We meet for coffee because it is all I’m willing to commit to for a first date. He’s funny and smart, a college professor, like I used to be. We talk about teaching and publishing and what science books we are reading, talk too about our families and jobs we’ve held and other things we like. In the more than two hours we sit nursing our drinks, there isn’t a topic I bring up that he can’t respond to.
“It was fun,” I tell her. “We aren’t going to see each other again, but that’s okay. It was refreshing to be about to talk about intelligent topics with someone who understood them. My whole brain felt engaged.”
“You were being your authentic self instead of dumbing yourself down for the people around you,” she says. “You should try doing that more often.”
“But that’s not what most people want, is it? People only want parts of me. Isn’t that why I have the friend I talk about art with, and the friend I just drink with, and the one I just go see movies with, and so on—a friend to feed each part of my personality because very few people want the whole? I can be the drinking buddy or the movie friend or the one who always says yes to their suggestions, but I can’t be that person AND the needy one, the one who says hey, I’ve had a crappy day, or I’m preoccupied thinking about my dead husband and the nature of mortality or whatever, and can you just come and sit with me on my porch for a half an hour?”
“Why not?” she asks. “Isn’t that a more balanced version of friendship?”
“Because every time I do that, people just tell me no. Isn’t that why some people like my writing so much? It’s cathartic for them, a way for them to safely feel a thing without actually having to be in the thing. And I’m glad they love it and that it moves them. But I also want to be able to be that person outside of the pages too, and there aren’t many people in my life who I can do that with.”
“Then maybe,” she says, “you need new people. And when you meet them, you need to be authentic and vulnerable from the get go.”
I don’t think she’s wrong, but I am beginning to think that while I can be vulnerable on the page, I am unlearning the doing of it in person.
Because once, when I asked for help, someone told me they needed to go visit a bartender instead because they’d missed the bartender’s previous shift.
Because once, when I asked for help, the person said “Of course you’ll be fine” dismissively, and ended the call.
Because once, when I asked for help, the person said “well, what was it you were wearing?”
Because once, when I asked for help, someone never responded, never ever ever responded.
Because, once when I was soft, like some dumb animal exposing its pink underbelly or timid dog giving its throat, somebody bruised it out of me, took the fight right out of me, took too the wind, the breath, broke the heart right out of me.
So it’s no surprise then, that that’s the lesson I learned. To be liked only in parts. To give only part.
When all I wanted was to be loved, whole.