When You’re Taught To Hide Your Feelings, How Do You Open Up In a Relationship?
It’s 4 a.m. and all is quiet in my apartment after a fight. Our fights are few and far between, but every time they occur I will be the first to admit that I’m always ready to throw in the towel and say, “The hell with this.” This isn’t how I really feel, but I have issues with confrontation, especially since even though our fights are few they always revolve around the same thing more or less: me and my emotional unavailability.
Up until tonight, or the wee hours of this morning when I wrote this, I felt attacked every time because with every fight, the issue is about me, and my habit of keeping my feelings to myself until he confronts me about the energy I’m giving off or the things I’m grumbling underneath my breath. Tonight, I have to finally admit, I don’t like sharing feelings, especially bad feelings with the one I am with for fear of rejection, ridicule, being misunderstood and/or all of the above.
My emotional unavailability issues are obviously too deep to get into in one personal essay, but never have I met someone that has taken me to task about it. Never would I have thought that I’d rather the person I’m with ignore what I’m not saying than to make me face it.
In books, movies and magazines about women, the story goes that we are all about talk and nagging. The impression is that we want to constantly talk about feelings with our mate, we want to stay up at all hours of the night and discuss a slight that we felt went ignored. Women would rather stay up and fight (according to the cliche) then go to bed angry, but that’s never been the case for me. I’ve always, in my adult life, felt my feelings were my feelings alone and not to be discussed because most of the time, I feel crazy for feeling them to begin with.
Why? Well, I was a rather emotional child growing up, and I cried at the drop of a hat and every tear I shed was sincere. As you can imagine or can’t, this didn’t go over well with my mom, a widowed Haitian mother with three daughters in a cruel world. My mother didn’t want us to be “weak,” didn’t want us to fall prey or become victims, as she saw herself. Out of love, my mother taunted me for “always crying” and being so emotional, as she would put it. Little by little, I learned to not cry for the world to see. As I got older, not crying developed into not expressing anything true but instead saying one thing and running away to write down what I really felt in a journal, poem, story, whatever. My words were my therapy, and they still are.
One would think that my emotional unavailability would have caused me problems prior to the age of 31, but it hasn’t. If I had to be honest, if you asked me yesterday, I would think that the fact that I come off so well-composed and detached has helped me find success in my personal, professional and up until this boyfriend, my romantic life.
Professionally, working in a field where the male ego runs rampant and dominate, I wear my emotional unavailability as a badge of honor. I’m like one of the fellas. I don’t complain about the stresses of being a woman in the workplace, though they are many. And I may be right or completely wrong on this, but I think my lack of emotions is one of the major factors to my success.
The men I’ve dated in the past liked having a woman that didn’t seem to be affected by the small stuff or the big stuff for that matter. These guys weren’t bad people, but they didn’t question my always cool-with-it attitude and for the most part, I don’t think they recognized that I wasn’t being true to them or myself. I could walk through, up, down and around what I was feeling forever and when I did open up, it was one fight and one fight only. Over time, most of the men I dated became used to it, so used to it that when I did have something to say, they made fun of me for “being so girly,” which immediately shut me up.
However, my current relationship has thrown me for a loop, emotionally. My boyfriend insists that we talk about things. He gets on me for keeping things to myself and on this night, at the height of our argument, he made it very clear that relationships are about feelings, good and bad. He wants me to be a so-called girl. He demanded I share every emotion that I deemed silly and flat out told me that if I can’t do this, he doesn’t think he can continue to be with me. This ultimatum really hit me hard. I thought that how I conducted myself was what men wanted, but I realized that a man who loves you, a man who really cares about you, doesn’t want you to silence yourself to make him comfortable. He really wants to know you, every aspect of you, especially the things that are hurting you. This wasn’t an easy conclusion to come to and looking back on past relationships, I realize that my cool-with-it attitude wasn’t cool at all. I let things happen, I let things build and for that reason I have to take responsibility for the role my silence played in the ending of those relationships.
I spoke of the success of my ability to close myself off, but in retrospect, I don’t think it’s been very successful at all. At the cost of my own comfort I’ve gone out of my way to make others comfortable and with the exception of work, I have nothing to show for it, personally. I’m taking my man to task from this day forward, and I hope that slowly but surely, I will open myself up. Not just because of him, but because not talking about it, masking it, or ignoring it, doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t there. In fact, they’re there, always.