Regardless of relationship style, one of the scariest things about letting people through our elaborately constructed barriers and façades is letting them see the ‘real’ us.
We put on a show, especially in the beginning of relationships, presenting our most together and balanced selves, and doing our best to hide the pieces we consider negative and undesirable.Yet we don’t begin truly to know a person until we get to see their broken and their flawed. Usually we don’t like/love them despite those things but because of them.They are the pieces that make someone real.
I recently saw someone I love in one of his darkest moments. He’d burned through his empathy at the climax of a crisis and was left raw and bitter and angry. He expressed fear that me seeing him stripped down emotionally like that meant I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him anymore and he believed that the person I was seeing then was the ‘real’ him.
Instead, what I saw in the raw, angry guy was a wounded animal in a corner, in pain, and trying to protect itself the only way it knew how, snarling and snapping. And sure, that is the real him. As is the smart, funny guy; and the tender, loving guy; and the bombastic, opinionated guy; and the sensitive, anxious guy; and the pull my clothes off and fuck me cross-eyed when I’m barely in the door guy. They’re all pieces that make up the real person I know much better and feel even more connection to having been with him in that moment.
It’s a good lesson for me because I spend so much time and energy trying to hide what I view as my less-desirable traits from people. I was taught very young that tears are weakness and so I hate for people to see me cry. Unfortunately, tears are my reaction to any strong emotion–sad, happy, overwhelmed, furious–so I’m much more likely to attempt to shut down the emotion rather than expressing myself in any of those states. I always try to do my crying in private and have fled many a room in my day to be alone to break down.
Since becoming non-monogamous, I have a tendency to always try to be Super-Compersion Poly Barbie™ so when I feel hurt by situations or requests from partners, it is extremely difficult for me to express my ‘failure’ and ask for something different that might make me come off as jealous or petty. I’m slowly getting better at this, with much coaching from my partners, friends, and therapist, but my default is always to slap a smile on and pretend that all is well. I’ve learned to answer, “I’m not okay, but I will be,” as an interim step if I’m not able to express things fully.
Having been bullied in a specific way by my ‘friends’ as a kid, I was taught repeatedly that if I didn’t give a person everything they want, they will leave. I’ve carried that anxious attachment style to my adult relationships and bear the weight of belief that any misstep on my part will leave me deservedly alone. Asking to get my needs met in a way that might upset/inconvenience my partners is a terrifying thing for me and an ongoing hurdle, and I spend entirely too much time in a stomach-churning state of wondering, ‘Is this the day they figure out I’m not that worth the hassle and leave?’
Being open and vulnerable enough to be a fucked-up mess in front of someone is not at all natural to me, but to see a loved one in that state, I felt nothing but empathy for the pain he was in. It didn’t take away from my feelings for him. I just wanted to support him in any way I could as he went through it. To think that I’m the only one who would react that way is actually pretty egocentric as if I’m so fucking special and loving and kind that only I would react with the required empathy. I ain’t no saint.
I’m hoping I can take that lesson and apply it to myself next time I need support. It is okay to let people in past my walls and be vulnerable and open and yes, fucked up and messy. That they want to see me naked not just physically, but emotionally. That my people will show me empathy and support when I need it. That they will love me for my flaws, not despite them. That I don’t have to be Little Ms. Has-Her-Shit-Together all the time. Because she, most definitely, is not the ‘real’ me.