A few weeks ago I went on a date..
A few weeks before that, I decided I was ready to start meeting new people again (particularly after my “no new friends” campaign). I hopped on a popular dating App and found the “lucky” guy. We decided to meet at a restaurant near my house for drinks. As I walked into the restaurant, I was resolute in my decision to not talk about my mom or our family’s recent tragedy. I was determined that her story would not define mine and that there were plenty of other things going on in my life to talk about. Also, I wasn’t so sure I be seeing this guy again after our meetup so why go to the hassle?
We met, ordered our drinks and started the pleasantries. After about 15 minutes, he shared that his mom passed away about five years ago. Blindsided, my heart plummeted into my stomach. I had resolved not to share any of my story but hadn’t considered the chance that he might have a similar story to mine. I paused, dug my stubborn head down and just said I was sorry to hear about his loss, without acknowledging my shared experience. I think I even said, “Gosh. That must be hard.”
As the night went on, I grew more and more anxious to get the date over with realizing that while I had thoroughly committed to not talking about certain topics, I had not considered what I might talk about instead. I realized that most everything in my life at that point was still resolving around my mom’s death. For instance, I work only part-time right now. Why do I work only part-time? I had been in school part-time until this past December. Why am I not in school right now? I’m rebuilding after my world crumbled to pieces. Everything brought me back to my mom.
Unsure what to do with the “unspeakable gaps” in my story, with little thought, I began to slip in little white lies to elaborate on my story.
He asked me what I did for work and I said I worked for an education focused non-profit (truth). I said I also worked mostly from home (truth). When he pressed how I feel about working from home, I suddenly explained that I am usually really busy working in schools so am rarely home much. (FALSE. I’m hardly “busy” and haven’t stepped a foot in a school since working for this organization.) When he asked which schools, I squirmed and said “.. DC Public Schools..” As I was speaking, I thought: Emily, what are you doing? But I continued:
I said I was in school, ultimately in pursuit of a Masters of Public Health/Nutrition degree. (NOPE.)
I said I worked full-time. (HARDLY.)
I believe I even denied creating the Whistle necklace I was wearing, saying a friend of mine enjoyed making jewelry out of old bullets. I was a mess.
As the night came to an end, we parted with “Of course! Would love to get together again.” I turned right around to walk home, pulled out my cell phone and promptly deleted the dating App.
I learned several valuable lessons that night.
I learned I can never guess or judge who might have experienced tragedy in their life. You just never know.
I learned talking about tragedy — in appropriate situations — can be unifying. Without talking about tragedy, we stand isolated in our struggle. Challenges never become shared experiences.
I learned that lying only makes the situation worse. That night, suddenly I was talking myself in circles. I couldn’t keep my own story straight causing stress (on my part) and confusion (likely for both of us).
I learned that telling the truth is hard. It’s easy to talk about the weather or joke around to avoid real conversation. Telling the truth involves an active commitment to honesty, integrity and vulnerability.
I learned that no white lie about my current situation will ever change my actual circumstances.
Since, I have also created a few guidelines to address how I would talk about the last few months of my life.
First, I know I never have to share my story unless I want to. We never owe someone our most personal or painful stories. Honesty is still a worthwhile virtue so there’s a balance between telling the truth and sharing the details of the truth.
I know that if I’m meeting someone for the first time who’s likely just going to be an acquaintance there’s no need to share. At an event meeting a friend of a friend, as I go in for the handshake, my introductory line will not be: “Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m Emily and my mom died a few months ago. What do you do?”
Otherwise, in the appropriate situation knowing it’s safe to bring up my story with a trusted friend, I’ll say something about being in a bit of transition and “regrouping since my mom passed away last fall.”
Telling the truth about hard things requires a bit of courage, a somewhat fearless attitude towards judgement and an honest assessment of where we truly are. If I had a do-over with the poor, unsuspecting date from a few weeks ago, after a few dates truth might sound something like this:
I am working part-time. Only part-time.
I work for a non-profit, mostly from home, never in schools.
I was taking classes but am taking the semester off (and likely discontinuing) because my motivation has moved to different topics. The classes I was taking felt irrelevant. Nutrition doesn’t seem as interesting to me anymore. Instead, I’m interested in mental health, sharing life through story, honest conversations with friends and recently, making jewelry of all things. I’ve become more interested in the reality of Heaven, what Jesus says about suffering and the trustworthiness of God.
What am I doing? Taking a deep-sea dive in my souls deepest, murkiest waters.
The truth is the loss of my mom still effects every facet of my life. The fact that she took her own life leaves much to mourn and sift through. This is an inseparable reality.
The truth is that I’ve seen more sadness than I thought a family could bear.
The truth is through it all I’ve seen more goodness and love than I thought this world is capable of.
And that’s the honest truth.