The best relationship in the world has to be one where I don’t feel any need to be careful. No need to be checking before I speak, wondering what will this person think of me saying that? Will it upset them? Will they understand me? Will I sound stupid?
Even in the best relationship in the world (ahem…) this possibility of not having to think twice before opening my mouth may change from day to day. Sometimes there are ‘I am a bit irritable’ signals around, and then I get careful.
With friends it’s easier in some ways but harder in others. My friends don’t generally tend to be bad tempered or irritable when I’m there, but they will just naturally be more inclined to be careful than Charles is, because they know me a bit less well and, maybe, we feel a little less sure of each other. And we’re polite. Ish.
And then friends shade into acquaintances, where even more politeness compels an even greater degree of carefulness. Though strangely it can be easy to be quite carefree with a stranger – perhaps because the parameters are so clear and repercussions unlikely (unless you say quite bonkers things, of course, or make jokes in airports). There are very few appropriate topics of conversation with the person selling you cheese, so it’s easy to riff a bit, and you’re not usually going to be terribly personal.
Careful is another one of those behaviours which drags the other person in, inevitably. So you both end up tip-toeing round. This can be fine or totally crippling, depending on the degree. Alcohol nearly always helps un tip-toe and is one reason why my heart can sink a little sometimes if someone new to me doesn’t drink, or I meet them at a non drinking time – which for me is generally before 6pm.
Perhaps carefulness is one of the reasons why people can seem so different to different people. With someone who doesn’t press any of my ‘careful’ buttons I am going to seem quite a different person than I do to those who intimidate me or who are being tight themselves. Bliss to meet anyone who is just open, easy and friendly.
But isn’t this sometimes accompanied by a degree of insensitivity?