A few years ago, a friend wrote a blog about nakedness, specifically about her young son deciding it was no longer cool to run around naked. I don’t remember any of the details anymore, but it was one of those “growing up too fast” blogs mixed with self-reflection on her own sense of transparency, if I recall.
Sometime after she had written it, she sent me a message:
“Did you read my blog? It’s way more emotional processing than it is well-written, but I was hoping I might hear from someone as to whether or not they could relate, or do I just sound crazy?”
The following is my e-mailed response. I’m posting here for the same reason I’m posting everything else on this site; it is loaded with life lessons, understandings, and things that I think are relevant to growing up. It’s basically an interactive blog.
This was written on November 12, 2007:
Well, I don’t think I’d be quick to call it crazy—there’s too much truth in it to be crazy.
Here’s my take on it: nakedness is scary for anyone over the age of five. When we’re four and under, we don’t care about who sees us, or how. Between five and nine, we’re okay with our parents seeing us (they have, after all, seen us our whole lives, so there’s nothing weird about it), but only our parents (and other close relatives). Then from nine and up it becomes a personal thing for just us and maybe our doctors.
Which means we’re very private people come adolescence, which is fitting considering that becomes the time when we start guarding our secrets, too.
The physical shyness and the emotional shyness go hand in hand. Call it a self-awareness or shame (both are interchangeable) if you want, but it happens simultaneously.
And it happens to all of us.
If you remember the story of the Garden of Eden, it started there. We take on this other life that becomes incredibly scary, and it becomes scary because we’re afraid of people seeing who we really are—either because we have something to hide (as was the case with Adam), or because we’re afraid of what others might think (which was also the case with Adam).
It’s an inherent thing.
How this relates to your explosion of freedom—I think it’s a natural response. I remember a few months ago you wrote a blog about being more open and accepting of people in your group. You talked about how scary it was to hear about a friend’s battle with [her issue] (I think that was the struggle), and how important it was to accept her anyway, of letting her share her vulnerability in an attempt to heal or even to turn away from it, rather than to judge her. It was scary for her, and scary for you as the listener, but that was what it took to do the right thing for both of you. Bringing this to the present, I think the issue is the same: you’re afraid of what transparency will yield, even when you’re walking in a place where it’s okay to be transparent.
I’ll make this personal to show you how relatable this is:
A close friend of mine left her husband a couple of months ago.
You probably remember all the difficulties I had with trusting women after the stuff that’s been happening to me over the last three years (mostly with abandonment over frivolous and absent reasons). This was one of the few people that kept me believing in something good because she stood by her husband, despite her leanings toward unhappiness, because she knew it was the right thing to do. She reminded me that it wasn’t about “good feelings” or any of the nonsense, because to be a good woman was to stand by her man, no matter what. She said so in words, and proved it in action.
Well, that collapsed in September. Turned out there was a lot of makeup over that trusting façade. Her husband was undoubtedly devastated (still is after two months), but as a close onlooker, I was just downright shocked. Everything I came to know about this friend was make-believe. She didn’t stand by her man. She ran to someone who made her “happy.” My feeble trust in women plummeted from that. How could I know if anyone was even remotely genuine or good after that experience?
I hadn’t spoken to her since she left.
You have to understand that this was one of my closest friends, one of the few people I didn’t mind knowing me for who I really am, because I know there’s no judgment there. And I haven’t spoken to her in two months. The fact that she put up a front the last seven years is frightening to me.
Understand that I’m not angry with her. I haven’t refused communication. I just don’t know what to say. I hang out with her husband every week, and every week I have to watch the heartbreak fly when he gets his two minutes to talk to his son (whom she took with her when she went on what was initially thought to be a routine visit to her parents’ house). To start talking to her again as if nothing had happened is just a surreal thought to me, and I’m afraid of what initiating a conversation might do. It’s too easy to be caught in the middle of two warring tribes, and there’s always that fear of being ripped apart in the process.
But I also understand friendship, so a few minutes ago, I bit my lip and initiated an instant message (about the The Office writers’ strike). I’ve torn myself left in right trying to decide if it’s better to stay in the background as I’ve been doing, or attempt to let a friendship continue despite the circumstances surrounding the family (and the distrust that popped back into my heart). So far I haven’t gotten a response, but at least I tried. At least I won’t be at fault, if such a thing applies in this scenario. I gave transparency a chance.
We’re always caught in situations that frighten us. The fact that [your son] was looking for his underpants proves that he’s entering into that realm (as hard as that might be for you to accept). The fact that you’re scared of transparency, despite your explosion of freedom, also proves it. I’ve known you for a little over a year, which is admittedly not long in the grand scheme of time, but in that whole time, the one thing that seemed to be constant was your fear of transparency—of people seeing who you really are and turning away because of it. You’ve been afraid of what people think of you for reasons I never really understood. And when you hold onto that, your own fears of transparency will continue.
So to answer your question (if I haven’t already), you’re not crazy. You’re about as normal as normal gets. Granted, being normal is a little crazy, but you’re not in a place that’s unique of everyone else. The fact is every one of us can relate to your blog; all too well. The “emotional tsunami” is just a dramatic way of bringing reality to light. And that’s fine, because that’s your personal take on the situation. You can compare it to the fiction market. There are thousands of writers publishing the same seven stories. People still buy it because each person has a different way of writing it, even if the idea is the same. And we all can relate to the core of those seven stories, as we can relate to the vulnerability you’re expressing.
As a small counterpoint, I will say that privacy has its place. I don’t agree with the comment made on your blog about wearing your heart on your sleeve. I can tell you from experience that that doesn’t work in your favor. It’s great to be transparent to some, but you need to decide who has that right to see you as you are. Unfortunately, ninety percent of the world is untrustworthy, and the other ten percent is risky at best. For your own growth you need to trust that remaining ten percent anyway, but even then you have to be ready for disappointment, as none of us can have open arms all the time. Walking with transparency will give you a great sense of freedom, and I think that’s important, but make sure you guard yourself from the predators—the people who get off on hurting others. They’ll just ruin your sense of acceptance if you let them.
I don’t know if this helps, or just confirms what you already know, but that’s my take on it. I used to be transparent to anyone who called me a friend, and a lot of those people don’t talk to me anymore, so there’s a clear risk. But the ones who still do, I tend to trust more than I don’t, and I can feel mostly free around them. Complete nakedness is still uncharted territory, and I don’t think I’m in a place where that’s even remotely comfortable, but walking around in just a pair of shorts, showing off those spot-hairy shoulders (:p), is comfortable around some. It’s about choosing your range of safety.
Well, that covers that. I hope that answers the question you posed from the blog. If I missed anything, let me know. A part of me feels like I’m only answering half of your question, so clarify the other half for me if that’s the case.
[The rest is unrelated to the subject.]