“I have a crush on you,” I felt the words eject themselves from my mouth in a hurried torrent of sound; rushing to be heard and yet fly away as quickly as possible. As soon as I heard my voice in the air, I wanted to call the words back as suddenly as they had come. I didn’t like the feeling of sudden vulnerability that had settled upon me.
I am the type of person that feels things deeply. I often agonize over whether my dog is feeling ill and whether a friend is unhappy. Then I spend more than the average amount of thought cycles contemplating what I could do to improve things. I don’t often vocalize the internal dialogue and when I do it’s generally because I’m beginning to reach critical mass. I had reached that point when I found myself sitting face to face with a friend wondering if there was any action to be taken or if I just had to accept the “way things were” and learn to leave the growing cluster of feelings behind. I had even set up the conversation to the point where he was asking me what was on my mind and I knew he’d worry at it like a dog at his favorite toy until I had ousted the topic I had come to discuss.
As soon as my admission had made its way into the airwaves, I could almost feel them hit a wall and my chest clenched even before he spoke a word.
“I was wondering when this conversation might come up,” he told me.
“Well, you are pretty intuitive,” I responded, stating just one of the reasons for my crush confession.
“I’m flattered,” he continued and started a speech that I had a hard time hearing because those combination of words told me most everything and I was gathering the threads of myself that I had thrown out in hopes of obtaining an answer to a question that had been hammering on my heart. The threads felt singed as I drew them back against the tightness in my chest.
He paused, searching for the right words as he often does. “It’s just that… you’re soft. And I would destroy you. What I need from a partner and what I can offer a friend are two different things.”
I heard him. I trusted him enough to take his words at face value and I left the conversation feeling deflated, defeated, and still intensely vulnerable. I held fast to the feeling that I still had a friend that cared about my well-being. How many times had I been on the receiving end of that particular kind of conversation and wanted nothing but the best for the person declaring their feelings? There was only one thing I could do: move on.
When I went to bed that evening the tears flowed freely, proving my softness beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was true. I felt everything. I absorbed everything. I processed everything. I cared about everything. The frequent stoic exterior was just a mask and he called me on it. He was one of the few people that peered past that paper mâché exterior and said what he saw. Even with his sweet speech and gentle delivery of rejection, it was still rejection and it hurt like hell. It touched that part of me that had broken open in the grief of losing my little brother and scraped against my heart. I heard him. I was wide open; ready to receive. I was soft.
The following day, I tried to keep my routine and then decided to go for a bike ride when even my morning walks didn’t distract me from the echoes of the conversation the previous evening. While my mind wandered and the tears still leaked themselves from the corners of my eyes, my body took me 25 miles down roads that didn’t matter. I was soft. However, my body reminded me that I was strong.
My body started telling me that even with my softness, it didn’t mean that I was without strength. The burn in my legs told of muscles that were being used and built up. It spoke to me that openness, vulnerability, and the ability to have difficult conversations was strength. Even if I felt every bump in the road, it was the softness of feeling that told me everything about those moments in time. The willingness to feel the sting and the cuts of emotion meant that I was putting myself in the position to grow and leave complacency behind.
As I pulled my breath in deeply and exhaled, I opened up the raw part of my heart and laid it out on the road before me embracing that piece of my personality. I felt grateful for the softness that I was beginning to learn to share. For when the going got hard, I would still have a soft place to land.