It’s strange, isn’t it, how you can find yourself revealing truths about yourself to strangers that you mightn’t even share with your closest friends.
I don’t even drink, but last night, I found myself sipping on Rosé, the first time in years, with three people I hardly knew. If this is the year of pleasure, I thought, maybe I could lean and bend in new ways to see what happens.
There were four of us. One in a long term partnership. One divorced. Two single. All women.
When I rocked up, one said, "we were just talking about online dating. What's your story?"
We got to the juicy stuff pretty quick. I told them about my confronting and eye opening pleasure workshop last week.
We shared stories of cringe-worthy and 'I'm not proud of myself' moments on dates. We talked about why Australia + NZ doesn’t have a dating culture. We talked about rejection and how it impacts confidence. We discussed why we are collectively useless, generally, when it comes to telling someone they don't do it for you. We cheers-ed to rockstars who had dumped us well. We grumbled about ghosters who had faded us, leaving us to second guess ourselves and wonder what we had done wrong.
We talked about our own assumptions of what we felt we ‘should’ do about intimacy, in relationships and in relation to pleasure, the idea of marriage, commitment, monogamy, polyamory - and what we actually wanted to do.
After drinks, we ended up at a nearby diner, licking our fingers and mumbling over fried chicken. One of the group, my newfound confidantes said, “you know what, I can’t remember the last time I talked about sex. Thank you.”
Experts say the biggest shifts within yourself can only happen when you’re in a new environment.
They say the brain needs to be taken out of the ordinary, or face a major catalyst, trauma or change, for your brain to rewire and say: I reckon there’s a different way I could be thinking about things. Research tells us the most traumatic, depressing, hurtful or least fun experiences can actually serve as the biggest contributors to change (if we're willing to change the narrative around what it means to us after going through grief and acknowledgment).
There's also evidence to suggest we need connection with other individuals, we need to have an emotional response to a consequence, and we need to feel we're not alone to spark action, too. Case in point: Jennifer Kates, Director of HIV-related policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said at a panel back in 2007 her first political actions were motivated by personal relationships with those living with AIDS.
If it's true we need a change of environment, to be surrounded by people with different perspectives, to have an emotional awareness of what's bugging us, I rekon that’s why we see therapists, we get drunk and ramble to strangers, why we end up in places we don’t expect and why, I ended up in a room with 20 other women last weekend, allowing a complete stranger to tell me I was beautiful and deserving of intimacy.
Maybe it’s why my courage rocks up when I’m usually out of Melbourne, or on a plane, or in an expensive boutique where I can't afford anything, and perhaps and it’s why I shared my inner darkest fears and thoughts with three women I barely knew over fried chicken last night.
Twice this week, people in my network apologised after what I had thought was a really super fascinating discussion about what was going on in their head.
"I feel like we talked about myself the whole time", said one. "Sorry about sharing all that", said another.
I was miffed: hadn't we just had a super interesting discussion? Emotions, in my opinion are like any other human need, like food, shelter and belonging. And if you need to outsource that (recommended) - I totally fucking get it.
Maybe they were experiencing a vulnerability hangover; associated shame on the realisation they'd stretched themselves, or done something for the first time.
It's not uncommon to have a physical reaction to saying things out loud for the first time, like throwing up or feeling dizzy after a 'aha' moment. Your body, subconscious mind, your brain and your gut are insanely, and cleverly, all linked to one another. They talk to each other. If the brain can't figure it's shit out, your body will start acting up. If your body is going through change, it can affect your cognitive abilities.
So why do so many of us feel so remorseful after using our Big Words?
I didn't feel any shame about sharing my inner most secrets with those kick ass women. But I did wonder why I wasn't so brave with my own immediate network of family and friends and why those rockstars who had opened up to me, had not long after, felt the need to apologise for getting stuff off their chest.
But I do know why. It's something I find really hard to do myself.
Recently, on addressing my relationship with money, I realised I hold back telling what's really going on with close friends not because they're incapable of being super accepting, loving, supportive, but, for so many years I shared my inner most secrets with therapists, acupuncturists, personal trainers. People I paid. So, until recently, I felt like friends should send me an invoice after listening to me.
Also worried, and do worry, about yabbering on about myself. I worry friends will think I don't have my shit together.
I also realised what I'm super used to is actually categorising friendships or relationships into categories I already know (friend, sister, colleague, new person) - as opposed to something that continually evolves, just as we do.
It's tempting, maybe absurd to think you're the only one capable of changing, especially when people in your immediate network aren't reflecting the things / activities / ideas you want to do more of. But there's something really cool that can happen once you start getting curious, and dipping your toe in the scary conversation pool.
It was reassuring and helpful to hear Mel Robbins, the author of The Five Second Rule [above], talking about her marriage challenges, expectations and navigating what her role was as her kids grew up that "each phase of your life requires a different version of you".
But saying those things to the people who know me, love me, respect me and want me to be OK is actually becoming one of the most scariest things I've ever done / trying to do more of.
Earlier this year I did a Values Audit. I felt like I'd used up all my mojo and I wasn't clear on where to next. I created a list of words that resonated with me. Courage, Relationships and Power.
I want the courage to use my grown up words with people I know and love. I want relationships that fulfil and enrich me. And I want to use the power I already have, to use words, the thing I'm good at, to help other people, as well as building more rewarding relationships.
It's literally my job to use Big Words to help others find theirs. Maybe we could all try, collectively, little harder to help each other find ours, in real life, too.
Good luck out there, rockstar.