I crack up every time my friend Patrick interrupts girl talk to ask, “What are y’all talking about? Your feelings?” But I don’t chuckle because he’s right and that’s all we discuss whenever he isn’t around; I laugh because I really don’t talk about those things.
And I’m not too keen on displays of affection. Or negative emotions.
Our household wasn’t filled with pet names, “touchy-feeliness,” overt emotional expressions and loving affirmations. Nor was it filled with arguments, curses and name-calling. We didn’t exchange a bunch of sentiments or engage in discussions of how one’s actions or words made us feel. It was either evident on our faces with an “oh-you-done-effed-up-now” look or through our behavior with acts of kindness or a straight face and silence.
We actually frowned upon too many words, even shunning those mushy greeting cards like they carried a “Do Not Touch” and a “Do Not Disturb” sign on them.
But I never once doubted love existed. I was simply raised in an environment where we expressed it differently.
When I was about 25, I met my cousin’s bubbly, fresh-from-Florida neighbor.
“I’m a hugger,” she announced upon introduction. Handshaking was strictly for the business world. Almost everyone she interacted with outside of work received the greetings she was accustomed to when she was growing up.
“Oh I don’t do that,” I promptly replied but clearly not fast enough. I still can’t remember if my arms ever fully encircled her or if I stood motionless like a soldier at attention.
She told me I’d get used to the hugs. And I did. But with every passing of a grade, there’s always that next lesson to master.
As we conversed and formed a friendship, she eventually had to end every encounter – phone or visit – with “I love you.”
What the hell was I supposed to say to that? She put me on the spot! Sure she had a way of making someone who is leery of new people another best friend. And sure she was one of the coolest friends who, along with her husband, had opened her life and new home to a complete stranger. We all loved to cut up with laughter, watch movies, cooked themed dinners and concoct cocktails at their house. And I, the one who opts for a plane on excursions exceeding four hours, loved the two road trips to Georgia. My cousins and/or my other friends were in their company every week. But this “I love you” stuff? Wasn’t that reserved for committed couples?
Oh no. I was down for new experiences and traditions but this was some new type of ish. We didn’t even verbalize that among my immediate family. I needed some time to compose a reply.
I channeled my inner Patrick Swayze from Ghost and responded with something I thought was a little more dignified and personal than “Ditto.” My catch phrases were “Same here” or “Me too.”
But suddenly it seemed everyone I subsequently met became obsessed with “I love you.” Was this a DC thing? Was the world ending? Were they dying? Wait, was I dying? The universe was either playing a trick on me or creating a lesson plan I had more difficulty learning than “Introduction to Hugging.”
And then someone tested me.
At 37, I received a scathing text message from a friend of nearly 10 years because she was upset with something I said and decided to throw my every flaw at me.
“…with your unemotional ass,” she wrote.
It was more of a reference to my reaction (or lack thereof) to and emotionally neutral recount of two prior deaths and the events leading to a third. Since I appear to be always strong and stoic, then I must be void of love, sadness, anger, happiness, worry or even empathy. I must be inhuman.
Sorry I didn’t fall on the floor flailing my limbs and sobbing uncontrollably. And I’m sorry I didn’t automatically tear up when everyone else in my presence did. I still cared about my loved ones.
Like my mother and grandmother, my emotional makeup is to maintain composure. I’ve only witnessed my grandmother shed tears twice; I never saw my mother cry. Ever.
Even in solitude, I still don’t experience extreme emotions although I’ve had visions of chopping a few in the throat. And I’ve cried until my head hurt and my nostrils swelled shut.
But screaming and throwing things? No. Or having an emotional breakdown in front of an audience? Nope.
I’ve since become an avid hugger; however if you’re not my man, please release me before I count to five-one-thousand. And I’ve finally graduated to “Love ya, too.” (I know, I know. “Ya” makes things a tad bit informal or less serious. I’m still working on it.) But those greeting cards? Let’s just say we need a new line for people like me. And Patrick.
I’m still incapable of acting out my emotions on a level that many consider as normal. But how I really feel is still pretty evident to any discerning eye. It’s always in my mouth, eyes and demeanor. Because I don’t exhibit set emotions according to a standard or have full-blown conversations about my feelings doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
Washington, DC transplant Teronda Seymore is a writer and an undercover Twitter addict whose work has appeared online at Whole Living and xoJane. Follow her @skinnydcwriter