Even though I find myself in the dead of winter, for some reason all I can think about is pink belly. For the past week, every night before going to bed a reoccurring memory funnels through my brain: summers spent at the city pool. This was the place to see and be seen as a middle schooler. Too young to get a part time job, our days were consumed with playing Sharks & Minnows and Marco Polo while filling our stomachs with Sunkist Soda and Twizzlers from the Snack Bar.
But, nothing topped the diving board in terms of popularity. When someone made their way to dive, they knew all eyes were on them. Pull off a cannonball, screwdriver or back flip and the audience was left utterly impressed. I hate to admit it, but I was always a bit reluctant to go on the board. While waiting in line, I would always marvel at how my friends would run to the end of the board then twist and contort their bodies with no fear on their face. Even though they didn’t often enter the water perfectly, they made their actions appear almost effortless and from the looks on their faces there was no doubting how much fun they were having.
As I climbed the ladder, my nerves seemed to get the better of me. Face to face with the board, my feet felt like quick sand and I froze. With friends egging me on to do something, I knew that retreating back down the stairs would be an action I’d never live down. It was now or never to perform my first front flip. I feel my feet moving…they bounce off the end of the board…I’m airborne… but I tense up because the freedom is terrifying. SMACK! I crash awkwardly into the water belly first. The sting on my belly is nothing compared to the sting I felt from the embarrassment of failing. My problem was I never committed fully to the tuck. My intentions were good, but my commitment just wasn’t there.
Pink Belly: this is what seemed to define my experience in social settings and relationships up this point in my life. I had the best intentions of being myself, but failed to fully commit to being transparent. I think this past month working on my socially stunted issues has helped me clarify where this hesitancy originated. Plain and simple, it stems from the fear of rejection. Being open in relationships leaves one vulnerable. Things could go well and you are accepted with open arms, but what if that isn’t the case? What if I let them in to who I am and they don’t like what they see?
It is impossible to be 100% certain, but I think it is a safe assumption there are plenty of people in my shoes who feel a bit socially stunted. Granted, I’m not an expert on the subject (obviously because I wouldn’t find myself in my current state if I was), but we all worry about how we will be received by others. We deal with this fear different ways. Some might decide to sit on the sidelines while they watch everyone else have fun. Others may choose to be a chameleon and change their colors so they can fit in with friends. There will be those that grab the spotlight and have to be the center of attention just so they can feel valued and dictate who is in control of the situation.
Rejection, even if it was just the possibility of it, fueled my shyness and awkwardness in relationships. I reason it was better to feel alone then get the big veto. Yes, this reasoning meant I was safe from experiencing pink belly because I never considered even get close to the stairs. But, it also meant I would never know what the feeling of a big cannonball of freedom in my relationships would feel like. Looking back at these past thirty days, I am learning my life depends on being found. One cannot by fully loved until they are fully known.