scottahill: (Default)
It occurred to me a few weeks ago that to make a good friend one must make oneself vulnerable to them. If you don't take any risks with someone, then you're not likely to get past a friendly acquaintanceship with them. That seemed right to me, and I know that I've been overly cautious and defensive ever since I got to Chicago ten years ago, which marks the time I stopped making good friends. But then I realized that I am often eager to share my hard-luck stories with people, at the drop of a hat sometimes. At my most recent physics conference, for example, I told several people about not finding a job, having trouble finding a research niche, etc. This is a demonstration of weakness, and isn't that being vulnerable? And yet I know that if I go around whining about how pathetic I am, then that's a good way to annoy people, not to make friends.

I ran this all by my therapist, and he pointed out something I hadn't considered: vulnerability isn't just about demonstrating your weaknesses. Vulnerability can also mean demonstrating your passions, your interests, your emotions. Being silly with people is being vulnerable...when do I get the chance to be silly with people anymore, outside of my family? Now it is true: expressing deep passion for a subject in conversation can overwhelm some people, chase them away, make them avoid you, but it's the best way to find people who share that passion, or that silliness, or that strange interest...and that's how friendships are born.

As I thought about this, I realized just how this has been missing from my life, since college. In college I got silliness (and lots of heated arguments about musical minutiae) from the Bethans, and my thesis advisor would actually get excited about things we'd find. It occurs to me how rare it is to find a physicist who ever seems excited: so many physics profs are so placid-- friendly mostly, sometimes sarcastic, but oh-so-matter-of-fact. I am no way like that: I burn hot and cold, never warm, but I have to hold that back constantly so as not to look out of place. I've gotten the feeling that to become too emotional in conversation will overwhelm the person I'm talking to, make me look like a nut, and embarrass or cause awkwardness (a great sin). I spend so much time tending the dike that holds those emotions in, that I have little energy to spend listening to other people, so I've become self-centered.

I've been thinking for a long time, "Oh, how I wish I had good friends about, so that I could let these walls down and be myself without worrying constantly that I will mortally offend." I now think I have that backwards: I have to let the walls down FIRST, and take the risk that I will offend (pretty hard to offend someone mortally, after all), before I can have the sort of friendships I'm looking for.

One last problem: all this sounds rather egotistical on my part. I spend a lot of time worrying about whether I'm dominating a conversation (another great sin), and the thought of reducing my level of self-censorship seems like I'll just talk about myself even more. I don't know how to handle this. Sometimes the person I'm talking to is also a great self-talker, and then I don't have to hold back, but if they're a quieter sort of person, it's particularly tricky.

Well, enough of that for now.


scottahill: (Default)

September 2010

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