The Secret Garden

Have you ever known someone who avoids specific topics of conversation? Or better yet have you ever known someone who remains guarded about certain aspect of their lives?

If your friend is emotionally closed off do you respect the boundaries or try and break through their wall? More specifically, if someone never talks about an aspect of their life do you ask or assume they do not want to talk about it? If someone noticeably has never spoken about something I assume it’s on purpose and have always taken it as a signal not to ask. I’ll use the subject of family as an example although it’s far from the only one. Family can be a very touchy subject for some people because relationships may be strained or nonexistent. You probably have a close friend whom you’ve known for a while yet you know nothing about their familial ties. I talk about my family often because we have a good relationship and are still in contact. I’d assume if your family was not a taboo subject you would at some point chime in with conversation such as “My mother loves that show too” or “My whole family goes to my uncle’s house for Thanksgiving.” If I’ve never heard you utter the word mother, father, sister, etc my guess is that line of questioning is off limits. I have a childhood friend whom I’m extremely close to. I’ve met his mother and heard stories about his brother and his wedding. However he’s never once said anything about a father. The background story might not have a happy ending so I’ve always left the ball in his court.  If he wants to bring it up I’ll be willing to listen.

Recently it’s occurred to me though that I might be misreading the situation. Some people are not forthcoming with information although if asked are willing to open up. Also they may view your willingness to ask as a sign of friendship and trust. I generally try and follow the adage treat people the way you want to be treated. However it occurs to me that not everyone wants to be treated like I do. I avoid topics I don’t want to talk about but am very forthcoming with information on everything else. A lot of people’s books are not as open as mine I guess. With that in mind, I’m going to try and be more proactive and ask the questions I would otherwise avoid when the situations present themselves. In my experience, the few times I’ve braved through the emotional walls to ask questions the response was most often surprise. The other person was surprised I didn’t know about his sister in the army or that his parent divorces when he was young etc. I don’t point out that I can’t know something unless they tell me. Instead I take the moment as a bonding conversation.

This might be a lesson for both sides. If you tend to be the more guarded type maybe it’s time to share more about yourself and your past. If you’re an over-sharer like me, then it’s your turn to ask questions and be a good listener.

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