Dropping the Mask

September 13, 2017 at 9:40 pm

What’s the one the thing you’re afraid to tell someone? That one thing someone could use against you. Whatever it is, telling someone you trust could be the ticket to real, authentic intimacy. That’s what I was seeking out of a recent visit with my family.

I travel home once year for Christmas. It’s usually pretty awkward. My sister makes sure only politically correct topics are discussed at the dinner table. I usually go home disappointed by the lack of connection.

This year I was hoping things would be different. My partner, our daughter and I decided to make our annual trip the last week of summer for a change. I’d just made some pretty big life changes – selling my food truck and moving into a camper to travel the country for a while.

On the way there I had high hopes I’d finally be able to connect
with family and friends. I dreamt of being vulnerable with them and them with me.

Being vulnerable is hard, because it leaves us open to attack. It’s still not something I’m always comfortable doing, but I’m working on it because the juice is worth the squeeze. It’s the only way to form meaningful relationships.

Ever since I’ve learned to open up to others, I expect the same level of vulnerability in return. If I don’t I get it, after a while, the relationship fizzles out.

When I’m vulnerable with someone and they’re vulnerable back, I’m left feeling grateful and fulfilled, even if the connection isn’t over something fun. I’ve had friends admit that they’re scared of being alone, terrified in fact. I’ve had friends tell me they’re so angry they could kill the person they’re angry at. I’ve had friends tell me the only reason they’re in a relationship is because they’re more afraid of being alone.

Sharing our secret fears and desires is the only way we ever truly connect. I’ve been wanting this kind of connection with my family for a very long time.

When I first arrived everyone was excited to see us, and we were excited to see them. Our daughter and her cousin were getting along great, which gave the adults some time to catch up.

“I sold the food truck, bought a camper and said fuck the system,” I said, as my partner popped open a bottle of bubbly in celebration of our new-found freedom.

Everyone in the room got quiet. All I could hear was the sound of the champagne splashing into my cup. My aunt’s eyebrows furrowed. My cousin’s expression went clueless (seriously, just like in the movie). My stepmom remained her stone-cold self  and my dad wasn’t really listening, as usual. My happy moment quickly soured.

I was trying to explain how I felt about the work I’d just left behind, that I hated it. I told them it was wearing me down both physically and mentally… that I was running out of time to connect with my partner and child… I was angry and sad about how many hours I’d put in… how stressful cooking out of an old, greasy truck had been .. how fucking annoying customers were and unreliable my staff was… that it was never ending… the work literally followed me home.

Everything about the food truck sucked, except my food… my grass-fed cheeseburgers smothered in demi-glace and caramelized onions were legendary.

Okay, enough of the ego stroking. I was wanting empathy — someone to lend an ear and open mind, without judgement. I was met with opposite.

“You’re going to live out of a camper? You’re not going to homeschool your daughter are you? Life is hard… You have to work hard… Everyone has to work hard… It’s the only way,” my other aunt scolded my partner.

“Why don’t you just get a job? I think you’d be good in sales,” my sister suggested.

I felt like Neo from the Matrix watching their questions whiz by like bullets, only making me stronger and more defiant as a result.

Instead of active listening, I was talked over and talked to. I felt their shame. It was heartbreaking. When the only thing a person has to offer in a relationship is advice on what you should do with your life, you might be in an abusive relationship.

Being honest about my unhappiness with the course my life had taken thus far, and about how disillusioned I was with society at large, was my way of being vulnerable, getting real… but the authenticity was one-sided.

Their judgment, criticism and unsolicited advice were invalidating of my experience and the new path I’d chosen for myself — the simple life of a gypsy blogger. It was time to move on. We decided to hit the road again, stopping to reflect in the woods and on the beach, feeling our way back to ourselves.

I’m still not sure exactly where I’m going, or exactly what I’m doing with my life. I’m starting to accept the answers to those questions will be ever changing. One thing I know for sure is it’s all meaningless without human connection. So as tempting as it is to write them off for good, I’ll always hold out hope that one day we can drop our masks and show our true selves – the good, the bad and the ugly.