Let me introduce myself, I am “one of those sensitive people.”
I am acutely aware of sounds, smells, textures, stimulus of all kinds but I am most especially sensitive to people. Nuance, body language, what is or is not being said…those subtleties have never been lost on me.
I am always paying attention to the human behavior in the room and I’m likely to notice all of it…YES, all of it. Crowds can be emotionally exhausting as each face is not merely an aesthetic but a story and in scant seconds I can be overwhelmed by that story. In recent years I have made a habit of looking at the ground as I am walking through crowded streets so as to preserve some energy for the final destination.
I think it may be hard for someone who is not sensitive in these ways to be close to a “sensitive person.” I think I make people feel too exposed, that I pay THAT close attention to them and their feelings and that I will be able to conjure them back up in later moments might feel like a violation…like, wait, I didn’t expect you to remember that. But I will. When my friend, child, husband or sister tells me their current complaint or problem and finishes with the classic wrap up: “you know what I mean?” Indeed, I probably do. And perhaps that knowledge may not always be welcome but it is there and I couldn’t wash it away if I wanted to.
In high school the first subject that really sparked my interest was sociology. The teacher, Mr. Shermer, taught me to gather together what I knew of human history and human behaviors and look for patterns. He showed his students that through recorded history humans have behaved in very predictable ways. If we take a close look at a historical event; study the circumstances around that event, research the cast of characters, we see that from Genghis Khan to Margaret Thatcher, people behave in pretty predictable ways. Human instinct, basic desires, cultural norms, and personality types, these common threads run through all of us and it’s humbling to see that the more I know about history: ancient, modern and personal, the more I see how often it repeats itself. These repetitions in stories can be referred to as clichés and I’m no different. You can size me up pretty quickly too. I was, and to some degree still am, the insecure daughter of a great beauty, cast by that beautiful mother into the role of the dependable lady in waiting because star status, I was taught, should always be reserved for the truly beautiful. As a child, I was that big doe eyed girl in the room, the one that was just a little too fleshy to be considered conventionally pretty. Steady and sturdy but always on the outside of the inner circle and never believing that I was worthy of a central spot there anyway. No need to consult Freud here people, you got this…you’ve seen it before, you’ll see it again.
I grew up to be shaped very much like the average woman in America. I got to this size in the average American way: a genetic predisposition to largeness combined with a true passion for food and a lack of interest in exercise and I became what I describe as a “round woman” for round is not only kinder but more truthful than “fat.”
I once heard someone say that big women have three options available to them: they can fit into the social slot of “Funny” or “Loud” or accept invisibility. Maybe that’s true and if so I chose loud…or it chose me. I have always been frank. It’s a fact, no apologies. I admire frankness in others and so I cultivated it in myself. If there is a thing that needs to be said I’m likely to say it, especially if I see that nobody else will. People seem to have a strong reaction to frankness. Some see it is as rude and others see it as an asset (I think it’s about 80-20 respectively) but I’ve come to believe that pussyfooting around gets nothing done. Here’s an important clarification though: please don’t mistake frank for unkind. I’m not malicious nor am I a thoughtless blurter. The sensitive person in me would simply not allow that. I would be hard pressed to tell a friend that her dress was an unflattering color even if she begged me to offer an opinion. I am frank about expressing what I feel and think about ME and my experiences, not you and yours. That’s just mean and selfish.
The harder I work at accepting who I am and to grow comfortably into my own skin the more I notice when someone else is working to “fix” me. And I’m not broken. Not my heart and soul and not my size either. If I have surmised that a person’s terms of friendship include mentoring me, then we won’t get very far. I have no desire to spend time with someone who wants to fix me or has a need to assert their “superiority.” And it’s dishonest to call me a friend only to criticize me behind my back. A real friend, the kind I long for (I have one, I want more) and the sort of friend I am, is kind and loyal and will not say one thing to someone’s face and another when they leave the room. And so, I am lonely.
I don’t want to write off friendship entirely and I wish it were socially acceptable to present this (see below) on the front end of a friendship, much like an employer has to have a potential employee sign a paper acknowledging that they are legal citizens of the U.S., because it states acknowledgement of a clear understanding and it could save both parties a lot of heart ache.
• If I grow to love you there is nothing I will not do for you, short of allowing you to tear me down. I am hoping you will offer me a small measure of that kind of dedication.
• I will bolster your confidence at every given opportunity. Not superficial flattery but generous support.
• I will listen to your daily gripes and if asked I will weigh in on the situation but I will never chastise or criticize and I will not butt in.
• I will never tire of your life story. I love to hear people’s stories and I’d be honored if you shared your story with me. You can even tell me the same one again next month if you like and I promise not to point out that I’ve heard it already.
• I can be trusted to keep your secrets. I operate under the belief that any personal conversation has been shared in absolute confidence and that confidence is sacred.
I think it’s sad that I’ve grown to feel I need to spell that out and to come right out and ask that it be reciprocated. When offering friendship all of this, in my opinion, should go without saying. If I like you and I grow to respect you, this is what you can expect from me and I simply want the same. I desperately want someone who can walk with me, who cares to be mindful of a shared pace. If we are walking together and the day arrives when I come to see that the other person cannot be honest, kind, loyal, supportive… then we are done. I advocate for the other person to feel the same way about me and that doesn’t worry me a bit because if I love you I will not fail you. But if you fail me I will cut my losses, lick my wounds and move the fuck on.
What with both my roundness and my frankness it has taken me a long time to come into my own. I spent the first 30 years of my life insecure and apologizing. Emancipation from that crippling feeling of inadequacy finally came in the recognition that we are all very flawed and that perfection is a myth only made worse by Photoshop. I noticed that the writers and artists I admired were NOT without flaws and they were NOT conventionally good looking and get this, they were HONEST about it. These people were NOT striving for anyone else’s sense of perfection and it was freeing to see this self-acceptance as a real possibility for me.
Honesty is so appealing (and I will not say refreshing because that implies a rarity and within relationships honesty should be a given) and I cannot tolerate someone who is false, who puts on airs, pretends to have it all together; that mommy at playgroup who feigns perfection and attempts to make others feel inferior with her unsolicited advice offered in an attempt to hide her own insecurities or the mother-in-law who tears down her son’s wife in order to try to secure her spot at his side or the parent who drones on and on to their child about his or her own glorious, beautiful and achievement filled youth (much of which has been created employing revisionist history) making it clear that the child can never live up to the parent’s expectation of perfection.
I’m confident that this intolerance for dishonesty coupled with my own frank personality accounts for the loss of many friendships. I wonder if Mr. Shermer could point out historical examples echoing my specific interpersonal issues thereby exposing me as the cliché that I’m quite sure I must be.
So, maybe sensitive people are in the minority. Or maybe there are millions of us and we simply need to come out of hiding and own it, and say it, and then band together so we do not feel so alone. Or maybe we need our own social networking site like a Tinder for empaths but I am for now resigned to becoming better at being alone and I am resigned to begin viewing “friendships” as more superficial due to all my past failures. My personal history has proven that my expectations may be unrealistic and I’m not willing to risk the heartbreak of another loss. There it is. Carry on. (And if you too are a sensitive soul, seek me out. I would love to meet you.)