I am not a big touchy-feely type on the outside. Like an ogre, I have layers. The top one is sweet and nice, and it makes people think I really like them. Which is true when I don’t know them. The whole reason humans invented that “politeness” stuff is so we don’t have to really know the ugly truth about each other.
The easiest way to keep a friendship from not working is to leave it as an acquaintance. Those are fun, and I have a sheer ton of them. As long as everyone keeps the mask on and the ugly hidden, human beings can accomplish a lot together.
But then there’s a second layer, the one that kicks in as I get to know people. It’s the layer that answers questions like this:
Or at least, it would, if it got out from underneath the top layer of polite niceness. I have had to deal with a few gallons of batshit in my time, and I admit I get tired very quickly of hauling that particular pail of slop when it’s not mine. I have one of my own, and I’m already busy trying to keep it as close to empty as possible.
Most of my relationships fall on one of those moral grid thingies, with the chaotic evil (as illustrated above), the neutral good, et cetera. The second layer is for mapping these things. It’s where I determine how much I’ll communicate and entrust based on the compass in the person across the table from me. It’s the level where I don’t mind giving advice and support, but I probably won’t be asking for it in return. It’s not that I don’t need it. It’s because so many people think that makes them shareholders in others’ lives and choices, and actually, it doesn’t.
That’s a dangerous minefield. Too often, the other person’s problem is who I am. They’ve invested time into my life and want to see the return they expect, whether it works for me or not. But if I weren’t okay with who I am, I would change it because I choose to, not merely because someone wants me to. This irritates my husband, but it’s how I operate.
There’s a third and not very accessible layer, wherein I decide that I really like a person. I’ll trust them with truly personal conversation, and maybe even keep in touch on a semi-regular basis. Those are the people I’ll hug, tell secrets to, and ask them to spend more time hanging out. They’re the rare people I’ll actually lean on. Because I don’t mind whatever input on my life they feel like. Because they don’t insist on giving it or stakeholding in my decisions.
And beneath that, there’s a fourth layer. It kicks in when the third layer somehow isn’t functioning right anymore. It is the layer of Sad Cringe-y Doom.
It’s the layer that quietly assesses a gradual loss of closeness, looking for what I did to make the environment unappealing. It’s the space that replays subtle breaks in the natural rhythms that arise between people, examining them for friction I’ve created.
It’s where I consider the moral compasses and paradigms on a deeper level. What’s happened along the way when they just don’t quite jive. How I’d have to change who I am in order to be the desired fit, or — height of criminality — how I might have tried to remake the other person into my desired fit.
Oh, how the hidden ugly comes for us all.
It’s the space where I have to decide how to defend myself from someone I’ve let in deeply, because I’m no longer shielded from their views. I’ve given up the distance and the attendant comfort zone in favour of a deeper comfort for us both.
It’s the space where I try to figure out how to deal with loss.
And sometimes I have to face the most painful realization of all: That it’s not me.
Which means I can’t fix it.
Because we’ve all got a bucket, but the only bucket I can haul is my own.