It's Time to Talk it Out
by Amanda Padden
His long legs stretched out the length of my bed, and his gaze focused on anywhere but my own.
“So yea, I think I have feelings for you.” His words come out smoothly, without any hesitation. I was surprised-- not just by his statement of affection, given we’d already tried to be something more than friends two months prior, but by his willingness to say exactly what he felt. I mumbled some kind of non-answer, and we left it at that.
I had never had an interaction with someone who was so outright with how they felt. At the time, I was notorious for using passive aggression to communicate my emotions. It had been pretty much accepted as a part of who I was, until I started attending a new high school. There, the students operated with constant and open communication. Fights were resolved with words. Relationships lived and died with conversations. Feelings were expressed out in the open, rather than shoved in some deep, hidden abyss. And, I was completely unprepared.
Growing up, I never truly learned how to productively communicate my emotions. When I was angry at my parents, I would storm upstairs and let the rage pass with my locked bedroom door as protection. When I was upset, I would wait until I was in my car alone to let tears spill. I found ways of letting out built up emotions without having to address them head on. It was certainly not a healthy way to handle myself, but it worked well enough for me. I let things that were bothering me continue. I ignored problems and pushed on.
I think we expect people to immediately know how to talk about their feelings. We get justifiably frustrated when people fail to be direct with their problems. For me, it was a learning process. It took practice. I attempted to have the tough conversations with my loved ones, because I knew that it was the right way to handle things. I would stare at the floor and try my best to put what I felt out there. I worked to embrace the discomfort and vulnerability. It was a challenge for me, and it is an ongoing project.
Relationships require communication. We all know it, but we all haven’t developed the skills needed to have effective conversations. Some of us need a nudge in the right direction. I wouldn’t have tried to have conversations about my feelings if there weren’t people showing me how to and encouraging me. My friends forced me into the difficult conversations. Unbeknownst to them, by initiating conversations about something that was bothering them in our friendship, they were teaching me what it means to be in a healthy relationship. I am certain my failure to communicate my feelings directly was frustrating, but they gave me the space I needed to start learning how to have those conversations.
We all start from different places in our communication skills. Learning how to talk about our feelings and about problems in our relationships is absolutely imperative for maintaining healthy relationships. Sometimes this means that those well-versed in emotional communication need to help their friends who are better at burying their feelings. Those of us that are learning to express our feelings need to learn the value of productive conversations and embrace the discomfort. It feels better to be in a relationship built upon real communication. Trust me, I am working to leave those days of crying in the car behind me. It takes time, it takes vulnerability, but the strength of my relationships has only improved since learning to confront my emotions.