If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time at all you’ve probably noticed I don’t get very personal very often. I’ve taken an “editorial” approach here, using observances to make a point or to make a joke – what I like to call the “Dave Barry Approach.” While I think you can piece together an accurate picture of me from what I post, it is by no means a complete one. If you were to meet me, I don’t think you’d be surprised. I pretty much am in real life what I am here, all quirks and smart aleck comments.
But there’s plenty you don’t know about me, plenty I keep to myself.
That’s a function of two different forces, I think. First, I grew up in Wisconsin. There’s something about Wisconsin – and, really, the whole Midwest – that doesn’t encourage sharing. If you’ve ever heard Garrison Keillor talk about his fictional town of Lake Wobegon you know what I mean. There’s an encouragement to “soldier on” and be nice to each other without letting on about whatever turmoil rages beneath the surface. It’s fine to have strong feelings, just keep them to yourself.
The second force is good old-fashioned fear. I am all about honesty, but honesty is a double-edged sword. In the one direction, it cuts through all the nonsense and gives a solid base for any relationship. In the other direction, though, it lays a person bare, open to ridicule, attack, and disgust.
I want people to like me, as a general rule – even people I’ll never see again, like waiters or people at the register. I want them to look at me, assess me as nice, and continue thinking that after I’ve said something.
But as much as I want people to like me, I also want to be safe. Safety, in fact, can outweigh a hundred other things. While I might not worry that someone else is going to stab me (though I sometimes actually do worry this), I certainly worry that they won’t accept me for who I am. Think back to high school and that crush you had. Why didn’t you tell them? You were afraid they wouldn’t feel the same way about you and when they didn’t, it was going to hurt. Carry that to its logical conclusion, though: the only way to really feel safe is to not reach out at all. If you never reach out, you’ll never get hurt. I think the editorial voice I’ve adopted here is a safety zone of sorts. You might not like my cats, you might not like trips I take, you might not like a bunch of things, but if I haven’t revealed my inner self completely, there’s still a chance you could like me.
See, what I want is for you to think I’m worth the effort, worth getting past all the quirks and the failures. I want you to think I’m worthwhile, but I have no way to prove I am. (And, in fact, I have a whole pile of evidence that I’m not. I feel like anyone I think is really great and I’m interested in being friends with deserves to have better friends than me.) I think there should be some sort of “Friend Résumé” we could hand out: “Excuse me, hi. I think you’re really neat and I want to be friends with you. Here’s a list of my faults and failures, but this other list is of friends I’ve had who found the experience to be worth the effort. You’ll see I’ve included a few phone numbers – those are people who are willing to be references, so feel free to call them. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear back from you soon.”
Nobody wants to invest time in a bad friendship. How frustrating to keep working and working at something that ultimately comes to nothing. So often, though, it’s our faults that make the relationship stronger. What’s the best way to show love, by liking someone’s qualities that are likable? Nope, it’s by liking them in spite of their failings. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says love “does not seek its own.” 1 Peter 4:8 says “love covers a multitude of sins.” Think about the best friend you’ve ever had. Were things always perfect? Of course not. How’d you get past those times and remain friends? “Love covers a multitude of sins,” is how. One of the best friends I have right now I’ve known for over twenty years. Our Junior year in high school we were sitting at a lunch table and he was making fun of me for something and I threw an orange at him, hit him right below the eye. We got past that and a hundred other rough patches and here we are, still friends – in fact, I’d say we were better friends for it.
In the beginning stages of friendship, though, it’s difficult to know what to do. A series of faults right at the outset can strangle off what might have been a fantastic friendship given time, but isn’t it important to be honest from the get-go? How honest is too honest?
I think that as I get older, I’m coming to the conclusion that I want people to like me for who I am, not who I can present myself as. I still feel the same way I did in high school, not wanting to be hurt, but I think it’s more important that the other person not be hurt. “I think you’re really great and I want to be friends with you, but I want to let you know up front what you’re dealing with so you have the chance to back out now before you get stuck with it all down the road.”
I want to be worthwhile, but I guess that’s really up to you. All I can do is be who I am. And, just like Dave Barry’s writing, you’ll either like that or you won’t.