Let's Be Real
Ever put on a fake personality when it comes to a particular person in your life? Every time you talk to this person, you act like everything is perfect and great when the truth is you’re not telling them how you really feel? And you never tell them how you really feel and then years pass and you can’t even recall how things got where they are - disconnected. You tell yourself it’s best to just slap on a happy face and shove all of your feelings deep into a chocolate lava bunt cake that you can eat later when no one is looking. I would never do that of course, it would be more like a family size bag of Hot Cheetos, but you get the idea.
And whenever you see this person you sound like a Stepford Wife “Oh, everything’s going great. How are you? How’s your book coming along? Oh, really, that’s wonderful. So great to see you, let’s have lunch sometime…blah, blah, blah” And inside you’re like “You asshole! Why don’t call me?? Why don’t you like me?? Why haven’t you aged as much as I have??!!” ’
We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s your sister-in-law. Maybe it’s your ex that you’ve been stalking on social media. Or maybe it’s your own mother who totally ghosted you after you didn’t become an orthopedic doctor like your father and his father before him. Whatever the circumstance, when you get into a conversation with that person, you find yourself protecting, defending, avoiding, or trying to make the relationship something that it isn’t. So what’s going on that you feel that you can’t open up. You’re resigned that you can’t change anything and now you’re never going to let that person know how you really feel.
Everybody has at least one, and for me, it’s my brother. We have the kind of relationship where if I call or text him, he doesn’t respond right away, if he returns my call at all. He declines every invitation, often without any response whatsoever, which feels like an even louder rejection than simply saying he had a previous engagement. Whenever I know I am going to be seeing him I go out of my way to make sure my outfit and hair are perfect and I prepare for utter rejection by closing off the hurt and disappointment that I know is coming. I indirectly check in to how he is doing through other family members or even worse through his Instagram feed, which demonstrates to me that he’s perfectly happy and thriving without any sign of something missing, like his sister for example.
I’ve been telling myself that I love and accept him for who he is, and that I don’t need him to call me back. And I know at my core that this is the real truth, I don’t need my brother to call me back in order to love him. So why am I feeling so awful about it? I thought about where this story about how “I can’t talk to my brother” even started?
What came was a memory I hadn’t thought about in a really long time. When he was just seven years old, and I was 8, we were living with my dad and stepmom. My brother and I were best of friends, laughing, playing, couldn’t pull us apart. We hadn’t seen much of our real mother since the divorce as my dad had custody and vigorously fought and visitation rights for her. All of us kids, me, my brother, and our older sister hated our evil stepmother, loved our dad very much, and missed our real mom. The fighting was just getting too brutal between our real parents to make visitation even feasible, so a social worker was assigned by a judge to interview each one of us kids independently to find out who we wanted to live with.
My dad and stepmother coached us in advance to make sure we would select them. The three of us kids agreed amongst ourselves that we would all vote for dad so we could stay together. My sister went first and chose my dad and stepmom, I went next and I didn’t have the courage to say what I really wanted, my mother, and I chose my dad and stepmother. Then, my brother went in. He chose mom. Totally breaking the alliance. I was pissed! Not only would I not get to see my brother growing up, but for me, he became someone who gets what he wants and doesn’t care about me or anyone else. I felt abandoned and betrayed. And on top of that, I would be stuck with not only my evil stepmother, but the feeling that I’m too afraid ask for what I want.
This was the original tragedy that I’ve been keeping alive. Behind every conversation with my now grown-up brother, who made a decision when he was seven, he’s the guy who hurt me. I’m defensive and protective and I was going to make him pay by being passive aggressive. I could NEVER tell him the truth, that I love him and all I ever wanted was to go back to the days where we were best friends, laughing, playing, and couldn’t be pulled apart.
And it hit me like a ton of bricks that I’m the one who hasn’t been telling my truth. I thought about the things I say to him verses the things I’m thinking and feeling and I wonder what I was afraid of. I had nothing to lose and a brother to gain, so I called him. I told him everything. We talked, honestly and openly. He said he was so glad that I had called him and told him that and that he had no idea that I was even experiencing those thoughts and feelings all this time. He just thought it was strange that we were so disconnected. As the years went by, he just didn’t know what to do about it, or even if there was anything to do.
Here I am trying to be a public speaker talking about how to be authentic and speak up and there are times where I can’t even find my own voice - so I held my feet to the fire and I wrote a list of all the people who I am actively not telling how much I care about them. The list is super long, but I’m making those calls and I can’t tell you how good it feels to be free to tell people that they really matter.