One of my best friends is having a hard time. I’ve been talking to him on the phone about this problem recently (a year ago I decided to bring phone calls back as my primary mode of communication – best decision ever), processing and laughing and complaining together. At the end of our last rather long conversation about his current situation, he apologized to me. “Sorry to talk about this again,” he lamented. “Next time we’ll talk about something else, I promise.”
That’s cool. But I mean, I hope not.
There is a social imperative that dictates that we not be an annoyance to other people by revealing too much of ourselves. It is agreed upon that by adulthood, we “should” have our stuff together, and we are “supposed to” have figured out how to do life the right way. I’m not sure where this idea orginated, as I literally am acquainted with zero adult humans that are pulling this off successfully. To assume that we are just to stop learning and forge ahead after adolescence, totally formed and informed, with no need of further support or guidance, seems to me like a problematic notion at best and a downright lie at worst. Either way, for whatever reason, we place this expectation upon ourselves, and in turn feel guilt and shame when we reveal our underbelly to our tribe, sheepishly admitting, “I haven’t actually figured it all out yet.”
There is also a scary edge to making conversation about something that is truly substantial. There’s a fear that our listener will get sick of us and head for the hills. Or quietly decide that we’re nuts, and patronize us. Or wish that they were doing anything else with their time than listening to us drone on into their ears. There’s a fear that we’ll monopolize the conversational space, and that our friend won’t get to say whatever important thing they had to share, and stop calling us when they need us because now we’re that friend that talks all the time and doesn’t let them say anything. Etcetera.
Talking with my friend about his real life is my privilege. It’s a privilege earned over twenty years of friendship, the kind of thing that you can’t just do with someone you’ve only met an hour ago (or a year ago, or maybe even three years ago). On that phone call, I know I’m getting to hear about his life at it’s stickiest, and that he’s feeling enough discomfort in the sticky right now that he needs to share some it with me to lighten the load. I’m familiar with my own versions of sticky, and by virtue of devesting him of his, I feel comforted to know that I in turn can invite him down into the sticky with me when I don’t want to be there alone.
As a friend and as an individual, I lie in wait for those moments of realness. I am acutely aware that I have not figured it all out, and revel in the sharing of this secret with the people in my life. I look forward to those vulnerable conversations when we get to take off all our layers and let it all hang out, glancing at each other, “OK if we do this now?”, biting tentatively into all the delicious stuff that we’re really made of. I’ll wade through the small talk, tolerate the weather and the sports and the obligatory questions that no one cares about the answers to anyway, for the moment we get to the meat of the matter, when we say, “So this is how it felt to be me today.”
We want to know about one another’s days. We want our people to ask us how we are doing, and to mean it, and to tell us how they are doing, and to make something real out of that exchange of words. We want to hear the joyful things, and the hard things, and the vulnerable things, and the sticky situations and the great triumphs of one another’s lives. This is how we are seen, and how we see others. This is how we connect.
Is there any privilege greater than this?