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Have the hard conversations
True intimacy is on the other side
Before we begin: I’m in Austin, Texas for the month of February! If you’re familiar with the city, please respond and tell me what to see, do and eat here. And if you live here and you’d like to take a walk with me, I’d be delighted.
It feels like a barbell is pressed against my throat. Or a creature is trying to find its way up and out through my mouth, but I keep pushing it down. Anxiety settles into the center of my chest, and my shoulders hunch forward. This is what it feels like when there’s a hard conversation I know I need to have, but I’m putting it off. And the longer I put it off, the more it affects me, consuming my thoughts and hijacking my body.
There’s a hard conversation I should have had more than a year ago that I never did. In consequence I still think of the hurtful thing that was said to me often, each time filling me with fresh shame, anger and confusion. I don’t know what would have happened if I had summoned the courage to confront the situation, but I’m pretty sure it would have been better than this.
I’ve practiced saying what I need to say for years now. It’s still one of the hardest commitments to keep. I take time to think through tough situations, letting the initial flurry of emotion pass (feelings are not facts) before I take any action. But if I still feel the need to address what happened before I can move on, I commit to do so. I’ve swallowed so many feelings in my life that later turn to poison. I’m done living that way. My feelings are valid, and I will honor them and give them light—I will not talk myself out of them or shame myself into the ground for having them. Those who know and love me best will do the same.
I used to think my best relationships (family, friends and lovers) were ones in which we never argued or disagreed, never hurt each other in any way. I know better now. To be truly intimate with someone, conflict is inevitable. It is our mutual willingness to talk, hear each other, and move forward that brings us ever closer. This is one reason why long-lasting relationships can feel so safe—together, we’ve seen some shit. Our flaws are laid bare. And here we still stand.
I’m done brushing things under the rug. I’m letting go of relationships where I’m the only one willing to bring up uncomfortable subjects and work through the issues, over and over. I’m really letting go of relationships where I’ve brought up something that hurt me, and I was dismissed or ignored.
Trust me, I’m not perfect. I let my ego reign and I say hurtful things and I handle things the wrong way, and I can guarantee there’s been a lot of rug-brushing on my behalf. But I hold myself accountable to my mistakes, and I will jump to be the first to apologize if I know I’ve done something wrong.
Accountability is one of my core values. That’s why when a friend recently had a hard conversation with me, I listened.
She told me about a time that I had made her feel small and uncherished, when our interaction made her consider how one-sided our friendship had become. This wasn’t easy to hear, and I’ve thought about her words a lot since. But I was able to hear her, self-reflect, and see the truth about my behavior. We talked through it, I apologized, and she accepted my apology. I was flooded with gratitude and relief, and I told her so. The thing is, I had felt the fissure in our friendship. It never would have been fixed on its own. Our friendship needed her bravery to survive and strengthen. I am so thankful to have a friend who cared about me enough to have a hard conversation with me.
There are so many other hard conversations I could tell you about. Some resulted in powerful catharsis and stronger connections. Some resulted in breakups or a permanent mindset shift to deprioritize that relationship. People will always show you who they are and how important you are to them within these conversations and how they handle them—or if they choose not to have them at all. You just have to be brave, be open, and listen.
Let this be your sign. Have the hard conversation you’ve been thinking about. Take a risk and see if that relationship will blossom, or fade. Either way, you’ll have your answer. Set yourself free.
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