How Much Do You Really Want To Know?

Every day, they ask us: “How are you?”

What if we told them the truth? What if we let our guard down just once, and let them see what sort of darkness lurks silently inside, behind the plastered smile, behind the cheerfully (and artfully) concocted reply? What if we told them just how fine we’re not, just how much pain we’re in, just how miserable we feel?

What would they say? Would they stick around to say anything, or would they take the first opportunity to pull a Houdini and disappear, abandoning us to the next poor sap who bothers to show superficial interest in our state of being? Would they call the medics, a shrink, a priest, a cop?

Some days, I’m being perfectly honest when I tell people I’m doing “pretty good,” but lately, more often than not, my words reek of bullshit. Complete and total. They taste like it, too, even as I speak them, and the reality of the deception, and its inevitability, drag me down even farther into the slough. I begin to wonder whether anyone really cares about my actual condition, or if they just want to be allowed to think everything’s good with me, because then they are reassured that, maybe, really, everything’s good with them, too.

We cannot be honest with one another, because by doing so, we cull ourselves from the herd, and we threaten to drag those with whom we’re open and forthcoming down with us. And everyone knows what happens to the weak and the old: the lions get them. And we mustn’t fool ourselves: we’re surrounded by lions, everywhere and all the time. And when we’re not, generally we’re the lions surrounding somebody else. And we will all eat each other if given the chance.

How much do you really want to know, O ye caring multitudes? Do you want to know me, or do you want me to let you think you know me? Do you want to see into my shadows, or would you rather pretend that I have none so that your own don’t frighten you too much? How much do you really want to know?

Do you want to know that on most days, thanks to this irritable bowel thing I’ve got, I’m uncomfortable at best and in terrible pain at worst? Do you want to know that sometimes the entire tenor of my day comes down to whether or not I’m able to successfully take a crap? Do you want to know these things, or is it too much for you?

Do you want to know that, at 35, I feel like my life is stalling out? That I feel an unrelenting, frustrated, blind anger at the sheer amount wasted on student loans for graduate school, so that I can sit at a desk doing work for which only a high school education is required? That this lack of fulfillment often becomes so overwhelming that even the greatest of successes feel like monumental failures? That I want to punch all the shiny, happy faces who tell me to buck up, that “this too shall pass,” to “be happy with what I have,” never stopping to realize how hard it is for people who have what they want to understand those who don’t? Or is that too much information, as they say?

Do you want to know that everything I said in the last paragraph makes me sick at myself? That I hate how selfish it is to be unhappy with my job when so many people don’t have work at all? That I can’t stand how I feel about my life situation when I’m so well off compared to many? That I detest the lack of gratitude I show on a daily basis, and that I detest even more the thought that others might detest it, too? And that in spite of all this self-awareness, I can’t seem to break out of this cycle of ingratitude and unhappiness? Do you want to know, or have I gone too far?

Do you want to know that for a long time now, I’ve felt friendless and family-less, and all because I’ve tried to be honest with others about who I am? That it kills me that more people seem to care about my whereabouts on a Sunday morning than my ideas and principles and everything else that makes me Me? That I’m afraid of revealing myself too openly to people I once thought as close as family, because I don’t know how they’ll respond? That, deep inside, I’m furious at the people who are disappointed in me because they’ve never stopped to consider that maybe I’m disappointed right back? That I’m saddened at accusations of having “changed,” because they prove that some of my closest friends never really knew me at all? Have I stepped over the line yet?

Do you want to know that in the scheme of things all this barely scratches the surface, that there are fathoms of darkness left in me to explore? Do you want to know any of this, or do you just want me to help you feel secure by pretending that I’m secure, too?

Even as I write this, I shrink from the way my words may be received–words like crybaby, wimp, and panty-waist come to mind. It turns out that what I’m most afraid of is people finding out who I really am, even people such as you wonderful blog-fellows whom I will probably never physically meet. I am terrified of honesty. Like Pinocchio before me, I long to be a real boy…but I’m afraid of the consequences. I’m afraid of being hung out to dry, of being written off the page, of being discarded as second rate. Even more, I’m afraid of being ignored. I’m afraid of taking that step, of opening up and being completely, nakedly real, only to have no one notice at all. Of being silenced before I’m even able to speak.

But never mind all that. I’m fine.

How are you?

11 thoughts on “How Much Do You Really Want To Know?

  1. I’ve had out-of-state company for the past week, so I’m just now catching up on my reader. I appreciate your candor. Those of us who are facing ‘reality’ are stronger than we may realize. Reality is not for the faint at heart, thus many need to delude themselves. I read several studies about this, and neurological studies show that even a part of our brain can deactivate for this very purpose.

    Psychologist Tom Pyszcynski advocates in his “terror management theory” that we need to delude ourselves to survive. Delusion is apparently adaptive. In her book, “A Mind of its Own: How Your Mind Distorts and Deceives”, psychologist Cordelia Fine states that certain behaviors, i.e., magical thinking, stems from our deluded brain. This also applies to people who pretend that they are just fine, “OK”, “God’s in control” — God is my co-pilot” type jargon. Studies show that religion gives people lots of dopamine (reward), which enhances the illusion of being “OK”. In other words, to face an otherwise difficult and cruel life is just too real for most to face.

    It takes great fortitude to face reality head on without a crutch. So who are really the weak ones? 😉

  2. Yes I want to know. I want to be an ear to listen.
    This is what God has called me to do and be. To listen with his ears.
    Not to offer you platitudes of ‘there there it will all be fine.’ Not to compare my life with yours. Not to give you solutions. But just to genuinely listen, to hear because your story is important. It needs to be told, as it is, warts and all. Because in listening I hope I am saying, ‘you are important’ and even if I haven’t experienced what you have, ‘you are still not alone’.
    Oh and thanks for asking, I’m ok … Yes really I’m ok. Now how are you? … really?

  3. My sweet, honest Vance. Would that I could lift my mask and show you how similar we are- like twins separated at birth but born a generation apart. I too feel friendless and familyless- not that I have neither, but that those I do have seem not to think and feel as I do that I have surpassed survival and am firmly lodged in futility. I keep doing the next right thing, but everything feels so wrong. Like I missed my destiny completely and am living a life that I never dreamed or chose or desired. I have become someone I cannot recognize much less share with others as if I don’t like me, how could they?

    and then, ever so often, on days like today, I read yours words and they echo in my soul, and for this moment, I do not feel alone.

    And for that and SO much more, I thank you for being you.

    1. Who can’t, right? We all I think desperately wish to break down that fourth wall that separates us from all the people we “know.” We want to be heard; we want to do away with this unspoken social contract of silence. Radical honesty, with all the pain and heartache that comes with it. Scary, but worth it…?

      1. Worth it only if the other person is willing to do the same for you. Otherwise, if you put yourself out there and there’s no return, you’re left falling flat. I’ve been there—time and time again… It’s the pretenses we put up… Facebook is full of it. I don’t post a lot on facebook, and when I do, it’s only of the rare “positive” outings in my life. Like Tahoe. Do I tell people when I’m depressed because I can’t seem to figure out the best next step for my life? NO!!! To do so would be to admit weakness or to appear to be looking for sympathy. And so facebook ends up being, for everyone, a false representation of reality… I also understand people wondering where you are a on a Sunday but not really caring about what makes you YOU. I have a lot of ideas about religion these days that most of my acquaintances aren’t open to. Thinking outside of the box is SCARY.

      2. The problem being that many of my acquaintances/friends/family assume that my religious views are what make me ME. When those change, apparently I’ve changed too, and they seem to have no clue how to deal with me. If they would simply understand that this is only one aspect of who I am, and that change is about my self developing rather than simply going away, oh, how pleasant that would be!

        As for your comments on Facebook, I could not agree more. I have weaned myself off of it to a large extent lately, basically for the reasons you mention. Friends and pictures of people are NOT the same thing, and I’m fairly sure the whole exercise has only served to widen the gap between myself and all the people I’ve “connected” with in that particular forum…

      3. I mostly find people feel uncomfortable when my own views, which have changed, contradict theirs. They don’t want to think too hard or too deeply. It upsets their equilibrium… And, yes, leaves me feeling isolated. I am still me, but my viewpoint somehow sets me apart from them… So I understand.

        Glad to find others who feel the same about facebook. I find it useful to keep in touch with friends around the globe, but as for spending much time on it? I have better things to do.

  4. “The difference between my darkness and your darkness is that I can look at my own badness in the face and accept its existence while you are busy covering your mirror with a white linen sheet. The difference between my sins and your sins is that when I sin I know I’m sinning while you have actually fallen prey to your own fabricated illusions. I am a siren, a mermaid; I know that I am beautiful while basking on the ocean’s waves and I know that I can eat flesh and bones at the bottom of the sea. You are a white witch, a wizard; your spells are manipulations and your cauldron from hell yet you wrap yourself in white and wear a silver wig.”
    -C. Joybell C.

    I hate when people that I don’t know ask me how I am feeling. You know, the cashier at the store trying to give you a good customer experience. Usually I can answer with relative honesty that I am fine. I fancy myself a polite person and so I always return the question. I’ve yet to hear a negative reply. Of course that can’t be true.

    I cannot even recall how many times I have wanted to scream and cry and drain all of the blackness from my heart the moment the cashier asks if all is well. All is never well, even if most is.

    It helps to find friends or a mate with which you feel you can be honest. I have people like that in my life. Yet still I hide. I cannot seem to find the words and the courage to be forever honest. Perhaps that is why I am so brutally honest when I feel I can be. Release the pressure at the top though I know it will only build again and again.

    If I could live in someone else’s head for a while, I surely would. I want to know others’ thoughts, their emotions. Do we ever really know someone? If my own masquerade is any indication, then I doubt it.

    I may not ever meet you and I may never truly know you, but I care. I just wish that could be enough.

    1. Thanks, Muggle.

      Strange as it may sound, I think the fact that most of the people who read my blog are folks I’ll likely never meet makes it easier to be honest, in a way I can’t with many people in “real life,” so to speak. I also tend to express myself better in writing than in speaking: it takes me a bit to organize my thoughts, and there has been many an unpleasant scene as a result of my trying to voice a thought too quickly…

      At one point, I thought I had already surrounded myself with a circle of friends with whom I could be totally honest. I’ve discovered lately that that honesty must fall within certain defined parameters in order to be acceptable, which in the end does me little or no good. Mainly, those parameters are religious in nature; lots of people were okay with the Christian me; it’s the ME me they seem to take issue with.

      I have my wife, who has been nothing but understanding and supportive as I struggle to adapt to my changing views and to deal with my frustrations. It helps that she’s kind of in the same place as I am, that way. Outside of that, though, I find I’ve gotten to where I don’t trust many people with what’s really going on in my head. Which may be the problem: hard for others to be trustworthy if you don’t give them the chance…

      Thanks again. I appreciate it.

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