Monday, February 22, 2010

Emotional Distance

(Warning: personal content)

In the spring of 1998 a friend of mine and I went down to Zion National Park and climbed a very pretty sandstoen route that was about 1000’ tall. I was recovering from leg surgery and didn’t do much if any of the leading, but I was rather proud of what we’d accomplished. This wasn’t a first ascent but it was a very nice line that took us over a day to finish. We took a fair amount of pictures because our employer, REI, wanted us to do a slide show for the customers. Several times when we could have just moved on and made better time we took extra effort to get the climb on film. The climb was particularly important to me because I would soon be moving away from Utah and back to Georgia. It was unlikely that I would get another chance like this to climb at this grade. Indeed, I haven’t climbed anything nearly that hard ever since.
When we got back to Georgia we put the slides together for the presentation. I wanted some friends and family members to see what we had done. So one day when they stopped by the store I pulled them aside and gave a small private screening. After only a few shots one friend, who has a serious issue with heights, asked to be excused. I showed the rest of the slides, but it was a little bittersweet. It was clear that in order to have a relationship with this friend they had to maintain a certain level of cognitive dissonance about my hobby. Which meant that I would not be able to share this aspect of myself with them.
I understand this friend’s apprehensions and I fully accept them. But at some level it saddened me. Here was something that was important to me, something that I enjoy and I had to hide it away in order to not upset them. Since this event I’ve learn about several other things that I do that upset certain people that I am close to. Don’t get too hung up on the first example. This is about much more that just the fact that I like to go climbing and caving. I have a long mental list of topics that I need to avoid cross-referenced to friends and family members. It seems that as I get older the lists just keep on growing too.
So what are my choices? I can have a relationship where I personally hide nothing and stay completely open about my opinions and activities even though that makes loved ones uncomfortable. Or I can hide a few details about things that are important to me in order to not upset people, but in turn I come across as emotionally distant. Or I can not have any relationship at all with people who don’t accept me as I am. Granted there are shades of grey between each of these. Ideally I’d like to be completely honest with everybody and still not upset people. But so far I haven’t had much luck with that one. Perhaps it’s something about my personality. I don’t know.
This post would not be complete without stating how grateful I am to the one person who I feel really understands and accepts me. Victoria and I disagree on many issues. And that’s great. She doesn’t need to be just an echo of my views, likes and dislikes in order for me love her and have a relationship with her. If I could only figure out how to be just as honest with the rest of the world as I am with her and not drive them away.


  1. "Ideally I’d like to be completely honest with everybody and still not upset people."

    Is that really ideal? I'm not saying you have to be deceitful, but I don't think you have to be "completely" honest with someone in order to have a happy, healthy relationship. For example, there are things about your relationship with Victoria that you would never discuss with anyone else. Would any of your relationships improve if you suddenly started being completely honest about these things? That's an extreme example, but it illustrates my point. Every relationship is different, so you have to treat it differently from every other relationship.

    Look at it from someone else's point of view. Suppose you have friends who are outdoor enthusiasts, love climbing, and discussing religion, philosophy, skepticism, etc. but they're also beer/wine connoisseurs. Are you going to as interested or engaging in a conversation about alcohol as you are about the topics where you have a mutual interest? Probably not, even if you try to participate you just won't have the same level of interest as they do. So their options are keep discussing this thing that definitely makes you an outsider, or bring the conversation back to the areas where there is mutual interest.

    Going back to your rock climbing buddy, sure there was some sadness that you wouldn't be able to share this part of your life with that friend. Obviously, it means that there are things you won't experience together. However, I don't think that should diminish the value of the relationship. Rather than focusing on the things that you won't be able to do together, or keeping a list of things that you can't talk about with certain people. It might be more beneficial to keep a positive list of the things that you have in common and the things that you can talk about together.

    Lastly, I think there may be more to your post than the words convey. From what I know of you and the interactions we share, there are things that you would like to discuss with people, that are often a source of strong emotions, specifically, though not exclusively, politics and religion. You, like all of the Taylor clan, are a very passionate person, and when emotions run high, we don't control those emotions easily. It's not always a bad thing, but such zeal can mask well reasoned ideas. For that reason, I rarely discuss these topics outside of internet forums. Otherwise, I tend to say things in a way that I end up regretting.

  2. I agree that all too frequently I say things I'd wish I hadn't. This passion and my inability to respond without offending adds to the problem for me.

  3. I think there is a difference between being completely honest and bringing up inappropriate personal relationship information. That is taking the point of honesty too far afield, which I don't think was Michael's point.

    I think there is plenty of talk about getting to know people better, but I think the terminology is different among the family members. I perceive some folks taking it literally, as to such things as politics, religion, day to day struggles, while others perceive it as a way to do service together and have a feel good experience together. I think the distinction should be made. Service is great and we can talk about the weather, pets, and other lighter topics without going deeper.

  4. I think I know what you mean. Like when A. got pregnant w/our daughter, there was a woman at her school (far away from here) who made it kind of obvious she didn't want to talk about it. We thought maybe she'd lost a child. No, she just couldn't have any. Well that's sad, but no reason to keep others from talking about it. My dad and brother love golf. I don't, but to tell them not to discuss it when I'm around would be silly. I keep up with it just enough to not look like a doofus and excuse myself when they're spending the day watching millionaires hit balls with sticks.

    Now, yes, if you're talking about religion & politics then you have to either keep your mouth zipped or be ready to alienate people (or do what many seem to do and hang out with only people who believe the exact same things they do--but that can get kinda boring...)

    I have more to say, but this is too long already...

  5. Jim,
    I like your analogy of being pregnant. How in the world could A. show up to the same event as this friend and not upset her? How could she possibly avoid talking about something that was such an intergral part of who she was at that time?
    The climbing story was just an analogy. I have no problems avoiding discussing it with those who it upsets. But other topics, some of which you hinted at, are such a part of who I am that I have a hard time avoiding talking about them.

    To Marcus's point: Yes, I also have a list of things that I can talk about with different people. Unfortunately in group situations this list frequently conflict with the other list. My common response has been to only respond to topics that have already been brought up by others.