“Tell us a secret.”
It seems like the party is wrapping up, so the question catches me off-guard. The few off us that remain are sitting on the kitchen floor, talking about our sex lives, astrology, feminism.
“Tell me something you’re afraid of.”
When I was jumping on trains, playing banjo on the street, reveling in my own filth, it felt very easy to sit down and write honest reflections on my heart, my fears, my hygiene. At the time I knew that people were reading my words, but I didn’t really understand it.
Now that I’m back, opening up about my most honest and intimate moments and secrets is much scarier, because I might actually bump into one of you readers on the street, and you might want to actually have a conversation about the secret that I think I’ve just released into the abyss, but that I’ve actually released to all of my friends, friends of friends, extended family, etc. Inevitably, I’ll end up blushing uncontrollably at the prospect that anyone actually reads my blog, and then tripping over words I’ve never said out loud.
Something about the intimacy of the kitchen brings out words I’ve never said or written.
I’m terrified that there is something deeply and profoundly wrong with me that will keep me from ever building a healthy relationship with another human.
Even speaking the words I can feel the fear in my stomach, know what I’ve said is immediate and real for me.
Today is supposed to be fun. It’s Sweetheart’s birthday and a group of friends have gathered to share food and music and bad jokes. Most of the day I’m having a great time. I’m laughing and playing fiddle and gorging myself on bite-sized snickers bars. But in moments I feel the fear gnawing at me, and I feel jealous of Sweetheart’s social grace, feel isolated, feel hyper-aware of the stupidity of my jokes. What I really want is a hug, but I feel paralyzed, unable to simply ask for what I need.
This is not unfamiliar territory.
I’ve been dealing with (or not dealing with) this kind of social anxiety for years. It has helped destroy relationships with many of my lovers. Because I don’t know how to ask directly for my needs, I use a number of strategies to divert responsibility for not having them met. Either I blame the other person for not knowing what my unspoken needs are, or I passive aggressively use body language to communicate what I’m too afraid to say with my words.
And deep down I think this might prevent me from ever having a healthy relationship with another human.
But somehow saying this out loud in the kitchen helps me realize that I have the power to break out of this bad habit. I’ve been trying for years, but what I really need to do is tell Sweetheart what is happening, why I seem to have shut down, why it seems like I’m pushing him away. Lying in bed back on our boat last night, I finally articulate what it is that is going on in my head. I tell him I’m scared.
For hours we talk about our fears, our triggers, the walls we’ve built up. I like to think I usually have very open communication in my relationships, but this is probably the most honest I’ve ever been with a partner, and at moments it hurts, and at moments I want to hide under the blankets and never resurface. But by the time it’s all over, I feel triumphant, like the walls of Jericho have been torn the fuck down.
With all the fear out of the way, we have what could be the best sex we’ve ever had.