A new friend and I were hanging out this past week, when we began talking about past romantic experiences. She asked about my recent ones, and I mentioned that I had dated a few people recently, but nothing serious. She told me a bit about hers, the subject changed to high school for some reason, and I joked that despite skipping class to make out with my boyfriend, my academic and professional future have turned out pretty well. “Ah ha!” She said. “You’ve been holding out on me. Who was this boyfriend?” I replied that at one point he had been my fiancé, and that we were together for several years. She didn’t ask why the relationship ended, and we went back to the conversation. At one point I joked, “so what’s your life story?” She replied that she didn’t think I could handle her life story, with a laugh that I recognized as masking pain.
I thought it was interesting, considering some of the things I’ve lived through, that I appeared to her as someone who couldn’t handle whatever was behind that laugh. I wondered what she would think if she heard my life story. Would she still think that I was someone who could not understand or empathize with her pain, or whatever it was that she meant when she said she thought I couldn’t handle it? After her comment, I worried that telling her my story would feel like a competition – who had endured the most? Whose pain exceeded the other’s tolerance threshold? Who was more accustomed to fear, shame, or grief?