I married the kind of person who talks to strangers. Willingly. If someone I don’t know tries to approach me, a million thoughts race through my head in the split second when I am trying to decide whether that person is going to rape me, kill me, or ask where the bathroom is. My husband is the kind of person who always takes the flyer from the guy on the street while I push past, avoiding eye contact. My husband is open, transparent, and generally trusting. It’s one of the many reasons why I love and admire him. But I’m not like that.
I have my reasons. Perhaps it is partly due to my gender. Women are wary of getting harassed by strangers in ways that many men never think about. Or perhaps it is because my husband is an extrovert and I am an introvert. But I also think there is a learned hesitation that I developed from my abusive childhood. I need to gauge how “safe” a person is before I share any part of myself, whether it’s a simple glance or my life story. I rarely offer personal information to anyone I haven’t vetted. I question how someone might try to use this information against me. If I make myself vulnerable, will this person attack me and make it worse?
As someone who was punished for telling the truth, it makes sense. I have already experienced the worst case scenario. I can’t imagine a stranger being able to hurt me more than my own family has hurt me. Yet, every potential opportunity to open up pokes the wound.
It is important to trust, but it is essential to find the right people first. I am fortunate to be married to someone worthy of trust. Even so, after fifteen years of marriage, there are still things that are difficult for me to open up about. There are very few people whom I truly trust. Thankfully, and most importantly, one of them is me.
This blog is a form of exposure therapy for me. I’m not any more trusting when strangers approach, and out of principle I’m still not taking anyone’s damn flyer. The world is not a safe place, but I am learning to let go of the fear that I will be hurt. If someone wants to hurt me, it is no longer a reflection of who I am, but exposes them for who they are. In that same light, I am learning to let go of the fear of being judged or misunderstood. I can’t control the kind of people who aim to tear people down, but I am not going to hide from them, either.