Summer after senior year of high school, I wrote a letter. To an older boy. It was vulnerability in the extreme sense—the Dawson’s Creek worthy, angst-ridden, hormones-flying, high school romance type of vulnerability that still makes me wince. And, true to my high school self, it was totally unwarranted. And thus, unrequited. Rather than receiving back any type of acknowledgement, the response to my letter was complete and utter radio silence. You hate to see that.
Then there was the post college breakup, twenty page text message (literally) that I sent to my newly ex-boyfriend—“Hey… I’m about to leave town and I know once I do it’s really over…” Of course it was cliché, but, more seriously, it was my attempt at finally saying all the things I wanted to say. It was my attempt at closure. Like the letter, it was vulnerable but—for the most part—vulnerable in the right way. Then again, maybe not. All I heard back was radio silence.
It’s easy to look back at these two moments and fixate on the reaction, the response, that is to say, the lack of any form of acknowledgement. After all, that is what they share in common. And from there, it is only a hop, skip, and a jump before my mind starts formulating some new kind of theory about how I fit into the world or how relationships must work: Me plus Vulnerability equals Radio Silence.
This particular conclusion is nothing new, and we see its manifestations in many of my favorite American cultural icons. Look at Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (film version) and Penny Lane from Almost Famous. Both of these female characters have suffered some form of heartache in their past, and, to cope, they have ascribed to the law/philosophy/mantra that perhaps Penny Lane puts best:
“I always tell the girls never take it seriously. If you never take it seriously, you never get hurt. If you never get hurt, you always have fun. And if you ever get lonely, you can just go to the record store and visit your friends.”
This is the point at which Penny Lane and I enact a new, different equation: Me minus Vulnerability equals Superrrrrr Chill. If I am carefree, easygoing, and chillaxed, then I can bury that thing that dwells within me that must be causing all of the sorrow. And this persona totally works… Until it doesn’t. Regardless of whether or not she takes it seriously, Penny Lane gets hurt. She is sold to Humble Pie for fifty bucks and a case of beer, nobody even knows her real name, and the only time she has an honest conversation is when she is on Quaaludes and about to die. It’s depressing, man.
But aren’t we all Penny Lane? I don’t plan on giving up these dear and beautiful things any time soon, but let’s be honest, Phish, tofu, and kombucha can only take me so far. I wish I could casually go through life without the impulse to be so vulnerable and honest. I wish I could keep it all wrapped up, but this cool cloak I don is beginning to feel like a form of overcompensation. What’s more, sometimes I wonder if the chill attitude might actually be at odds with some piece of who I am. Overtime, this nonchalance has made honesty and vulnerability feel foreign, which is a shame because, at the end of the day, I really do want to connect with people and I really do want to be seen and acknowledged.
Trying to fix myself and layering one new identity on top of the next in an attempt to outrun reality is not only exhausting but it does not work. Been there, done that… It’s just a long journey back to square one. No doubt, it is scary to be a human being and subject to all of life’s experiences. The sting of failure, loss, and radio silence is very real. But these things are the norm in human relationships. They are the growing pains of life. And no matter what letters I leave unwritten or personas I adopt to avoid or numb or compensate for the pain, my original desire to be known and loved will never go away. It was there in high school and it is still there now, just as God intended it to be.