If I were to carry an identification card for my emotional self, under visible identification marks, it would read: “once bitten, twice shy.” It is one of the first things people might notice about me — if they’re paying attention.
I am not an unusual case in having a sense of untrustworthiness lurking above my head. Like many other people, I continue second-guessing truth, connection, and the possibility of fruitful relationships. This trait made a guest appearance in my childhood, perhaps when I was too young to understand the concept of trust. At the point, something was amiss, as if my body were being pierced by a needle at length, and I spent the following weeks nursing it.
As an adult, I have met many people from various communities and cultures. Some of these acquaintances casually welcomed me, this white-lie visitor. They allowed the visitor into the conversation with answers to “Why were you late?” or “What has been keeping you busy?” It slowly graduated with answers to bigger questions like “How are you?” or “What is the reason behind the distance in our friendship?”
All those moments felt like another needle scraping off part of my already scarred body. And most of these deep cuts were left by people close to me — women with whom I have shared a transparent and strong relationship.
If mistrust were a person rather than an emotion, it would be a frequent visitor in my relationships with women. I seem to naturally bond with women and hence have more female friends forming my inner circle. Yet, over the years, the majority have broken my trust more often than the men in my life have. When I do think about the imbalance in the ratio, it only seems logical that I have allowed more women to break me than men. Emotionally, however, I fail to understand why my heart continues to give them chances.
How is it that I give the women in my life far more chances, even after they have broken my heart multiple times? On the other hand, in my heart, men seldom deserve a second chance.
This I understood when I analyzed my relationship with A.
A and I have been friends more than a decade now, and yet we have always been chalk and cheese. In the initial years of our friendship, she lied to me on various occasions. Nothing very big. Nothing trivial, either. And yet, every time I intuitively knew she was lying, I waited for her to spit it out. She inevitably did.
Twelve years later, A has not changed much. Neither has the lie-and-vocalize game between us. Now it almost seems like a defining factor of our friendship.
My relationship with A has led me to questioning it at so many levels that I can no longer fathom the complexity of the situation. Why do I put up with her lies if I know they break me? Why does she lie when she knows that I am already aware of it? Why does she not see that it collaterally damages other relationships — both for her and me? Even after all these years, do we not trust each other with our deepest weaknesses? Is she a compulsive liar?
Some of these questions continue to escape or baffle me. I have, however, taken five steps back and pulled over, because I have learned to be kind to myself when it comes to A.
On the other hand, if A were a man, I am quite certain our friendship would have ended in the first few months.
Why was there a difference in the way I perceived trustworthiness when it came to men and women?
It will soon be two decades since I have had my heart broken by a man with whom I was romantically involved. Since then, there has been a guard shielding me from another one. Needless to say, many heartbreaks later, I know my identification mark has grown significantly. Sometimes I have had to put concealer on it. Most times, it manipulates my feelings and discourages me from a prospective relationship built on kindness, truth, and respect.
Then there are moments when I quiet the mistrusting self and give it another chance. Because at some level, I must rise and realize that not all things that happen in my head are true.
After six years, when I finally decided to execute this optimistic thought, I met someone. We fit like a jigsaw puzzle. Every time my trust deficient tried to make an appearance, I closed the door and went back to positivity and light.
After a year or more, I lost pieces of the puzzle — when I could not ignore the creepers around my window. These were not my regular trust issues with men. These were manipulative tactics making me crazy. Also known as gaslighting, my man’s dishonesty was not only true but also making me emotionally ill and breaking my sense of self.
After a slow recovery, I still wonder if I can overlook my apprehensions of men being untrustworthy — those that continue to lurk above my head. Perhaps what demarcates the difference between the sexes is that women, at some point, do acknowledge or verbalize their dishonesty to me.
While I continue to heal the trust deficiency in my life, I know this is a lifelong effort. Forming bonds of trust and respect with people is the only way to have a little cove of peace and security. In that space, cynicism does not exist.
And while I carry my identification mark with pride, I understand I don’t have to show it around unless asked for.