Cross-posted to Feministing Community
Even as times change and private details become public domain (whether we want them to or not), we still assume that entrusting our most hidden secrets with someone else implies a sort of emotional intimacy only present within a romantic relationship. This proves problematic, however, when not revealing crucial bits of information makes it very easy to be misunderstood or to have one’s motives called into question.
Some criticize those who over-share, often with good reason, but I find the details that are loudly volunteered for all who might hear them aren’t necessarily shameful secrets, but rather a litany of poor decisions and often destructive behaviors that are shockingly hedonistic. While riding public transportation, I might overhear the sordid details of a random stranger’s alcohol-drenched one-night-stand, but I’m certainly not likely to hear about their struggles with body image or an eating disorder. Some topics are off-limits, even in a culture that is at times inclined towards narcissistic boasting.
The sort of honesty, by contrast, that I ascribe to is very different. As I’ve talked about before, I keep primarily female company. My friends are almost entirely female and I’m far more comfortable around women than I ever have been around men. Though therapy has been helping me work through my trust issues with men, the progress I have made is measured in inches, not miles. The going is slow, and frequently painful. It is my hope that someday I will be able to have friends who are male who I won’t feel compelled to keep at arm’s length from me, but in the meantime I have to work with where I am right now.
Recently I ran into an issue with a female friend whose religious beliefs are far more conservative than my own. In her own worship service, for example, men and women still sit separately from one another. Even outside of worship, men mostly keep male company and women mostly keep female company. She shared a story with me recently about how she once invited a man she had known for years and years, one significantly older than herself and very married, to her new apartment to show him around. He refused to enter the front door for fear that someone might assume that the two of them were up there purely to have sex or to engage in "evil", as he put it, and used a scriptural citation as justification.
Even while we were talking in person, I noticed very subtle but very deliberate ways in which she implied that all she wanted from me was friendship. I noticed these, of course, and tried not to seem as though I didn’t understand what she was very delicately stating. As she explained it to me, men who seek close bonds with women, particularly close emotional bonds usually desire a relationship. To her, I suppose, she thought I was trying to court her, and she was not interested in that at all. I had no interests beyond the platonic myself, but by the very fact that I opened up and shared large parts of myself with her very quickly into our friendship, she assumed my designs were romantic rather than friendly.
We eventually came to a mutual understanding, whereby she explained her reasons for setting sharp boundaries. After some initial discomfort, we are now the best of friends and stay in contact frequently. Yet, I also had to explain once more about the abuse and its impact upon me. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to come clean with something capable of making another person really uncomfortable for the sake of clearing up a misunderstanding. Though most people these days are okay with having opposite-sex friends, I wonder if there will ever come a time where our openness gives people the freedom to talk openly about that which makes them vulnerable and that which they are easily ashamed. If we did this, we’d certainly cut down on the problems caused by just not getting each other and we might even find that we have more in common than we’d ever dreamed. This is my hope for the future.