When do we stop caring about what other people think about us? At the age of 44, I seem to be stuck in the middle. I am old enough that I don’t care what people think about most things, but young – or just sensitive – enough that there remain a few things I keep close to the vest, fearing I might be judged. I don’t do well with judgment. Judgment is the Boogie Man under the bed, and I still stick my head over the side at night, just to make sure.
As children we’re too naïve to care what other people think of us, but that changes as we age and we become aware of how other people’s perceptions and opinions shape things. The innocence of youth allows everything through, but we add filters with each year that passes, layers of protection to prevent people from hurting us. At some point as we get older, if we’re lucky we find the confidence to remove some of those filters, but it often remains dependent upon the environment we’re in at any given moment. With close friends we might remove most of them; with others we’re still careful, watchful. With family… well, I suppose it depends upon your family. Some people might require more filters in family situations; I am lucky in that I require less. My family knows where (most of) the bodies are buried anyway.
I stopped drinking at the age of 19, so I had a weird mix of environments. In AA total honesty is encouraged, which is a great thing if you’re mature enough to know where and when to stop with it. I didn’t, always (note: I am sure my friends would tell you that I still don’t). This led to any number of bizarre situations in college settings, where my outright honesty didn’t sit too well with others. I was a sorority sister who was going to AA meetings on the side… I didn’t quite fit into any mold. I remember having a conversation with a college friend. She was talking about being lonely, but using a guy friend as a “human vibrator” when things got rough. When I suggested it might be less complicated to use an actual vibrator, she was shocked and appalled. “I couldn’t do THAT!” At 21 I didn’t get it, and I’m not sure I do at 44. Given a choice between the two, I’d pick the one that didn’t have me slinking away afterward with apologies and regret, or facing potential embarrassment later. After all, you’re unlikely to bump into an actual vibrator outside of World History II.
But that’s me, then and now. Topics that embarrass others don’t faze me, and other things that don’t bother most people make me cringe. I still don’t fit, or I don’t feel like I fit. I’m not old enough to have removed all of the filters, but I am old enough to be annoyed by having to decipher which one to use, where. When in doubt I ask my husband or someone else I trust. The trouble is, my husband is far, far more sensitive and easily embarrassed than I am. He can’t generally even read my blog, because he finds it easier not to know what I’m putting out there for anyone to see. I find relief in it, but some of my openness makes him want to crawl under the bed and hide. I hope the Boogie Man will make room for him.