Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Barriers, Masks and Words that Make Me Unapproachable

I think of myself as very open and approachable. I'm always open to new friendships, new experiences and new people and places. It's how I'm living life. At least that's what I think.

However, over the years, multiple people have told me that when they first met me they found me "unapproachable" in one way or another. What's interesting is that this attitude is formed without me speaking a word or interacting with them in any way. I can only conclude my non-verbal cues are strong.

My friend, Leah, told me that when she used to see me in the hallways of the building where we both worked, she thought I was very standoffish. We had exchanged hellos a few times, but that didn't impact her view.

One of my former boyfriends told me that the day he met me he thought the, "chance for rejection was extremely high." I asked for clarification and he said I gave the impression that I had it all together. When I pressed  more he pointed out my little red glasses I had at the time. He said, "Your glasses are like you're saying to the world - hey, you may not know they're cool, but I do, and I don't care what you think. Besides, you'll come around. You'll think they're cool too eventually."

I'm astonished that I can communicate this much with a pair of glasses or the way I walk down a hallway or any number of other things. But, I don't question the veracity of it. The real proof is in what people perceive, not what I think I'm doing or not doing, and those were their perceptions so they're valid.

Another acquaintance told me once, when we were starting to get to know each other - and obviously we didn't really accomplish that because she's not a "friend" but an "acquaintance" - that "not everyone is as healthy as you" when it comes to relationships. We were talking about co-dependency at the time, as I recall. I was literally sitting there with my mouth hanging open because I could not believe anyone would consider me "healthy" with regard to relationships. I've got a string of them behind me - all failed - and the common denominator there is me - so why would anyone think I'm good at this. The proof tells another story.

But, she found it very "off-putting" that I was adamant that I would never live with an alcoholic or accept a "crazymaker" into my life. I didn't say she couldn't do that, just that I would never live with that. I wasn't offering this opinion out of turn - it was asked - but the fact that I was certain about my feelings seemed to be the real issue. Is it more engaging if you're uncertain? If you need to talk about these things to figure out why you feel this way? I'm very clear about why I feel this way, and I'd be happy to share, but it's a long, ugly, pretty boring story. Why would I subject someone to that?

Honest to goodness, I don't go through my days scowling. I think I'm a pretty smiley-faced person most of the time. That has changed over the years, of course. We all change as we mature. I would say I like my personality better now than I did 20 years ago. Leah met me then, but the ex-bf and acquaintance were far more recent than that, so the problem hasn't gone away.

At the same time, other people are puzzled when I mention this. They can't imagine why anyone would think I'm not open and friendly. Jade found me very open when we met a few months ago. At least I think so. I'll try to confirm that with her when we have lunch tomorrow. I'm assuming that other people I've met recently found me open, as well. At least they seem to. Maybe I better ask.

The "unapproachable" thing has come up often enough throughout my life that I think it's worthy of some exploration on my part. I'm just stymied by what that should be. Generally when I need to figure something out I put pen to paper and write. Tonight I decided maybe I'd try the fingers to keyboard approach instead.

This past weekend, when Trish was looking at my collage I did in April, she said the words were distracting to her. That the words on it are all things I would say but that the real meaning was beneath that and the words were just a barrier to seeing everything else. I asked Trish yesterday, and Teresa tonight, what it is about me that it seems I'm holding back.

I write about my life here almost every day. And, yes, much of it is very surface stuff. But, some of it is much more personal and has deeper meaning. I've written about everything from the death of my mother, to losing a man I loved, to my thoughts on politics and attitudes about almost everything imaginable.

Yes, I still keep pen/paper journals and I don't write here about the things in those. But, by and large, those are things I can't imagine anyone wants to hear about. They're things I've only ever discussed with two of the men I've been seriously involved with, and even then there are things I keep private. Doesn't everyone? I thought everyone had a private life - a life where they keep their insecurities, fears and traumas. Is this not the case? Seriously, this is a real question - not rhetorical. I certainly don't know all of those things about everyone in my life so either they don't have that private life or they are keeping it quiet. I have it, but I've never thought anyone would be particularly interested in it - nor is it something I want to give a lot of energy to by discussing. Is that what is missing?

I do not write here about my love life, nor do I discuss it much in real life. There is no one I'm serious about at the moment, so that's probably why. If I were madly in love it would show through in the writing, but when that part of my life is casual instead of serious, there just isn't much to say. The occasional funny comment from someone, but that's about it. Besides, I've learned that very few people are interested in your intimate life. It makes most people feel envy or pity, and neither of those is flattering to any of us, so why go there?

Additionally, I want to interact with the people in my life on their own merits, not those of the other people in their lives - so I try to extend that courtesy to others. I'd love to meet your husband, wife, significant other, son, grandchild, etc. - and form a relationship with them. But, I need to connect with people on a more meaningful level than the fact that they have married or reproduced or that their progeny have done the same. I'd rather form a relationship with each of those people on their own strengths. Does this make me unapproachable? I don't know.

I would not share all of my private thoughts with someone I just met, but that doesn't seem to be appropriate for anyone. I have a fragile core that I do protect until I know I can trust someone, but I thought that was normal. Doesn't everyone have a fragile core? A place where you keep all your deep insecurities tucked away? Surely you don't share those when you're first meeting people. At least I don't meet people like that. Well, truthfully, I have met a few people who tell you way too much about themselves when you first meet, and I've always been afraid I might be one of those people.

I'm really struggling with this at the moment. I guess I'm puzzled what to do about it, if anything. I'm having some difficulty pinpointing the problem, which makes it impossible to address, of course. How do I communicate that I am open and willing to engage? How do I find the false front I give to the world when I don't even know what it is myself?

I'm trying to be logical and look for examples in my life and consider if those are unique to me or if they are common experiences. Obviously, this is something I want to address - I just don't know how. I want to be open with people. I want to be engaging. I want to be open to possibility.
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Amy said...

Patsy, I think you're approachable.

Everyone has their own biases. I understand your frustration about what you percieve as YOUR problem, but what you have to remember is that all interactions are two-sided.

Maybe the guy who made the comments about your glasses is a jock type who always associated glasses with the "smart" girls that he was never quite good enough for.

Maybe the woman who though you were stand-off-ish in the hall is a blonde and has always been looked down upon by brunettes.

You're approachable and wonderful. And yes, you probably do have a healthier outlook on relationships if you refuse to live with alcoholics or crazymakers.

You are someone who is very independent and self-aware. There are a lot of people out there who aren't like that. There are people who crave attention at any cost, even if that attention comes from someone like an alcoholc or a crazymaker.

As human beings, I believe we are morally obligated to be kind to everyone we meet. That does not mean that we have to treat everyone as our best friend. We have the obligation to ourselves to be able to identify people who have personalities that will harm us and then distance ourselves from them.

Really, I'm sure you're at least average if not ahead of the curve in your human interactions.

Of course, you must remember that I'm a cold-hearted ... witch who has yet to come to terms with an appropriate emotional response to people who show an emotional attachment to me. So, I might be a skewed source of insight.

Patsy Terrell said...

Oh, Amy... you made me laugh with that last paragraph... but I'm just going to go with you're dispensing sage wisdom since I like what you have to say. lol Leah and Nathan are both wonderful people who have great insights, which is why I took their comments very seriously. It's just one of those things I'm puzzling over. I appreciate your kind words. I might make some changes, but living with an alcoholic is NOT on the list of potential compromises. I like your approach of kindness, but distant kindness at times. That's logical.

Anonymous said...


IMHO, Nathan has answered what your asking.

I'll add to it briefly by saying that you've always been very proud of your journalistic training. It is very much a part of how you present yourself to the world.

Patsy Terrell said...

I trusted Nathan's insight, I'm just not sure what to do with the information, if anything. You're right that thinking like a journalist influences my world view tremendously.

Anonymous said...


I have this clear vision of you from so very long ago laughing about how you couldn't understand how a person wouldn't get the jokes about Imelda Marcos' shoes.

I remember this inconsequential moment in time because I realized later I should have listened to my gut at that precise moment.

I should have politely excused myself and gone back to the world I have always lived in instead of just thinking, maybe Patsy doesn't really mean to say that another human being is to be laughed about because they don't read the world news in the newspaper.

As the years have passed and I came into more contact with people who value knowledge as a divining rod, I understood that you have your own culture.

As a culture, academia hopes to move the world forward through new discoveries. To build from previous discoveries and knowledge to ever increasing solutions. Over time, that hope evolved into an elevation of specific knowledge as the best hope for mankind. It gives them both function and purpose. A sense of community. A sense of self. A definition.

I think you've found your home in that world Patsy. You love what you see as progress and you want to be a vital part of that.

Patsy Terrell said...

When these things that supposedly happened more than two decades ago when we worked in the same place are referenced I'm completely lost. From the picture you paint of me in these various twenty-plus year old memories, I'm just thankful I still have devoted friends from that era of my life.

Anonymous said...

Patsy, I've known you for more than 20 years (hint: I'm semi-related to the Lope). No one can build a network of friends with scope and richness of yours without being approachable.

I believe the bit about the glasses is way off. I don't get how someone could consider you unapproachable based on that. Maybe it was his own insecurity.

Confidence and conviction can be off-putting to those that don't have them. It's their problem, not yours. Find something else to worry about.

Patsy Terrell said...

You're so kind. I am incredibly thankful for the friends in my world - whether I've met them through traditional means or because they're semi-related to the lope.

I realize I am off-putting to people at times, but I can never pinpoint the exact problem. Maybe it varies depending on the other person and their perspective.

I like to have a number of different kinds of people in my world, but I do have to be myself - glasses and all. Of course, Nathan did interact with me and we were together for a long time, but I guess it required him to go beyond his comfort zone.

Maybe that's what's required of everyone in any relationship to a degree - getting beyond our comfort zones if we're going to engage on a truly meaningful level.

I'll try to take your advice and not worry about it, but as you know, I'm big on self-examination. Thanks.