"I'm just afraid that opening up to a person who likes me will inadvertently cause them to see something they didn't sign up for."
BY CAIT ROBINSON
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Dear Miss Information,
I’m a gay man and in high school I suffered from really serious depression (I still do, I just wanted to provide proper background information) and I became very introverted and judgmental as a way to cope. This has led me to alienate every guy who shows interest in me and pretend like it never happened. I try to open up to them but I'm so afraid that they'll judge me or they won't believe what I've been through or eventually just think I'm some bitter asshole and leave. I guess I have the classic "they're all going to leave me in the end” mentality, but that makes me sound like a passive victim and I like to believe I've transcended that, or something. I'm just afraid that opening up to a person who likes me will inadvertently cause them to see something they didn't sign up for. A guy that I dated for a bit broke it off because he said I didn't want to open up to him and that I was closed off emotionally, and in truth I was (obviously).
I guess what I'm asking for is some advice regarding letting people in? I hate saying like that, with words like that, just because it sounds silly and I judge people who say things like that. Some of my issues feel more medical-oriented (I refuse to take anti-depressants because my junior year of high school was just a blur of numbing disappointment), but advice relationship-wise would be appreciated.
Dear Unhappy Homo:
Well, if ever there was a question that didn’t lend itself well to a Candyland-colored and linear how-to, “How do I let people in?” is it. We’ll do the best we can. For starters, give Princess Lolly a wide berth, and tell her I said so. She knows what she did.
Emotional closeness too often gets leveraged as bargaining chips in an effort to draw someone close or push them away. We’ve all heard horror stories of first dates who led with, “After my dad died, my fiancée left me and my house collapsed [blink, blink],” which, genuine though it may be, amounts to manipulation. By dropping too much information too fast, that person is effectively blackmailing you into sticking around. (Only a stone-cold cynic would ask for the check, right?) At the other end of the spectrum, some people withhold information as a means of remaining “in control” of the relationship. By keeping you at arm’s length, they are ensuring that you work harder than they do. In either case, personal information is part of a complex arms race of non-intimacy. By over-sharing or under-sharing, they are able to control the “message” around the relationship, and thus control its trajectory. Needless to say, these people are exhausting.
The best way out of this vortex is to make peace with your own story. Think about it: if you are ashamed of your history/feelings/experiences, then sharing them feels like vulnerability. At the beginning especially, only share things that no longer hold a sting. This means sidestep your lingering issues with your dad (“So weird, his name is Chad, too! Just like you!”), but feel free to bond when your date mentions his early childhood dyslexia diagnosis. In any relationship, intimacy must be earned. Sharing should be a give-and-take, not a “I showed you mine, now you have to show me yours.”
Discretion is also key. There is a huge difference between, “…and that was the third time I dropped out of rehab,” and “I was dealing with some health issues in college, so it took me six years to graduate.” When in doubt, err on the side of mystery.
In your case, therapy should be immeasurably helpful. Medications are just one way to handle your depression, but by no means the only one. Group therapy, talk therapy, yoga therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique, spirit quests in the woods—find a modality and/or therapist that you will stick with. It will only help your foundation, which will help you connect to others.
Ultimately, Unhappy Homo, I can’t promise the vulnerability won’t suck. You will likely invest yourself in at least one unworthy asshole; you will likely have to spatula your heart off the concrete at least once. If you’ve never sobbed in a public restroom, you haven’t done it right. But know this, whether your fledgling relationship sprouts wings or dashes itself on sharp rocks, being open with another human is a huge accomplishment in and of itself. Either way, you’re evolving as a person. And isn’t that the goal?