me. I now tell my boyfriend that I love him all the time, but I still sometimes have to force it out because I feel weirdly vulnerable when I do. I even waited for months after he told me that he loved me before I returned the sentiment… even though the truth is that I felt it within our first few weeks of dating. It’s almost like my brain has to file extra paperwork before signing off on the release of any honest emotion.
What if my coworkers won’t like the real me?
Sure, I closed up my emotions in the first place due to non-work relationships, but when you become that guarded it starts to transcend over all parts of your life. Whereas I was really being standoffish and even cold at times to protect myself, my coworkers came to see me as this ultra professional, totally collected boss girl. I’m concerned that if I start actually opening up with them, I’ll lose respect. I suppose I’ll have to get over this.
Hell, what if my friends won’t like the real me?
A good friend of mine recently told me, “I like you because you’re always so calm and collected. You’re cool.” But the truth is that I’m anything but calm on the inside. I’m always anxious about this or that, and if I’m being real, I’m usually a bit angry about something too. I don’t know if I’m really ready to start sharing these kinds of things with my friends, but I only hope that when I do, they’ll still be there for me.
I still have a long way to go.
Needless to say, I realize that it’s going take a lot of time and effort to break down this hard outer shell I’ve created for myself. However, I’m optimistic. I don’t plan on going back to being the full-on crybaby I was as a young child, but I do hope that opening myself up to others will help me become a more satisfied, well-rounded person. This is one robot who’s definitely due for an upgrade.