Part of the dance of relationship is a growing understanding and awareness of another. In time, a gift of that investment is not necessarily to say more (though my wife, Fi, would probably hope for this) but sometimes to say less and be understood.
Motive and purpose are more ambiguous to a stranger than they are to a close friend, yet it’s still an evolving intimacy; it’s always shaped and nuanced. Sometimes it’s rocked completely: an abuse of trust, gossip, or overt action towards someone can undermine a relationship and leave it either in tatters or demanding remedial action to restore the relationship.
I recently commented to someone about a mutual friend of ours that they had known far longer than I had. They corrected my understanding. It wasn’t a negative comment, but it gave a whole lot more truth to the ambivalence I’d brought to the table.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a conversation or perhaps hear a friend say something about us that butts against our self-perception. If it’s a harsh word we might say, “you know me, how could you think I could do, or say, or mean such a thing?”.
When someone you thought understood you makes a comment like this, the damage is often far greater than the comment itself. It seems like a withdrawal or even a betrayal.
The less we feel known, the more guarded and self-protective we are. The potential for a misundertanding of what we do or say is great. I have come to realise that to have a bunch of friends, no matter how small, that you can truly be comfortable around (in what you do and say) is an incredible gift.
Around close friends, I have the freedom to say some pretty outrageous things. I’m not working overtime to establish trust, be known, or carefully navigate and craft language, nor am I concerned that I may trigger or confirm some suspicion others might think or feel; I’m free to speak freely and know that when those moments come when I don’t entirely represent myself honestly, they’re capable of adjusting my words to make sense of me.
I’m not concerned about what they hear elsewhere either; I know they know me. On a good day, I trust that they’d defend me as well.
In a place of fear, we declare to ourselves that our world and the people in it are not safe for us. We bunker down, dig in, seek refuge, hear nothing and become penetrable and immovable.
Why can we say some antithetical things around those ‘safe’ people and think we can get away with it? We know that our character won’t be re-assessed in the light of a single phrase.
There are times when you catch yourself thinking: “In know that you’re thinking ‘x’ about ‘a’ as a result of me saying ‘y’, but if you knew ‘z’ then you’d know that’s not where I’m coming from in any way – I actually mean ‘b’!”. Yep, communication is a merry dance.
Relationships with open communication are rarely speedy acquisitions. When they are, they can feel a little weird! Fast friends are great but, most times, they’re the product of many years and many long conversations about a bunch of stuff. Significantly, they’re also shaped by another person having seen you in action long enough to join words and actions together. Long enough to join the dots between words and actions and produce a true picture of character. Not necessarily a pretty picture, but it’s an increasingly accurate one.
Friedrich Nietzche wrote that ‘intimacy involves shame and is, therefore, precious’. He said some other crazy stuff, too, but I reckon he was on the money here.
You don’t reveal everything to everyone. That’s fair. And it’s not because you’re necessarily secretive, it’s because over-exposure renders it common, not precious.
If it’s precious, it’s because it’s core to you and identifies you. If it’s freely available to anyone who wants it, it’s value is diminished. There’s no trust required and, seemingly, you don’t care too much about that trust being mishandled – you’ve demonstrated this by granting open access.
This is a confronting dimension of writing. It’s a potentially vulnerable expression and, depending on how it’s shared, anyone can read it. There’s also a level of safety in its anonymity as well!
The desire to be fully known or the refusal to allow another to know you at all, come from a similar place. They may be driven by different emotions, but it’s desire to be understood or protect ourselves from being misunderstood.
At the end of the ‘love chapter’ that you’ll often hear on a wedding day, Paul says something brilliant:
For now, we see in a mirror dimly but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
In Old Testament Bible talk, being ‘known’ was the deepest form of intimacy. Often used as a euphemism for intercourse, it wasn’t cheap sex, but the marriage of body, mind, soul and spirit. Not a disintegrated activity used to satisfy an abstracted primal urge, but something utterly connected with a love for the other and a desire to be known by the other.
For now, we work to make ourselves understood as best we can.
At our best we don’t craft an ideal version of ourselves, we transparently communicated who we are. It’s always a part-knowledge. As well as I know Fi, as much as we talk, as much as I’ve seen her do and say stuff, there’s far, far more that I’m yet to discover. That thought is more exciting than scary. A time is coming, though, Paul says, when we will not be ‘pretty’ well known, we will be ‘fully’ known. Utterly understood. The more beautiful exchange in this complete understanding, is that we will fully know. No shadows, no wandering, no wondering, but a full knowledge of us and of Jesus – who he is and who we are: face to face.
Bring on that day.