What I Really Think About You

We look at the people in our lives through filters. Unresolved slights that didn’t seem to matter, losses of trust that we decide to brush over, unaddressed unmet expectations, unaccepted differences of opinion. We hurt each other, disappoint each other, let each other down, and over time, the accumulation of these events colours how we understand and interpret one another.  We become unable to ‘see’ each other clearly. We see our opinions instead of seeing one another as we really are.

We might even be aware of these opinions as ‘just’ opinions. But we all agree, however, that even worse having these opinions, is saying them out loud.

Yet we are saying them. Not directly, but these thoughts manifest themselves in backhanded statements, eye rolls, loaded comments, undercutting remarks. We speak through these opinions. They still have their say.

What would happen if we spoke these words? Would the worst occur? Would it ruin a relationship? Or could there be some value in expressing them? Our hypothesis was that the damage created by these unspoken opinions was greater than the potential damage of speaking them out loud: by bringing What We Really Think into the light, we would be able to see our filters for what they really are.


 

THE EXPERIMENT

In their 20th year of friendship Joslyn and Kale moved into the same neighbourhood and started a project they called Fully Disclothed, creating a close-quarteredness they hadn’t shared since high school. The sudden increase in togetherness combined with the tension of collaboration and the pressures of project related demands quickly drove up long-harboured resentments.

A year of this went by and then, within a week of each other, Kale and Joslyn were scheduled to leave their shared neighbourhood behind; Kale was set to move to Dublin to study and Joslyn to the Yukon for an adventure in her camper.  A few days before their departure dates, Joslyn and Kale hosted a combined going-away party.

In the spirit of their project’s theme, full-disclosure, and suspecting that their friendship had eroded as far as they were willing to let it go, Kale and Joslyn decided to tell each other what they really thought about each other — in front of their friends, families, ex-lovers, acquaintances, and passerby.

They organized their thinking into categories:
1. What I think you think I think you think about me.
2. What I actually think you think about me.
3. What I think you think I think about you.
4. What I really think about you.
5. What I still hold against you.
6. What I want to be forgiven for. 


THE RESULTS

Preparing their statements ahead of time, the ludicrousness of some of their thoughts about each other was apparent the moment they hit the page, and even more so as they began to read them aloud. But as they told their audience at the beginning of the performance, the point was not to tell the TRUTH about the other, but to admit to how they paint each other, to give voice to the filters their interactions are fit through.

Prior to the performance, many friends explicitly expressed their discomfort with the idea, unsure if they would want to witness the demise of a friendship. Yet as the performance began, audience members sat at the edges of their seats, braced and eager for what came next, afraid of what might.

The following is a summary of events that occurred immediately and some amount of time after the truth performance:

  • Each other’s respective friends and acquaintances approached the other and offered a variety of surprise reactions, understanding, corroboration, gratitude, alternative interpretations, acknowledgements, and kudos for their bravery.
  • About 20 minutes after the end of the performance, Kale unexpectedly started full-on crying from relief, and from sadness.
  • Joslyn forgot about it and talked to her friends.
  • Joslyn and Kale kept away from each other until near the end of the party when they finally met on the couch alone in the living room and talked about some of what was said during the performance. Neither of them remember what was said on the couch.
  • The performance sparked many people thinking about what they would say the those in their lives; their siblings, their parents, their friends, their partners.
  • The following week two friends thanked the performance as being an impetus for the honesty and amicability in a breakup that needed to happen.
  • Years later those that were in the audience say they still think and talk about the event.

Ultimately, the performance was not an end to something; not an abrupt end to the resentments, but nor to the friendship. It was not an immediate solution or closure. Joslyn and Kale believe that had they not told each other what they really thought of each other, their mutual departure from the city of Toronto may have acted as a natural dissolution point for their friendship. What the truth telling performance did was open something up, creating a space of accountability for the lived reality their interactions had created for one another, and a receptivity to the complexities that exist in an interpersonal space.