Although my parents would characterize my seemingly regular childhood temper tantrums as a pretty aggressive display of emotion, outside of demanding extra dessert and slapping my brothers for ripping the heads off my barbies, I’ve never been great at expressing my feelings.
Maybe it was because I grew up with three younger brothers. As the oldest of four, and the only girl, I never really had a model for how to act. My mother and I, although very close, are very different when it comes to personality.
Needless to say, if you’re going to survive eighteen years in the midst of a male dominated household, you have to learn how to protect yourself in emotional combat. Aside from the regular physical battles, the way brothers really get to you is by finding your mental weaknesses, and attacking when you least expect it.
Growing up with brothers teaches you not to dwell on little things, to stand up for yourself, and how to be competitive. But it also, unintentionally, leads you towards the masculine side of the emotional spectrum; so instead of saying how you feel in the moment, you retreat and don’t talk about it.
When you hang out with boys all the time, you learn that they would rather give you a beer than sit and listen to your problems.
Because nothing makes guys more uncomfortable than when a girl just unloads all her personal crap on them. Especially if it’s during a football game or when you’re out at a bar. When you have a “girl day,” you learn to drink a beer and deal with it later.
This works well until you realize you are in college and have not sustained one real or lasting relationship during your lifetime. If someone wanted to date me, I was either unaware or uninterested, because if it meant talking about feelings and being vulnerable, I didn’t want any part of it.
Everyone puts up walls for different reasons. Personally, the initial thought of letting someone in that you barely know is daunting. The act of sharing secrets, opening doors to your past, and exposing yourself, metaphorically, to another person for the sake of a connection is terrifying.
At the same time, while a little mystery is a good thing, there needs to be a dichotomy between the two people in a relationship to make it work. Eventually you will have to let your guard down.
Recently, there have been an overwhelming amount of circumstances that formidably illustrate my inability to give up control over certain aspects of my life. Whether it be attending a friend’s wedding, my parent’s thirtieth anniversary, or my most recent breakup, I have come to the brutal realization that I need to step outside my comfort zone in order to foster a meaningful connection with someone.
I’ve had my fair share of crazy experiences: skydiving, bungee jumping, one time I even ate cat food. But the tangible part of being afraid is much more desirable than emotionally freefalling into unknown territory. I mean at least after skydiving I got a sticker telling me I did a good job not dying.
Thinking about the craziest thing I’ve ever done, I immediately remember how terrified I was to actually commit to it. Picking up and moving to a new city, alone, without a job or any financial support other than my own was the single most daunting event in my life. But looking back on the past year and a half, knowing where I am now, the reward was totally worth the struggle.
At the end of the day, no one can make you take that leap other than yourself. Outside influences, supportive or not, have no weight compared to what your gut tells you to do. Knowing that personal reflection and a willingness to change are attributes I admire in someone, it only makes sense that I try and develop them.
My twenty-fifth birthday is only a few weeks away. I’m not entirely positive if it is the looming “quarter-century” age label weighing on my conscious, or just the stark reality that I’m resisting a change I know I need to make, but either way, it’s scary as all hell knowing that being vulnerable is something that is not only expected, but appreciated in lasting relationships.
I guess I’ll just have to be twenty-five and terrified.
I just hope someone gives me a sticker on my thirtieth birthday. I need to know I did a good job not dying.