When my godson was younger, he didn’t have a problem making his opinion known, particularly when he wanted something. You wouldn’t know it from the sweet, caring boy he is today, but sometimes he’d scream and cry and throw a fit over this, that or the other thing — a three-year-old’s priorities on full display. His mom would never follow suit, though. She had a unique way of keeping her calm, throwing a stern look his way, and coasting through the meltdown.
At times, when his fits were particularly dramatic, she would sit on the floor right next to him. She’d hold his arms and not say a word — simply staring into his big, watery, blue eyes while calmly and quietly waiting. I witnessed this once and I’ll never forget his response. As his mom did her best to win the one-sided staring game, he wailed and cried and did everything in his power to not meet her gaze. He turned his head to one side, then the other, all the while saying, “Don’t look at me! Don’t look at me!”
I had a hard time suppressing my laughter — a problem I’m sure I’ll continue to have if I ever have children of my own. They’re just so funny! But seriously, what three-year-old asks someone not to look at him? It was hilarious. In the end, however, his mom’s technique worked every time. He’d slowly calm down, his breathing would return to normal, he’d look at his mom, and then they’d talk about why he was so angry. It was magical, really. Take note, Dr. Phil.
When I think back to that little boy’s persistence and his sheer will, I’m reminded of myself in relationships. You see, most three-year-olds have no problem being completely transparent with everyone they come into contact with. Little Sally stops strangers in the grocery store check-out lines to tell them about her new puppy. Little Adam waves and yells hello to every neighbor he passes on his walk home from school. Little Anya has told at least 12 people that she used the potty today — both number one and number two. No shame. No fear. It’s just who they are.
But when my godson knew he did something wrong or shameful, he didn’t want anyone to know him or to even look at him — not even his mom. If we’re being honest with ourselves, there are things in our lives that we don’t want others to know either, which can pose a big problem in relationships, both romantic or platonic.
A successful relationship requires both parties to be open and honest with one another. It goes both ways. If one person is transparent and the other is not, it’s a lopsided union, and it’s not really fair to either one involved. The open person may never know that the other isn’t being as open, left to trust blindly with little hope for that in return. The closed-off person knows she’s not being honest, yet she still enjoy the honesty offered to her — a selfish trade-off that only leads to more dishonesty.
Think about the relationships you’re in right now — with your spouse, with your significant other, with a family member, with a friend. Are you showing them who you really are? Are you opening up and being truthful about the things you’re going through, your frustrations, your doubts? Or are you looking left and looking right to avoid their sincere gaze, all the while screaming, “Don’t look at me! Don’t look at me!”
I’ve been trying lately to be more sincere with others. It requires going beyond the surface, beyond the bland how-was-your-day lines of questioning. It requires asking the tough questions… and being willing to honestly answer tough questions in return. It requires a sacrifice of time and privacy, a willingness to let go of the security blanket of silence.
I’m not referring to the verbal vomit sprayed on social media these days, either. Just because you share every detail of your life on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram doesn’t mean you’re cultivating real relationships. Most posts are disproportionately positive anyway — My husband is amazing! My daughter is perfect! My life is the best! And most negative posts are just cries for attention — My son kept me up all night! I hate wearing a bathing suit! I’m the worst cook!
Let’s get real here. Find a person that you actually know, that you can look at in the eye instead of through an iPhone screen. Find a voice that you can listen to and respond to. Find a freckled cheek that you can run a Kleenex over, a shaking hand that you can take in yours, a down-trodden head that you can offer a shoulder to lean on.
And then, when you feel the urge to close yourself off and act like everything is okay… don’t.