I had one of those experiences last week when a blog post elsewhere triggered a memory. It connects to a blog from Rachel Held Evans called, Is doubt an STD? At least I think I have that right. You should be able to find it if needed. I don’t know how to link to it, and you really don’t have to read it to get the point of my reflection here. Basically, it involved the idea of some minister or other christian leader assuming that doubt was caused by sexual activity. So when a young person came wanting to discuss doubts, they would change the topic and ask who they were sleeping with! I did comment on their thread, but it was a late comment and the thread was quite long.
So, I will throw out my story here with names changed, in hopes that it will help someone else, because I really wish I had known a better way to respond at the time. My opinion here is basically that, if someone won’t answer the question you are asking, it is not right for them to simply change the subject to something else, particularly if it is what I call a “fishing expedition.” That is, they are trying to find out something else about you, that you did not volunteer and that may or may not even have a bearing on the question.
So, here’s the story. It took place about 4 or 5 months after I graduated from college. I was one of those unfortunate souls who could not seem to find my way with those of the opposite sex. I had had only 3 dates in my life at that point. I had no shortage of interest, having had numerous crushes, all followed by rejection, which led to depression, which often lasted longer than the original crush. All of the crushes were on perfectly acceptable boys from church. Over the summer though, my sister had introduced me to someone who actually seemed to like me. Unfortunately, he did not share my faith, so I had told him I would not date him again.
In self defense, it seemed, I had nursed a crush on someone else past the point where I should have long since given up. I realized I needed help getting out of the pattern of crush, rejection, depression though. After all, I was also actively job hunting and really could not afford to be seriously depressed. I racked my brains trying to figure out who to approach for advice on this. It really seemed I would need someone older and wiser than someone my age. I finally decided to go to someone I will call Dana, who had known me since I was 13. She had a reputation for being hard on people who were dating people she disapproved of, but since I had not been up to anything, I figured that was a moot point. She was normally quite discerning and knew me well, I thought. We had had many discussions about life and God.
Eventually I screwed up my courage and went to see her. We dispensed with the pleasantries and I asked my question. Maybe it was actually two questions. First was how on earth I could recognize when someone simply was not interested, so I could move on, hopefully sooner, rather than after wasting months moaning over them. The second, related question was how I could get over them, without falling into a deep depression every time.
Her response was to ask me who I had a crush on. Now in my head, I wanted to know why she wanted to know and what difference it made. But I gave the name of the guy, someone who had often joined me in late night, after meeting conversations with her. All I recall of her response to that was that she said I already knew the answer. Okay, I had actually come there, because I figured it was time to get over him, right? I was a little nettled that she seemed to think he was so wrong for me. After all, to that point, at least in my mind, he knew me better than any other male on earth.
So I moved on to the second question. I can’t recall her answering that at all. But she did tell me how until she met her husband she was just using all the guys she dated. Whoa! In my mind she was now accusing me of using people, something I had never ever done. I was hurt and I was angry. I had wasted an hour or more spilling my guts to her and she hadn’t helped me at all! I left and vowed I’d never open up like that to her again. I think the anger somehow helped me bypass the worst of the inevitable depression.
Eventually I forgave her, but you know, I really never trusted her as a friend after that. Where once I had been a sort of protege, we simply were not close as adults. That was sad, but it’s not the point I want to make here. You see, thinking of the situation, and stories I had heard of others who somehow ran afoul of her standards for us, I really think she was on a fishing expedition. She was fishing for some sort of sin, and most likely of the sexual variety. Perhaps that she would have known how to deal with, whereas clueless, socially awkward girls were a mystery to her. I should have known, I suppose, given that she had been popular when young, that she would have had no clue to how the unpopular girls operated. But I am surprised that she was not able to just say, “I don’t know” in answer to my questions, instead of fishing for sin.
My point is this though, if you go to someone with a sincere question, whether it be about doubts or the mysteries of relationships, you have a right to a sincere answer. You have a right to question, and you have a right to be heard. Someone who changes the subject, particularly to something very personal, has their own agenda. Whether or not their agenda hits home, you have a right to call them on that. I can only wonder how my encounter would have gone, had I come right out and demanded to know why she thought the name of my current crush mattered. The real question was not how do I get over so and so, but how do I get over rejection. I’m not at all sure that she had much grasp on how many of us were driven by rejection in our lives, sometimes in directions that made things worse instead of better. What we needed was not judgement, but healing.
So here’s my advice. When someone answers your honest and sincere question with another question, particularly one that makes you squirm, that is too personal, don’t accept it. Turn it right back to them with something like, why would you ask a thing like that? They are the one who is trying to sidestep the topic, why not bring it right back to where you started? At the very least, if they are honest, they will tell you their agenda. If you don’t want to discuss it, you can tell them so, you can leave and find someone else to discuss your issue with. You can even choose to discuss it if you want, but it’s out in the open, not hidden behind a baited gotcha hook. Even if you are younger than the person you are talking to, you deserve to be treated with respect. If it seems like they are making a power grab, maybe you shouldn’t trust them. I think most people will respect you when you call them on a boundary violation, which is usually what is going on when you get angry. The hard part is to not let the anger take control and to calmly discuss how they are violating your boundaries.