I realized today that I have two men in my life who are somewhere in the gray area of romantic possibility and/or friend, and I won’t allow either of them to read this blog. I have other male friends who know about my writing and are very supportive of it, but I won’t let those two anywhere near this.
When I asked myself why, the answer was immediate and clear: because I do not want to have to edit myself here. I don’t want to feel constrained by their feelings or needs. This writing is something I do for myself, because I love to write, and because I feel like I have something small to add to this great global conversation. I do not want to imagine their reactions as they read it, or anticipate the subsequent conversations with them if they are offended or hurt or confused.
I had a taste of that experience recently when one of my blog posts hurt a dear friend of mine. She told me so and we spent quite a bit of time and energy working through her feelings about my post and my intentions and motives in publishing it. And I can feel, since then, that my writing flows less easily and I am more considered in my topics and my words. I feel like I need her permission to write about anything that she might interpret as being about her or related to her. This is ridiculous, of course, because she never asked for that, nor would she want it. It is entirely about me.
During my marriage, I felt constrained in many ways, but one of the most insidious to my well-being was my ex-husband’s sense that our relationship was part of his private life, and therefore not a subject for discussion by me with my friends. For me to discuss my feelings, concerns, or fears vis a vis him with my friends was akin to a betrayal in his eyes. Very early in our relationship, I discovered this about him, and out of respect for him and our relationship, I revealed nothing personal about my relationship or feelings related to it to my friends from then on.
Given that we moved across the country shortly thereafter and that women create bonds by sharing our feelings and secrets and dreams and fears, this lack of authenticity, of depth, of communicativeness meant that most of my friendships of that period were barely more than superficial. It wasn’t my friends’ fault — they tried — but I became adept at turning the conversation back to them or to something more mundane. It was obvious to me that most of my female acquaintances eventually decided that I was nice but closed off. It was lonely, this emotional cage I lived in. Multiple studies have shown that women (and men, too, for that matter) need those emotional connections for all kinds of good reasons.
Even my husband observed the change in me from the vivacious, outgoing woman he’d first met, surrounded by friends, to this homebody who had few friends and seemed somehow diminished. Toward the end of our marriage, he lifted the ban on my communications, but it was too late. I had forgotten how to be real. It was a skill, like any other, that requires practice.
These days, I apply considerable consciousness to living an authentic life. I’m not talking about approaching every stranger as an opportunity for a confessional. I’m talking about not pretending anything you don’t truly feel, ever. It’s not easy. My diplomacy skills are becoming more fine-tuned. Making people unhappy with your choices or opinions doesn’t feel good. Sometimes it feels selfish, and sometimes it feels unfair. But overall it feels a hell of a lot better than moving through life as someone you’re not.
When I started this blog, I promised the friend who inspired it that my only rule would be that I would be real in my writing. By doing so, I’m feeding two needs — the need to write and create, and the need to constantly practice authenticity. I have taken several steps to create the space necessary to allow myself to be honest and real, including the use of a pseudonym (Beth McDermott was once my name but is no longer) and the anonymity of most of the people to whom I refer to here. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I also don’t want to sacrifice the ability to write candidly and clearly and honestly. As soon as I allow this writing to be edited by someone else’s fears or insecurities, I will be taking a huge step backward. One which I cannot afford to take. But really, can any of us afford to sacrifice our authenticity to make someone else happy? To become or pretend to be someone we aren’t? Don’t we all die, just a little bit, every day, when we do?