Soft

I’m terrible with directions.

When my parents used to drive me places as a kid, rather than pay attention to the streets we were driving, I was lost inside my mind, in my own world, making up games and scenarios that I’d play out later in school and in the back yard. My imagination ran as wild as I’d allow it to, and I loved that I was so creative. Unfortunately, once I got my license, this meant that I didn’t actually know how to get anywhere. I remember calling up my best friend to tell him I’d passed the driving test, and when he asked he to come over, I told him I didn’t know how to get to his house.

“Are you serious?” he asked. I wished that I wasn’t.

My sense of direction hasn’t gotten much better, but with the advent of directional apps, I’m no longer at the mercy of my own navigational skills or lack thereof. Even if I miss a turn, I don’t have to backtrack. The app will recalculate, and I’ll continue on my merry way. I remember looking through case files at my last job, and accompanying some of the older files was a printed list of the directions. I wouldn’t have lasted a week.

Despite being directionally challenged, people used to ask me how to get places when I lived in New York City. I always tried to be honest, letting these people know when I definitely didn’t know where to go, but most of the time I was able to help. I tried to figure out what it was that made people ask me. Was it that I didn’t look like a tourist? Maybe, but my stepbrother pointed out that while tourists distinguish themselves with certain features or traits, that no one is out of place in New York. People come from all over the world with their own sense of style, and aside from major tourist attractions, you can’t tell if someone’s lived there for five minutes or five years.

People continued to ask me for assistance, and long after I’ve left the city, I still wonder about it. People seem to feel comfortable around me, and I know that to some degree I’m disarming. Even if people don’t know me well or at all, they sense that they can ask me things or have a conversation with me. Maybe it’s because I look young, but that doesn’t explain why they ask me what they do. They ask me questions about life. They have no problem telling me their secrets/fears/dreams/doubts, and I do my best to keep these to myself. People talk to me about the most profound and heaviest topics, and I think I’ve finally figured out why.

—-

“You’re soft.”

A close friend of mine said the above quote, and at first I balked. I’ve always known that deep down I’m a nice guy, and for years I’ve tried to hide it. We don’t have the best track record of getting what we want, and we frequently get taken advantage of when push comes to shove. We’re willing to take less, and to forgo happiness, as long as another person is made happy in the process. I’ve tried to add a bit of an edge to my persona, in hopes that no one would discover what I am, but it seems the jig is up, and maybe it isn’t such a bad thing.

A few years back, a statement like, “You’re soft,” would have triggered my BS masculinity. I would have gone on the defensive, possibly the offensive. I would have listed the many and incontrovertible reasons I was not soft. I would have tried to make a compelling case, but this time around, I let my guard stay down. It helped that my friend wasn’t trying to be malicious or insulting, that she was just being honest. I used to see being soft as a weakness, but what she meant was that I was approachable. People feel comfortable walking up to me and pouring out their souls, knowing that I’ll encourage them to keep going, that I’ll listen to them intently as they talk through their problems. Everyone needs a friend like that, someone they can talk to about life’s bigger concerns.

I wasn’t always this way. When I was in high school, I trained myself not to be emotional, to be a bit of a jerk, but life intervened and forced me to dig deeper, to get more comfortable with my emotional self, a journey that was painful but necessary. At first I fought against it. I didn’t know what was happening to me that was changing me and causing me so much anguish, but I’ve recognized how I’ve changed as a person, how I’ve become someone people can turn to in their time of need. When you do find these people, as I have, you hold onto them as fiercely as you can. You keep them in your life until the bitter end.

I don’t think I’m a big Teddy bear, but I do have a wealth of experiences that make me an empathetic person. I’m someone who’s had his own struggles, and rather than try and push them aside or bury them, I’m willing to talk about them if you need me to. I don’t want people to feel like they’re alone. I know that I often do, but I’m gradually realizing that there are people out there just like me. Little by little, I’m encountering people who have the same concerns in life as I do, the same problems and issues, and I’m realizing that maybe we can help each other, that we can vent to each other and maybe even grow in the process.

I’m soft, and I’m okay with that. So many times I’ve been at gatherings where people have their backs turned, or they have a look on their face that says, “Do not dare approach me.” I’ll almost always have a smile on my face, and hopefully the look I’m displaying is something along the lines of, “Come talk to me.” I don’t mean that in a desperate way; just know that if I’m ever at the same party you happen to be at, that you’ve got a friend as soon as you walk in the door. I’ll greet you warmly, and we can talk as long as you want to. Thanks for reading.

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