"You don't even know me," I said. "We've been dating three years, and you don't even know me."
There was so much power in those words. They were so accurate and scathing and heartbreaking all at the same time. And when I said them aloud to him, during a fight, I felt that I had finally said something that fit.
And it was true. He didn't know me. But not because he didn't want to or didn't try; I didn't let him. Just like I don't let anyone really know me. I rely on sarcasm and omission to hide the true me. I don't know when it started, but I withhold pieces of myself even from those closest to me. And I don't know why I'm so terrified to let someone in on who I am, inside and out.
In dating Tom, I found myself lost in games. I was in an endless chess tournament, constantly thinking about his next move and how I should play mine. I wouldn't compliment him when he looked nice because I wanted to see if he'd compliment me first. I wouldn't offer to take him out to dinner because he hadn't taken me out in weeks. I would want to mention marriage, but bite my tongue, knowing that bringing it up would only cause a fight. If he did something I didn't like, I tried to let it slide, knowing that he would make me feel tiny and insignificant if I critiqued him. The result was a me that I didn't even know. And yet I still expected him to know me. I was weak and timid where I was normally strong. I was afraid to give for fear of lack of reciprocation. I was terrified of being made a fool. I didn't want to be taken advantage of, so I would deny him the little things that I felt I was being denied of. I lost who I was for almost four years, and I cried and wailed over the notion that he didn't want to marry me. But me didn't exist anymore.
With most of my friends, I am a chameleon. My attitude, sense of humor and my demeanor shifts depending on whose company I happen to be keeping. With most of my friends, I am a walking comedy routine, regurgitating my dating mishaps for their amusement, tearing my lackluster lovelife to shreds before they get the chance to do it for me. I accept their humorous jousts, and refuse to stick up for myself, preferring instead to take it all in, stew in it, and be mad at them for it later. Somehow, even though I joke about me right along with them, I expect them to understand that it hurts, that I have feelings too. I don't tell them when I'm sad or happy or morose or even just blah, because I don't want to give them access to that part of me. Yet I find myself angry with them for never asking me about me. The me that they do not, may not ever, know.
I remember myself years ago: Open and eager to trust, willing to divulge any detail of my life to anyone who cared enough to ask. I always loved my naïveté, cherished it, and hoped that it would never escape me. But it has. I feel a shell building around me. The kind that refuses to let people get too close, the kind that keeps people at arm's length. The kind that keeps you lonely.
So I wonder, if I'm becoming the hardened woman I never wanted to be, how do I stop it from progressing any further? I may know who I am, but how do I get past being afraid to let other people know, too?