I’m a talker. Give me two minutes of your time, and you’ll know this quickly.
I don’t have a lot of trouble speaking my mind when it comes to a lot of things. In most instances, I’m an open book. I will tell you all about embarrassing bodily functions, regrettable intimate encounters, I will tell you what made me laugh that day, even if it makes me come across as insensitive, crass, or immature. I will tell you exactly what I think of your outfit when you ask me. I will tell you about the sweet memories from my past, and – if I get to trusting you – the not so sweet ones. I will start to openly gush to you about my hopes for the future, and sometimes, I’ll even confide in you about the secrets I’ve kept just for today. If you make me happy, angry, curious, or aroused, prepare to be fully informed about it post haste.
I can speak with urgency when I’m nervous, slowly when I’m thinking, confidently when I believe my thinking is justified, and apprehensively when I’m uncertain. I can speak languages of tongue and body, dialects of manipulation, and can quickly learn any lingo just to blend into a crowd. I can speak up for animals, children, and great global causes. But just as I can use my voice for good, I can also use it for evil. I can speak down to you, I can speak over you, and when I’m feeling particularly bossy, I can speak directly at you, like a sniper loading rounds of self-righteous opinion into something cold, metal, and automatic. This gets me into trouble time and time again, but of all the ways I can speak, the good and the bad, it’s the times that I don’t speak that trouble me most.
I don’t even have enough tiny hairs on my furry Jewish body to count the number of instances I’ve held my tongue, and swallowed my feelings, when someone has said something to hurt me, simply because I’m afraid of what will happen if I speak up for myself.
Confessing that my feelings are hurt makes me vulnerable. A part of me is exposed now, and once the sore spot is out there, revealed and unprotected, the wound becomes susceptible to infection. With a fresh gash in full view, anything can creep in. How do I know that you won’t use this opening to crawl beyond my exterior and poke around on the inside? It can be ugly on the inside, and I can’t curate your experience of me while you’re in there all alone.
Further, to admit I have hurt feelings is to admit that I have feelings at all, and for most of my life, this has always felt too much like an admission of weakness than one of humility. But in truth, shaking something off is only effective when your biggest problem is the mosquito on your forearm.
I have cycled through friend groups multiple times in my near-thirty years, as is normal of a woman who lives, breathes, works and moves, and I have made a few incredible connections that I deeply cherish. I have also connected, and skillfully entwined myself with many people who do nothing but create chaos around me, anxiety within me, and suspend a cloud of self-doubt above me that casts a shadow wherever I go. You might refer to people like this as hazards or obstacles, things to move around, and then move past.
I, however, have long referred to them as friends, because it’s easier to pretend you’re rich in relationships than it is to suggest maybe you’re lonelier than you look. To own that kind of loneliness, the kind that makes itself known even when you’re in a room full of people, talking and talking and talking, is too weighty a task for someone who is weak. For someone who often feels lonely, and therefore doesn’t feel they’re in a position to be pushing others away. For someone who sometimes gets her feelings hurt. For someone like me.
But feelings are like phone bills. They don’t go away if you just ignore them. I’m coming to learn that allowing your feelings to come out from behind the curtain, pulling your pant leg up to expose your Achilles heel, might only at first denote weakness. It takes an intensely strong woman to walk around without her mask on, and to speak up not only for the quiet ones in her midst, but also for the most important person in her life, and that’s actually herself.
Even with thick skin, there exists a thin line between what’s alright to say and do, and what’s not. However, if I won’t tell you when you’ve crossed that line, the hurt won’t heal, and pain is not something I’m prepared to ignore as a woman, or as a person, in anyone’s life from now on.
So I’ll tell you if the shoes don’t match, or that seeing someone fly off their treadmill was the highlight of my day, but I’ll also work on summoning the courage to tell you when I have feelings, and if you’ve hurt them, because if I can’t talk about that, I’m not really talking, I’m only making noise.