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.
Check www.patsyterrell.com for the blog, art, and more. Friend me on Facebook.com, Follow me at Twitter.com.