B is for balance.
Where exactly is the line between neediness and engagement? The chasm of awkwardness between “hey, I’m really glad we’re friends” and “I hide outside your window while you sleep”? Why is it that I freeze up every time I think of telling my friends that I love them while I can compliment strangers like it’s nobody’s business? When did caring start equating to fear?
It’s not like I have some history of people leaving me that could explain a fear of intimacy, of relationships. I have a family that loves me, incredibly awesome friends, and very solid amount of wonderful acquaintances, none of whom have stabbed me in the back or abandoned me or anything of the sort. I’m just constantly worried that everything I say will be taken the wrong way.
I once didn’t text a friend of mine “hey I haven’t seen you in a while” because I was afraid that one of her grandparents had died and my text would bring up painful memories leading to her hate me by association. I don’t even know if she talks to her grandparents. I in fact know absolutely nothing about her grandparents. But that fear was still there. I’m always afraid that something will be misconstrued. Take, for example, the sentence, “I miss you.” I miss a lot of people, frequently, and yet I don’t say it nearly as often as I could because there are so many different ways it could be taken. It could be taken as “I love you and want to spend every hour of the day with you and am sad that we don’t and did I mention I love you?” It could be taken as “I find it hard to exist without you and the fact that you’re not in my life incapacitates me.” It could be taken as a lie: “psh, she doesn’t even know me.” Or, even worse, it could be evidence of a one-sided relationship: “it’s so cute that she thinks she knows me *chuckle chuckle* let’s see how long I can string her along.” Even as I type these I see how irrational they are, how incredibly unlikely someone is to think any of these things. And yet somehow I’m always worried that I’ll scare someone away.
Are people really that much of flight risks? Do they really scare that easy? I’d like to think that I read people fairly well. I’ve been told this on multiple occasions (usually in some version of “you seem to know me well”); it’s a facet of my personality type (INTJs are terrible at relating to people, but we pick up facial cues and subtle body language almost as if by magic). And yet all of this goes out the window when I suddenly care about someone. Don’t get me wrong, I can still read them. I still have a fairly good idea of what they’re thinking at any given time and how they’ll react to certain things–better, even, perhaps, because of the amount of time we’ve spent together. But for some reason, even if there is absolutely no evidence for it, I think that they’ll run away the first time I show that I care.
Take, for example, my best friend. We’ve known each other for thirteen years now and have been friends for about ten of those years. And yet I still worry that when I text her something mundane about my day or something I found entertaining that it will be the metaphorical straw on the metaphorical camel and she will suddenly stop tolerating me and we won’t be friends anymore. This is irrational. There are no other words for it. Yet it still occasionally crosses my mind. Less, now that we’ve had conversations about it and she frequently reassures me that she enjoys hearing about my life and spending time with me. But for people that aren’t her, well, it’s hard.
It takes me, on average, three years to become comfortable with a person or a place. (Which, for this whole college thing, really sucks.) But even when I’m comfortable with a person, I will rarely initiate something. I will go along with anything they say and assume less often that they’re simply tolerating me, but I won’t initiate compliments or hanging out or even sometimes conversations, lest they think I’m presuming too much. I want to, but I won’t. Luckily (in a broad sense of the term), there are only about five people outside of my family that it would seriously wound me if they suddenly stopped talking to me forever. I would miss everyone else, but I would get over it, probably fairly quickly. The thing that I’ve never quite been able to articulate about this is that the fact that a person isn’t part of the five doesn’t diminish how much I care for them. It doesn’t make sense, I know.
If I care for a person, I care entirely. I don’t really have the middle setting that some people do of “we’re friends but I don’t care what you do.” I don’t call those people friends. But occasionally my heart or soul or something other than the dominant logical part of my brain will pick people and eagerly cement them in so that removing them would be seriously detrimental to my health. (I picture something that’s sort of a cross between the blobby memory workers in that Inside Out movie and the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil with bricks and a cement scraper and a manic smile.) Sometimes time will chip away the cement, but not usually. Usually it happens and I freeze, incapable of moving forward but even more incapable of letting them go.
B is for belief.
I’m trying to believe in the power of love and affection. I’m trying to believe that when a person actively hangs out with me it’s because they want to and not because I’m their last choice or they’re simply tolerating me because they feel bad. I’m trying to believe that other people give me the same benefit of the doubt that I give them. I’m trying to believe that people love me by looking at their actions and not worrying about verbal affirmation. I’m trying to find the balance between coming off as needy and coming off as engaging. I’m trying to find the balance of how much I should actually worry about this. I’m trying not to lie to myself about anything. But it’s hard. It’s so incredibly hard.