Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dabbling in the "Taboo"

I do a lot of theatre. Most of my local "friends", (as in, one's to whom I could drive in an hour or less) were made through theatre over the years. Furthermore, a very large percentage of people in this "theatre circle" know one another. And have known one another for many, many years. In this context, though I have known a few of them for 6 years or so, I am still the relative newcomer to the group.

Now, some of these people are great friends with one another, and some are just casual acquaintances. But the fact is, 90% of my local "friends" are in the same social network. And for a while, it gave the impression that I too was friends with, or connected to a great many people. (Network theory for you.)

The fact of the matter is, however, that I am not that well connected with many of them. I keep putting "friends" in quotation marks here, because most of them do not do what friends do. Not by my definition of the word anyway. There is little emotional support when I am in need. None of my invitations are accepted, and I am invited infrequently to things myself. They don't read my blogs, follow me on Twitter, or come see my shows, unless they are in them themselves. I have never been visited by a single one of them at home. Messages, texts, voice mails are rarely returned. My increasingly rare offers to help them with projects are never reciprocated when I am in need of assistance in mine. All of those types of things seem to be reserved for each other.

You get the idea.

It has only been in the last few years that I have come to realize this about a lot of them. The friendships I thought I had I realize I just don't. They fail to live up to all of my standards for friendship in many cases. And there are any number of possible reasons.

Some are just asses, I suppose. Masters in the art of being fake. Some I gather do not like my honesty, even when they beg  me to share it with them. Others may have changed so much internally that there is no longer room for the likes of me. Some are just small, and don't treat anybody that well when the chips are down.

So maybe I don't need them in my life. Or maybe I need a way to determine who among them, if anybody, values me in my entirety, and not simply as a dancing bear that entertains them at times. It may not be fullproof, but I have a plan which will, I hope, help clear things up a bit; I am going to dabble in the "taboo".

You see, I don't openly discuss my politics, my religion, my views on sex, or marriage, or any of those other things about which we are not supposed to talk if we want to keep our friends. (Or so they say.) And while occasional comments, decisions, and Facebook status updates have probably over the years given many people a broad sketch of where I stand, in most cases I have never come out and stated my position on any number of things. As a result, more than one person sees me as a bit "mysterious" or even "withdrawn". Worse, I fear incorrect conclusions about my beliefs may have been drawn by some.

I haven't hidden my positions on things because I fear reprisal. I value my principles too much to sacrifice them just to make "friends". In fact I have lost some because I couldn't ignore such things. But at the same time I haven't felt the need to broadcast all my beliefs to certain people because our relationships were not based on my views on such issues. (Not to mention the fact that it is pretty much a guarantee that most of my local people are not going to be coming from the same place that I am on such matters.) What is the point in risking offense when a crisis of conscience is not taking place? After all, I can live my beliefs without having to say what they are. If doing something violates my heart, I won't do it. Why make a speech about it?

But I have started to wonder over the last few years if that silence is wise. Whether this "mystery" quality to me, this diplomatic ambiguity has prevented some people, (though not all) from engaging me as fully as they otherwise might have done. Could the very reticence that I utilized in order to keep friendships stronger actually have contributed to this emotional force field I detect between me and so many others? There is only one way to find out.

To this end, I have been planning for some time now a series of messages, probably in video form, for my private Facebook page. Messages that will reveal my position on certain key areas on which I have been mostly silent over the years. (Silent with this group anyway.) Matters like religion, sex, friendship. The purpose of the messages will not be to offer counter arguments to the views of others, but to provide a more full picture of myself. That way, at least in my mind, people can begin to make choices about how close or far from me they want to be based on a little more than "he is mysterious".

This isn't a perfect plan. For one thing, there is no guarantee anybody will read/watch the messages. But then, if they don't that might be an answer of a sort right there. Another problem is that not every question can be answered in a message. A clear position on one thing often leads to more questions.  And there is the very real possibility that I will lose even the superficial friendships of some of these people.

Indeed, my positions on any number of taboo or personal subjects varies a great deal from that of many of the folks in this large, local circle. And while some may have been content with my company through the ambiguity, they may decide that my company is undesirable once they hear certain things directly from my lips without having to deduce anything themselves. This may even be true for some of the few people in the group that have actually treated me with respect and engaged my privately. It is a very real risk.

Losing connections is not a pretty prospect, regardless of the reasons. So to an extent I do fear it. But unlike in previous years, I feel things are reaching a point where I must either fish, or cut the bait, as it were, with some of these people. I am at a point in my life where I would like to have a better idea of who my real friends are, and who wants to become closer to the total me. The distance I keep from these subjects doesn't provide that level of assurance with this crop of people.

And perhaps it will not be as bad as all of that. Perhaps there may even be a handful of people who have wanted to get to know me on a more personal level, but have never known how to ask certain questions. These messages may give them a needed opening to allow our friendship to blossom further.

I guess the whole thing is like pulling weeds. Or better yet, like a fire. The true friends and people I want in my life won't burn up when I light this torch. They, like gems, will remain long after I have burned away all the chaff in my garden of "friends".

Moderation is still the key, though. I don't intend to use these messages to attack the view points of others. And I don't intend to constantly speak what I believe. (Some of them do this, and it drives my crazy. But if they are going to shout their beliefs all the time, I might as well level the playing field once in a while, am I right?) The goal is education, not pontification.

I am still an intensely private person in many ways. I am not going to reveal every intimate thought I have to these people, or to anyone for that matter. I am still an introvert after all. But there comes a time when you have to at least place the "You Are Here" sticker on the map of your life, so other people have a sense of what to expect. 5 years ago, being polite and being a fellow actor was enough. I sense now that with these locals, it isn't anymore. They have to either love or hate me based on something more than what they currently have. So, in the best way I can, I hope to give some more to them.

I am sure even after I do this, there will be fake people in my circle. People that pay lip service to loving me, but never showing it. But in the end, I suppose I am not really doing it for them. I am doing it for me. It feels more authentic for me to do this, despite the consequences. I feel that I want these people to know more about my spirit now. What they will do with a more clear picture of that will, in the end, be up to them.

Have any of you struggled with being open about something in a similar manner to this? I know that most other people my age are from the "privacy is dead, share every little thought you have and fuck everybody else" mentality. But that isn't me, and never will be.

3 comments:

Jamie said...

When you find the individuals that either 1) Agree with your values and views on religion, politics, etc. 2) Like you for who you are and while they may not agree, are always looking to learn from you or hear your opinions - you will find your real friends.

Put it all out there - you'll find that there are more people like you than you think.

Jake P said...

Good for you, Ty. I'll be interested to hear the results of the experiment.

I've become bolder over the years about expressing my true opinions to people I know who are on the opposite end of the scale -- and Jamie is right, that's the true acid test with friends. I handle clients differently -- politics is off limits unless I'm 100% confident we're simpatico. As time goes on, there are more than I realized, which is fun and makes for a stronger relationship.

Disclosure: The interesting thing is, a lot of people assume that because I'm a writer and in a creative field that I'd be a Democrat, and many assume my wife is a Democrat simply because she's a woman. (I'd describe us both as pro-liberty/anti-collectivist.) According to this famous article by Hayek, "Why I Am Not a Conservative," I'd fit right in as an Old Whig, but that kind of leaves me high and dry on election day...

Ty Unglebower said...

You are both correct, of course, and actually, I have always known that. And like I said in the post, I have never violated my conscience to placate people. But I had for the longest time thought that unless my conscience was in fact being challenged in some way, talking about it was unnecessary, and possibly uncouth. But sometimes I suppose we need to reveal that for which we stand, even if it is not in any immediate danger. Surely the real friends will understand that.