Thursday, March 12, 2009

Do I Look Fat In This? Wait! Don't Answer Because What I Mean Is, um, Do You Like Think I'm Worth It And Stuff?

So, I was reading my friend Scott's blog (www.peculiarpastorscott.blogspot.com) this morning and he raised an interesting question about honesty. Basically, how honest do you want people to be with you? Can you be honest and still be kind? Or does honesty inherently possess a brutality to it - a ruthlessness. Is being completely honest with a friend about something critical or unpleasant akin to jungle cat pouncing all fang and claw on a baby zebra? 
I got my first lessons in honesty from my mother. Before you get all, "Awwwwwwww..." and misty, let me say that my mother's definition of honesty has very little to do with truth and everything to do with her hyper-critical, completely off opinions about everyone and everything. Growing up with her was quite a bit like spending your formative years being informed of yourself by that kid in 3rd grade who absolutely lived to make you miserable.
When I was 9, I was in a dance review. I was really proud of myself in my sparkly suit and my big tuille hair bow and my tap shoes. I remember coming breathlessly off the stage all giddy, ready to just jump around and really be plain old happy with being me when my mother said, "When I looked at all those little girls up there, really, Jenny, you were the fattest one up there."
Boom. Right? Thud. From flying to flattened in two seconds.
Now, my mother was being "honest". She was sharing what she thought. 
It's just that what she thought was inappropriate and cruel. Without the ability to self-censor or realize how incredibly hurtful her thoughts and feelings were, she called herself possessing a unique virtue (and she still does). 
There are really beautiful pictures of me in that dance costume that I can't look at without wincing, feeling that echo punch in the gut. And although I know I was beautiful and lovely and deserved to be lovingly parented as much as the next kid, that horrible crash down is so much a part of who I am today. It's a large part of why I don't try so hard; why I don't want much; why I am unable to see myself as I really am; why I don't talk about how I feel; why I am so closed off; why my arms aren't as open as they should be.
To flip the coin, though, there are times when that level of honesty is good. When someone you love is trapped by a destructive relationship or drug abuse, when people are floundering, constantly choosing to do the wrong thing, a little ruthless honesty can be good. Everyone needs a good slap in the face once in awhile. But a loving slap. A "Hey-I-Really-Love-You-But-Have-You-Lost-Your-Damn-Mind" kick in the pants. Those people who can grab you up by the scruff of your neck when you're in the gutter peeing down your leg, those honest people, they are the ones that love you best. Because they are willing to piss you off to save you from yourself. They are willing to sacrifice their relationship with you so that you can improve yourself. But it's a fine line between lovingly packing a wollop and clubbing someone over the head. Very few people are willing to deal with the ramifications of that kind of honesty. 
But then, there's the honesty Scott was really getting at, I think. The honesty that kind of pops up unexpectedly; where you mistakenly open Pandora's Box without every realizing you had hold to the lid. When David and I were first together, I remember lying on the sofa talking to him on the phone and in my 17-year-old folly, I asked him, "What do you want?" thinking he'd say, "I want YOU, Jenny. I want to marry you and have 300 children and live my life for you and only you, you magnificence, you wonder, you essential beautiful joy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
What he said was, "What if I can't do this anymore? What if I need a break from this?"
w
h
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
e
splat.
Quite the anti-climax, there. Not exactly what I was after. And he didn't do anything wrong, even though it hurt like a bitch. He was just being honest. And he needed to be. What is a relationship if information like that isn't shared? Not hurled, but shared? If he had never uttered those words to me all those years ago, as much as it hurt, as much as I hated to hear them, would we be here today? Together?
Or would there have been some sprouting done by that acorn, ultimately breaking apart the sidewalk of our love? And at what point would that have happened? Before marriage? After? Before children? After? What would our lives be now if I'd never asked the question? Or if he  had chosen the safe answer?
The truth is not good or bad. It just is. And honesty is how we all relate to the neutral truth. I could have 100 different kinds of cancer and deny every one, but I'd still die. If I were honest with myself and others about them, it wouldn't change the outcome, but it would change me. And it would change those around me, maybe make life better by making it sadder. (Better Living Through Melancholia!) 
You really should never ask, "Do I look fat in this?" unless you're prepared for the answer to be, "Yes!". It's hard. It's so damn hard to extend yourself out there, blind to the opinions of others and yet, so very vulnerable to them. It's hard to struggle through your own feelings of inadequacy to muster up the courage to ask someone else, "Am I okay? Am I good enough? Do you think I'm pretty only skin-deep, because I know what's up inside and I'm pretty good in there? Do you like me? Do I please you? Will you love me? Could you? Just love me?" And I guess that's what we're all looking for; an honest answer to that question and also the reason the blanket notion of Jesus' love is so very appealing. Because, I tell you, it'd take the son of God to love some of those people out there.
But I don't mean you. Because you are okay. You are so beautiful. I do like you and you are pleasing in every way to me. How couldn't you be? I love you. I love you. I love you.
And I mean it.
Honest.

5 comments:

Christi said...

Oh Jenny.....I love you. :) And I didn't mean to post my comment on FB...I'm a bit of a techno-dork. I hear what you're saying. Honesty is the best policy, but do you have to be so dang ugly with it all the time?

Jennifer said...

root, hog or die, christi!

Anonymous said...

Oh wow -- this essay is just beautiful. I have so much to say about it . . . but what you said about your mom is really interesting because, obviously, we come from the same family and my dad is SUPER fucked up about food and weight. To this day, he thinks I should be able to eat 6,000 calories a day and weigh 100 pounds. And guess what? I did that in high school -- and beyond. For seven years. It's called bulimia, folks. Fun times. Love you Jenny. Thank you for sharing this blog with me.

sabrina said...

I often think I am honest to a fault. My intentions are never to offend or hurt (ok sometimes), but I guess it comes from living around lies and secrets. I would rather just lay it out there, no matter the consequence. I know I bug you all the time by calling and stuff, but it's only because I feel we are so very different yet so much alike and I often just need to know that it is okay to be me. You give me that. Thanks

Jennifer said...

you don't bother me, sabrina! stop saying that. it's beneath you and beneath our relationship as sisters-in-law. if i had a problem with you, you'd know it. :-)