With mirth and laughter, let me continue being surprised by joy

When I look back on my life between 2003 and sometime in mid-2015, I realize that I lived through and survived through a hell of a lot as a teenager and young adult – and that while those experiences made me grow up, they made me grow up rather too quickly and also grow a shell that’s perhaps a little too hard and rigid.  I can’t say I didn’t have a happy childhood because in the grander scheme of things I really did, but somewhere along the way between then and now I lost the child-like ability to love easily, trust unquestioningly, and live joyfully.

Towards the end of 2015 I wrote a post about how one particular friendship I have in my life has been teaching me how to open myself up and be vulnerable again directly in front of a person in real time. Since I came to full realization of this dynamic in that one friendship (which in real time was a little while before I wrote and published the post in question), I’ve tentatively explored inklings of that same dynamic in my other best friendships. Being somebody who proudly proclaims that she has a small handful of best friends, as opposed to many acquaintances and only a few good friends, I felt that the only way I could really make these relationships live up to that status was to figure out how I could truly open up to be myself and truly give the best of me to the people I love best.

One of the things I’ve learned since then is that being completely open and honest with my best friends isn’t just about being able to talk (and sometimes cry) about the Tough Stuff. It’s also about melting in warmth of their camaraderie and learning to laugh again, and by doing so finally experience some of the joy I missed out on when I grew up too fast for my own good.

I’d be remiss talking about best friends without mentioning Gacia, my partner in crime for eating sushi, folding laundry, and outlet shopping (and yes, sometimes we manage to do all three on the same day). We’ve gone through a lot together but no matter how tough things have gotten we’ve always been able to laugh together at the end of a long day. She’s the magician behind this moment:

 

Then there was that one time in Ottawa when Elizabeth, Sam, and I spent the better part of an evening trying to balance a bag of gourds on Elizabeth’s dining room table in between asking Google what the difference between gourds and squashes were, if you can eat gourds, and why you can’t eat gourds.

 

There’s also any time that Louis lets me play my music when I’m riding shotgun –and doesn’t make me stop when I rock out on air instruments and headbang along to the very best of 80s cheese…even on a two-hour roadtrip up North in the middle of winter, during which I serenaded a Timbit. And let’s not forget any time we watch old episodes of Mythbusters over some quality take-out and still manage to discover something new about the beloved show that brought us together and cemented our friendship. Yes, we still laugh out loud when Adam Savage asks if he’s missing an eyebrow and yes, we still groan-chuckle over all the jokes and puns in the blueprint voiceovers.

There’s another friend who brings out my inner child through various means – most recently through a fantastic bottle of blended red but mainly by somehow getting me to open up about past failed relationships through the scope of frank, wry humor.  He is also rather adept at capturing my silly side when food is involved.

 

Marianne and I will fangirl over our favourite movie and comic book villains in between stories of “do you remember when –” with Mario and Amanda at our favourite pub downtown. And then the jokes will carry over onto Facebook, where we share and tag each other in videos, photos, and gifs that remind us of one another.

My closest friend from Job1 has also really brought a lot of laugher into my life.  Her documentation of her kitten in a onesie is a youthful foil to my constant jokes about my cat’s obesity issue, but she’s also got a heart of gold that has embraced a lot of my pain and treated it with frank wisdom and loving humour.  There were some days in 2015 when the only thing that could make me smile was something she said, and when I learned how to laugh again her jokes were among the first that I tried it out on.

And even though I don’t get to see this friend very often, he’s one of my favourite people living inside my phone because he makes me literally laugh out loud a lot more than I think he actually realizes. Sometimes it’s because we troll each other half to death in good fun, and sometimes it’s because he says things that I’m pretty sure he means quite seriously but end up coming off as hilarious. And sometimes it’s because he’s one of those friends who gets me and supports me rather fiercely, regardless of how ridiculous I can be around him – case in point:

 

These are the people I love the best in the world outside of my blood relations, and these are the people who teach me a little more about myself every day. My best jokes and my best laughs are credited to them and the joy their friendships bring to my life, and the best parts of me reflect what I love so much in each of them.  When I became an adult I did forget how to feel child-like exuberance in life’s little joys, but I am blessed with friends who can teach me how to feel them once more.

 

Unmasked, unguarded – and somehow, still safe

We all have secrets and guilty pleasures. It’s a broad spectrum, but we all fall somewhere on it. We think that keeping secrets is a way of holding on to the things that make us authentically individual – truly ourselves – but of course there are secrets we never tell because we’re afraid of them taking over our lives by permanently altering the way others perceive us.

But regardless of what our secrets are and why we choose to keep them, we do so to the point where we hide a huge part of who we are from even the people who know us best.

In my particular case, my nature is so introverted and then further encased in a shell that it’s inherently difficult for me to open up to anyone. This means that when I do confide in somebody it’s because I feel safe with them, and I don’t expect to be hurt by the person in whom I confide the secrets that hurt enough already.

People constantly surprise us and the ritual of confiding in others is a prime opportunity for us to be reminded of this fact. Exhibit A: you tell the same thing to two different people in more or less the same fashion, but they’re both going to react differently – and that will tell you a lot about who they are and maybe even what you are to them.

I once told an ex about the particularly harrowing nature of one of my previous relationships. I trusted him, loved him more than any other person I knew, and wanted him to really know me, and I wanted to demonstrate all that by opening up and telling him things I had never told anyone else. Eventually, instead of bringing us closer together it pushed us apart. My story – and some of the most defining moments of my life that it included – of who I was before him became, I think, fodder for his insecurity, jealousy, and minor prejudices. It got to a point where I did not feel whole standing in front of him; instead, I felt torn apart, over and over again whenever he asked me for reassurances on the subject, and eventually felt incomplete – like I was less of a person for having made mistakes in my past, and now had to tilt at windmills to prove I was worthy.

A couple of weeks ago, I told the same story again to another person – a good friend this time – during a particularly rough and emotional day. It was one of those situations where things just came out and I realized at the end of it that I had pretty much emotionally exploded all over somebody and told them a secret that I had sworn to never tell anyone ever again. It had cost me one close connection and for a few minutes I was utterly terrified that my unintentional and unfiltered blurting had just cost me another one. (Oh, and did I mention I did this over text? Way to go, right…)

“And now I have the horrible feeling that if I was standing in front of you right now, you’d be looking at me in an entirely different way, and I’m hating myself for that,” I said quickly, as it had been a minute or two of text-silence.

“I don’t see you differently. We’re two friends who are telling each other things and being open. It would take a lot to change my opinion of you,” came the response.

I suppose my friend really meant that, as we’re still talking as we’ve always done, and maybe even perhaps on slightly more familiar terms now.

One story, two different people – and two different reactions whose juxtaposition made me realize that I’m too hard on myself and think too much about what people might be thinking.  And that realization caused me to see that not letting anyone in might protect my heart from pain, but it also prevents my heart from experiencing joy.

Anyone who’s had this kind of experience – this unexpected acceptance by one person when the same situation resulted in rejection by another – will tell you that it’s difficult to say how it feels to know that despite revealing something so deeply hidden, you are still cared for and still seen as a whole person worthy of time and attention.  You feel a kind of unexpected joy at the equally unexpected relief of not being the only one who knows something that weighs so heavily on you.  You feel like a person again because another human has accepted you, warts and all, and will still be there for you.

I’ll probably always be guarded. I’ll probably always need my shell, and I’ll probably always be very cautious about opening myself up to another person. But it’s nice to know that I don’t always have to hide – that I can be safe enough in somebody else’s presence so as to be vulnerably open and totally myself with them. It’s nice to know that in at least one friendship I don’t have to wear masks or pretend I’m a little less flawed, that I am accepted entirely and can therefore be exactly who I am and express exactly how I feel.

After all, while the truth sets you free – “this above all: to thine own self be true.”  And by being open and honest, I am being more of who I really am, and I have once again been surprised by joy.