I’ve always tried to live my life without regret. I know I will make mistakes along the way, because everyone does, but I’ve always planned to just learn from them and move on.
The reality is that I’ve made a lot of mistakes and a lot I haven’t learnt from. And I often dwell on these mistakes and wonder how I could have avoided them.
In my relationships with other people I’ve often made choices that haven’t worked out for the best in the long run. I’ve lost relationships, I’ve lost friendships and, in some cases, both.
Recently I realised that one of my more common mistakes is to play down how I feel. It’s probably due to all my years of theatre classes, but I got very good at covering up how I really feel so that everyone around me thinks I’m an incredibly laid back, chilled out, happy person. If I were to put this bluntly I’d say I’m good at hiding my feelings. When I’m upset I pretend everything’s fine. When I’m overjoyed to the point where I feel like I’ll burst, I act all casual. I’m that annoying female who says “I’m fine.” when I’m really not. This makes romantic relationships problematic, and I think that this has been my downfall in the past.
We’re all afraid of being hurt. Human frailty is a part of who we are. But sometimes we can take it too far. Sometimes in our scramble to avoid getting hurt by others, we end up hurting ourselves.
I started this pattern at a young age. As a child I was extremely badly bullied in school, and I learnt very quickly that getting upset in front of the other kids just led to more teasing. I was told not to react, so that the bullies would think they weren’t hurting me and give up. So I desperately tried not to show how hurt I was every time someone made a joke at my expense. I taught myself not to cry when no one wanted to play with me at lunchtime. If I couldn’t contain my emotions I hid in the playground somewhere until I could.
In the last twelve odd years, not much has changed.
When I’m on my own, my emotions are like a roller coaster. I can feel elated, crushed, embarrassed, excited, overjoyed and pissed off all in one afternoon. If I’m around other people, I doubt anyone else would notice the changes in how I feel.
What this means is that people don’t realise when they hurt me, or when they make me happy. I can feign indifference, then come home and cry all evening or dance around my bedroom (depending on which way it went).
As a teenager, when I liked a guy, I would constantly write in my diary something like “But I can’t do [such-and-such], because then he might realise I like him!” – guess what! I still behave like that! When I really like someone I work overtime to be cool as a cucumber. I don’t drop hints, I don’t obviously hang around him all the time… I might watch him subtly from the other side of the room but that’s about it. And then I wonder why I’m still single…
I’ve been single for three years now, with a little blip half way through which didn’t amount to anything. I used to think it was because the guy met another girl he liked more, so he dated her instead of me. But now I’m not so sure. Now I wonder if it wasn’t my fault all along. I was pretty casual when I was with this guy, especially when our mutual friends were around. I let him make most of the moves and when he stopped talking to me I didn’t ask him why. I tried so hard not to be the clingy, desperate girl that I think I went too far the other way. I went so far the other way that he thought I wasn’t that interested.
This is where I let us both down. Because I was interested. I was really interested. I didn’t just like the guy, I really liked the guy. But I didn’t want to be too forward or too pushy, or basically do anything that might drive him away. And what happened? He left.
So here comes the moral of the story – don’t always stay in the grey emotions. Sometimes let yourself be black or white. Or silver or orange or purple! Let yourself have colour. Let your emotions show sometimes, bring them out when they really matter. Don’t let people you care about think you don’t care at all. Don’t lose them because of something you didn’t say.
But also know when to put on the “everything’s okay” face, because sometimes it’s useful!
You have to open up, to let people see who you really are and what you really feel.
Meet a nice guy? Tell him how nice he is. See a pretty girl at the bus station? Compliment her scarf or her eyes. Your boyfriend of two months dumps you in a cafe and says it’s because things are getting “too serious”? Tip his coffee in his lap and walk out.
Okay, so maybe don’t make a habit out of dumping coffee on people – only use that one when necessary!!
The main thing is, don’t be grey. Don’t stay in the safe zone. You may think no one can hurt you there, but that’s only because no one can reach you.
Let people reach you. Let yourself be a person people will want to reach. Be a person who has colour, who has light and shade.
And, most importantly, be you.
Because, let’s face it, you’re pretty awesome!