Last Friday morning I was in my car, parked on the street around the corner from work, trying to get my emotions under control. I had tears streaking down my cheeks, runny mascara, and a splotchy face. I wasn’t crying because something horrible happened. Those tears weren’t bad at all. However, I’ve been conditioned to feel embarrassed by tears and to put on a happy face all of the time. That’s part of the reason I was crying. They were tears I’ve been holding back for who knows how long. Maybe most of my life, in one way or another.
Every so often I get a comment from someone telling me that I should drop the “mess” part of my blog title. I have extracted myself from the most apparent mess in my life, but there’s still a lot left. Besides the fact that I’m a horrible housekeeper (as Tony can attest), I’m a mess in other ways as well. Crying alone in the car before work is one of those ways. Actually, isolated somewhere behind a closed door is just about the only way I let myself cry.
My upbringing and personality and the circumstances of my life have left me with a very thick outer wall. I’m incredibly sensitive and emotional and sentimental, but I’ve trained myself not to be. I’m the oldest child. A woman in a man’s industry. The daughter of a father with no empathy and grandmothers with no filter, tact, or “warm fuzzies.” I am the product of a household that was full of countless rules, one of which was something like “suck it up.”
My youngest sister was deemed “the sensitive one.” I was the smart one, the tough one, the tomboy, or “the mouth.” I was instructed to hold my tongue, stay in line, and do what I was told without question. I was constantly reminded when I failed at those tasks. Disappointing my parents felt like the end of the world, yet I seemed to do it often. A large part of that was my own perception and pressure from inside to be perfect, a goal that I now know is impossible to reach. In an effort to fix myself and hide my “flaws,” I made myself be the strong one, the positive one, the rational one. I tried to always be in control of my emotions whether it was with my family, at work, or just in general.
Those are difficult patterns to unlearn, and hard roles to break free from. I’m in the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had with a wonderful man. He loves and accepts and understands me. He makes me laugh, he surprises me every day with his intellect and creativity, and he’s very caring. We talk about all sorts of things. Subjects or conversations that would have been awkward or caused jealousy or fear in the past are comfortable and natural. Still, I find myself falling into negative patterns of holding back, putting up a front, or concealing my feelings.
I have managed to share this blog with Tony, although it was a very scary thing to do. The first few moments after I gave him the link I felt cracked open, exposed, and incredibly vulnerable. Those are emotions I don’t handle well. But I wanted to give him this important piece of myself. Writing is very cathartic, and I can express myself so more fully with time to consider (in fact, I’ve been working on this post for more than a week now). Things also come out that I didn’t realize or understand before I put them into words.
After my last post about meeting his parents, Tony texted me that I don’t have to hide what’s going on in my head or be afraid or embarrassed of telling him how I feel. At first I wasn’t even sure what he meant. Internalizing is so routine that I don’t recognize how much I do it. I have a filter inside that automatically blocks off emotions, tells me that I’m wrong or silly to feel the things I feel, and covers those perceived flaws with a mask of confidence and happiness. After a moment of considering his comment, I realized how incredibly true it was.
That mask, which I’m not even aware of wearing because it has become so comfortable and commonplace, slipped. I was driving to the office after visiting a new store location, and I had to pull over. As we continued to text, tears were silently falling from my eyes. He told me that I don’t have to worry about packaging my thoughts. I expressed how that goes against basically everything I was taught as a kid and years of punishments for saying things that I shouldn’t have (by someone else’s standards).
I texted that I’m working on worrying less and opening up more, but when I’m a complete mess it feels safer to pretend I’m more confident than I am in the hopes that I’ll convince myself it’s the truth. It feels weird to be vulnerable and expose my insecurities because I’m still halfway convinced that he’s way too good for me and he’s going to realize that any day. He told me to unconvince myself, and to talk to him when I feel that way. I said that I try to be the person I want to be and that he deserves instead of the ugly dork with no social skills that no one liked, which is what I was growing up and how I still feel a lot of the time.
Then he said something that really made the waterworks flow. He told me that I don’t have to try to be anything with him… To just be. That it’s the whole point. I was nearly sobbing by then. I put a lot of pressure on myself and hold back my emotions most of the time. It was like a valve releasing those pent up feelings, and they rushed out at once, with great force. It was also astounding to be accepted and loved exactly as I am. That is something I’ve rarely experienced, partly because haven’t allowed myself to expose the things that I dislike. To be encouraged to show my perceived flaws and have someone love those things, which I can’t even do for myself, was overwhelming. Knowing I have someone to reassure and build me up, even at my worst, gave me permission to let go and be a sap, even for just a few minutes.
It also scared me because I wondered if I even know how to do that. The next several hours the question kept rolling around in my head, “Do I even know who I am if I’m not trying to be something else?” At first, I panicked a little because I wasn’t sure. I could think of a few words to describe myself: loving, honest, funny, sexual, genuine, intelligent, talented, and definitely insecure. Those seemed generic and flat as a descriptor of who I am because they are just a little portion of who I am. So many other things began coming to mind… I snort when I laugh, forget names, and talk way too much. I’m a people-pleaser with a deviant streak, and a stubborn, emotional mess.
All of that and more makes me who I am. As Tony pointed out, those less than perfect parts are what make me human. And interesting. And he loves me for them. Despite my efforts to put on a mask and polish over the rough spots and pretend to have it all together, he sees me. The real me. Sometimes maybe better than I see myself. It’s my job to let him, and I’m going to keep practicing.