My military family moved a lot, so I went to eight different schools before college. One early casualty of our peripatetic lifestyle was my comfort level with girls, who were sometimes threatened by my abrupt and probably pushy arrival (military brats learn to make new friends quickly, or spend a lot of time alone.) It took me too long to learn how not to barge into new social situations, and how not to upset everyone’s apple carts.
Today I admire and enjoy many women, but I’ve had to work to overcome feeling timid around them, remembering too vividly many times during my youth when girls were downright mean to this frequently “new girl.”
I have since learned something very valuable that has helped me in my relationships with women. Here it is: it’s impossible to both be afraid of and actively care about someone—anyone—at the same time. Try it! It can’t be done. Whenever I choose one, I have to let the other go. When I allow my fears to come up, all my caring stays locked inside, hidden away. When I let my caring reveal itself, my fright disappears.
It makes perfect sense, doesn't it, that nobody warms up to someone who is apparently cold and fearful, who apparently doesn’t like them….
So I’ve learned to actively push away my defunct childhood fears whenever I’m around women. I very deliberately put aside my nervousness, and determinedly replace it by looking for, and focusing on, the good that I know is in every human being. Magically, when I do this, my uneasiness is gone.
Friendships with boys were easier for me. A tomboy raised in a family which valued men more than women, I always liked boys, and later on, men—and most people like people who like them, so men usually liked me back. I don’t remember many boys who were mean to me, although I know many women who’ve had different life experiences. (Incidentally, my insight about caring replacing fear, and vice versa, works just as well across opposite genders as it does within the same gender….)
My first trusted confidante was, predictably, a teenage boyfriend, rather than the usual sister, mom, grandmother, or longtime girlfriend (my family life was rather competitive, so I rarely let my defenses down there). My most companionable early friendships were with men. It took me far too long to admit to myself that, far from being merely disdainful and “uninterested” in women, I was really just self-protective, because I was scared of women, secretly afraid they would legitimately reject me for my many very real shortcomings.
Gradually, though, I had to face the fact that not having close women friends meant I was missing out on half of humanity. I also had to admit that there were indeed many women I liked and admired and wanted to be friends with.
I recently heard someone say (on the radio?) that what men want, even more than a “hot” woman, is a warm one—an affectionate and caring one. Truly, warmth is one of the most important qualities in a friendship.
But it’s hard to be warm when you’re feeling frozen inside a shell of anxieties and insecurities…..
I’ve found that whenever I’m consciously willing to let go of my fears, and opt instead to seek, and then openly share my genuine appreciation for another’s particular gifts, miraculously, all my worries disappear; they are somehow completely replaced by my caring. It seems that there just isn’t enough “space” in my/our little lizard-brain/s for two such opposing emotions to operate at the same time. (Perhaps a more scientific-sounding explanation of this analysis will one day emerge….)
What I’ve learned about fear and caring—that they can’t coexist, that when you choose the one, you have to let the other go—has proved to be delightfully generalizable to many other dicey, uncertain kinds of people and relationships.
Noting that my relationships with women had greatly improved (I’m much closer now to my sisters, daughters, mom-in-law, and old and new female friends) I started applying my new “fear vs. caring principle” to my other intimidating relationships—because I really do want to be the kind of happy person who doesn’t separate herself, or hold herself back from the rest of humanity, but instead, likes everyone, and relates easily and comfortably (and usefully) to everyone.
Here is a list of some potentially uncomfortable relationships with formidable “types of people” that anyone (myself included) can apply my new practice to:
People of other races, genders, and age groups; uneducated people; educated people; poor people; rich people; people with different religious beliefs and practices; people from rival schools, towns, teams, businesses, cities, states, nations; people who’ve made completely different choices in life than mine; grieving people; people from different ethnic groups; foreigners; people with different political views; people with different personal styles, values, or linguistic styles; people who (I imagine) don’t like me; people who (I imagine) won’t like me; people who (I imagine) I don’t or won’t like; strangers; really smart people; dumb ones; alcoholics; addicts; “bums”; criminals; people I’ve heard gossip about; mean people; people who seem “stuck up”; quiet people; loud people; popular people; marginalized people; grouchy people; shy people; sad people; lonely people; fat people; slim people; disabled, sick or disfigured people; dying people; confused or misguided people; troubled or needy people; crazy people; “different” people; socially clueless people; rude people; ugly people; klutzy people; angry people; family members; in-laws; people who listen to, read, watch, express, or believe different things than I do….
How often during my life will I appear in one or more of the above categories, from time to time? I can’t imagine any situation, though, in which I would prefer to be treated coldly and distrustfully, rather than with kindness and acceptance….
Learning to love my neighbor as myself is a hard challenge. It’s too easy to make exceptions, too easy to forget the golden rule of treating everyone as I would wish to be treated–and thus to miss all my opportunities to learn to be relaxed and helpful to everyone (or anyone).
Will Rogers once said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” The thousands who admired this delightful humorist knew that his most-famous assertion was completely true to his character. I used to find his statement amazing and enviable. Now I aspire to it every day.
I’m pleased to finally be learning this trick of replacing fear with caring, I’m glad to feel so much more comfortable with, and interested in, so many different people, and I’m happy to share this insight with my internet friends—each of whom, I have no doubt, is every bit as lovable, unique, fallible, worthy of respect, and downright scary-weird as I am.
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