But Ultimately Honest Communication is Key

Unless you’ve been living under a rock where you have no internet access and, for some unknown reason, haven’t been reading Polyskeptic, you might have noticed a lot of discussion lately about the tension between being expressing sexual/romantic interest in people and creating a safe space for all to feel comfortable in places like conferences (and really anywhere).  That is quite the oversimplification and I encourage you to read the posts I linked to if you haven’t already.

I thought that perhaps I should weigh in, but I don’t really have a lot to say that hasn’t already been said.  I am in the “Directness is better and preferred” camp of social interaction.  I didn’t used to be…I used to spend a lot of time either not saying things or coming up with excuses so that I didn’t have to say no (and I’m not even talking about rejecting people’s sexual advances.  I’m talking about how I used to speak to my friends).  In the past few years I have made a real effort to be honest even when it is difficult (which is usually is).  In addition, I greatly admire people who are blunt and honest.  To me, dancing around subjects isn’t cute or desired.  In my experience, overly polite communication is unsatisfying and relatively ineffective.

But instead of writing an entire essay about this philosophy, I thought I would write about a recent example of A+ blunt, honest communication being the best way and why I think that this should be everyone’s goal in a perfect world.

I met Alex at a BBQ.  Yes, I met the Alex that now writes for Polyskeptic at a BBQ.  BBQ’s are awesome apparently because you meet awesome attractive people who also happen to be highly intelligent and equipped with mad writing skillz.  Perhaps that’s just this particular BBQ, but I’ll take it.

As is the custom these days, we became Facebook friends days after the BBQ and began “liking” each other’s status updates and posting witty comments on each other’s walls.  I pointed this out to Wes and he coined the phrase “Flirtbooking”.  After a few days of this, I was wondering whether it was, in fact, flirtbooking, and being interested I decided to just come right out and say something.  Long story short, we made a date for last weekend.

After the initial “Ooh! Shiny new person! How exciting” wore off, I started to fret.  It is no secret that I am close to a few self-proclaimed, unapologetic sluts.  I equate this, and many of their other attitudes, as very sex positive.  I have spent a large part of my life being terrified of sex for various reasons and so the confidence and comfort it takes to be this way is something I admire.  Of course, it’s really the confidence and comfort I admire over the actual sluttiness, but it all kind of goes together in my mind.

I suppose that I can say that I have been going through an awakening of sorts over the last few years.  I have become less negative in general, and part of that has been about gaining a positive, healthy point of view about sex.  I have been feeling so much better about it that I thought that it would be possible for me to emulate the things I admire so much.  And yet, there I was fretting about what I was supposed to do on this date if I was going to be all sex positive and stuff.  I kid you not when I say that I actually sat there wondering how best to serve the feminist movement, the poly movement, and the “let’s stop demonizing sex” movement with my actions on this date.  I was barely thinking about how I actually felt and what I wanted to do.

Finally, after many conversations with Wes and Shaun, I realized that I don’t have to be the revolution and the best way to serve any of it is to do what I want.  That’s basically what every revolution is about anyway: Changing society so that more people can be free to do as they please while respecting everyone’s autonomy and agency.  Or something.  The point was that I knew that I felt completely uncomfortable with the idea of hooking up with someone I barely knew, no matter how good at making cheese related puns via text message they were.

So we went out and it was a great time and we talked about a whole lot of things.  I told him about an incident last year that was very upsetting.  It was the closest experience I have ever had to an assault and I realized as I sat there fretting for days that I am still very affected by it.  There was nothing about Alex that was creepy.  Nothing he was saying or doing was indicating to me that I had anything to fear, but I assumed that I should fear and it was a great source of conflict for me.

I came home and was still conflicted and it was all because I was remembering what one asshole did a year ago.  The date with Alex went quite well and I was excited and happy about that, but I was also terrified of making another mistake as I had before in trusting too easily and assuming that no one who knows me and gets to be with me like that would ever hurt me.  And I realize that this is, quite unfortunately, something that many women deal with constantly.  I was lucky in that I had gone 30 years of my life without ever dealing with any kind of thing like that, and I am astounded at the effect that it had on me.

So this week rolls around and we start talking about when we’d like to go out again.  I’m going to put the text messages here (Alex has given me permission to write about all of this):

Alex: I’m free Friday.  Have the whole house to myself, in fact. I might even do some weeding/cleaning if someone’s coming over. J

Me: Hmm, I will let you know.  Have to see if I can have the car and such. J

What was really happening after I sent that message was that I was having a bit of a freak out.  Again, I was completely conflicted.  I knew that I was interested in Alex, and attracted to him…but I didn’t know if I wanted to be in a situation like that.  I talked to Wes about it and he calmed me down saying that if I don’t feel comfortable, then it’s probably premature to be alone with him in his house.  So after that I did the only thing I could: Be clear and honest.

Me:  So here’s the thing.  I definitely like you.  I am definitely attracted to you and all that good stuff.  But, I also think I should get to know you better before I’m in that sexy a situation.  Last night I went through a lot of difficulty remembering everything about the incident I told you about.  Sex requires a lot of vulnerability for me, and I need to trust you.  I don’t think that will take long.  I don’t really see a reason to be scared of you…but I’m scared in general.

He completely understood, saying that he likes showing off his house and that his couch is more comfortable than the dark park we were sitting in before but that going out would also be lovely.

The next day he wrote me a really impressive email explaining himself.  It was impressive for a few reasons.  First, he talked a lot about how he could understand how his proposed plan may have seemed creepy even if that wasn’t his intention.  He admitted that he trusts people pretty easily but that him trusting people will likely not result in some sort of grave consequence.  He explained that he is interested in me for more than one reason.  But he also didn’t say that was uninterested in sex.  He made it very clear that he is attracted to me and would be pleased with that eventuality.

That last part is important.  He could have easily said, “What?  NO! The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.” Or something that would be a less obvious lie like, “No, no, no, I was inviting you over just to watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force.”  Because he was upfront and honest about everything, I know that the rest of the things said in the email weren’t bullshit.

Now, I could have responded to his text thusly: “Oh, well, it looks like I won’t be getting the car, so getting to your house will be difficult.  Why don’t we meet in the city?”

Perhaps he would have replied immediately that this plan sounded good.  But he also, more likely, could have replied that there were public transit options or that he could come get me or various other solutions.  By not saying my real concern, I have given him a fake stumbling block that is easy to overcome.  I, like many of the people I adore, are solution finders, so if you lie about the problem and the problem is something we can solve, the conversation gets very drawn out.  If I was committed to not hurting his feelings therefore refusing to say that going to his house at this juncture is scary to me, we would have gone back and forth until I would have been forced out of exasperation to tell him the truth OR “give in” and put myself in a situation I don’t really want to be in, be all weird about it, and possibly shame myself into doing something I am “supposed to do” because, well, I’m the one that agreed to come over. (Again, he gave me no indication that anything like that would be an issue, but I had left over fears).

In addition, because I chose to be honest with him, it started a really good conversation.  Both of us apparently had moments in our email exchange where we were afraid to hit send because we thought that sharing that much about the inner working of our minds might be a turn off, but we clicked send anyway and have gotten that much closer to really knowing something about each other.  As such, I am looking really forward to going out on Friday, and not just because we’re going to get to make fun of hipsters at Barcade.

I have chosen to share all this because I think it’s a good example of two people who ARE in fact interested in dating and that it all could have gone to hell if we didn’t choose to really speak to each other.  I know that it’s different than some random person coming up to you at a bar or at a conference, but I think it highlights why honesty and straightforwardness can be so very important and so rewarding.  Sometimes being very upfront, on both sides, can lead to changing the conversation to something both people can be happy and comfortable with, and that can lead to even better things.

2 thoughts on “But Ultimately Honest Communication is Key

  1. In my view, there are varying levels of “telling the truth”. What you actually wrote to Alex was certainly honest and admirable in a way, but you could have said something similar in a slightly more ambiguous way – for instance, that you weren’t quite sure or comfortable about the suggestion of meeting him at his house, but you were looking forward to going out with him again and getting to know him better.

    This is not to second-guess what you actually did: in fact, your choice almost certainly led to improved comfort and intimacy. But the degree to which we trust others can be quite variable, so opening up completely is not always appropriate or even desirable. It’s up to us to find the best way of conveying what we want to, while avoiding actual dishonesty.

  2. @Guest: I think I just kind of recoil and the idea that choosing more ambiguous language in personal communications is ever really the best way to go. In this case, I don’t see how saying simply that I am uncomfortable about meeting him at his house would have been better. When I am talking to people, I want them to have all the information that is relevant and I believe that all of the detail I provided resulted in him feeling comfortable to talk to me about it (knowing that I did not, in fact, think he was a creep at all) and started a much more important and satisfying conversation.

    Obviously everyone’s experience is different. My personal history has shown me that not saying what I really mean, leaving out stuff that might be hard for a person to hear, or being silent altogether has led to the most damage. Sure, I’ve had things I was honest about used against me, but the incidence of that is much lower than the good that has come out of being direct and unambiguous.

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