Perhaps it is a symptom of my academic training, but even when I think I’ve set my mind to “off”, it often turns out that the switch rests somewhere between “on” and “off”, and that I haven’t quite managed to achieve a full stop.
Watching a silly rom-com while exercycling yesterday, I found myself irritated by yet another expression of that tired, smug relational “truth” – that trust must be earned, and that one cannot trust someone who has been known to violate certain standards of trustworthiness, as by lying, cheating, dissembling, looking away, not responding…
One can only trust the perfectly honest, perfectly truthful, perfectly transparent; one trusts those clever and consistent enough never to be found out. The rest of us, those of us who keep secrets, spill secrets, doubt, worry, or desire; who are at times at odds with ourselves; who equivocate, who change our minds, who find that we may have been wrong; who imperfectly and incompletely conceal where we would be plain and reveal where we would be opaque: we are not to be trusted. We will, at times, hurt you with our imperfections, with our lack of insight, foresight and even, sometimes, hindsight. We may appear to be lying when the truth of today’s ambiguities collides with conflicting previous truths. We may be the target of your anger when you feel threatened by and powerless to prevent the million minute infidelities, indiscretions and simple failures committed against you, against your previously-but-no-longer unimpeachable trust in us.
How could anyone ever trust anyone? There is no reason to do so. Trust is unreasonable.
This is, of course, precisely what makes it so lovely, so heart-catchingly wonderful when it is simply and continually offered.
If I choose to trust you, then I must trust you. And if you do something or say something or embody some attitude or adopt some perspective that prods my complacent trust in you, and if my reaction is to withdraw that trust, then I show my trust in you to be conditional – so long as you behave in ways that do not challenge my view of my own safety and surety, you are trustworthy. As soon as some behavior of yours reminds me of the precariousness of my position, then you cease to be trustworthy. At best, you are suspect. This is, of course, not what it means to trust.
If I choose to trust you, then I must trust you. And, yes, of course, this is difficult to discuss because words can hardly convey certain distinctions and shading and tones that change everything. If, for example, you tell me you love me, and if you then turn away from me, set me aside, ignore me, mock me, expose my secrets, and laugh at my nightmares, perhaps I will not trust that you were sincere in declaring your love. Or perhaps there will be revealed an irreconcilable difference in our conceptions of love that make such trust or declarations foolish.
But if I have already chosen to trust you, to place trust in you; if we have developed or are developing some way of relating to one another that requires for its continuation a measure – perhaps a growing measure – of trust; then in the moments in which I fear that you do not see me, in which I doubt your commitment to or desire for me, in which I worry that you may be keeping something important from me – it is in these moments of unrelievable anxiety that my choosing to trust you becomes a pressing commitment.
Just as being patient means being willing to endure feelings of impatience for the sake of the beloved, refusing to project those feelings toward the beloved and refusing to demand of the beloved that she “make it better” in some way – trusting may mean a willingness to endure feelings of great uncertainty, refusing to project those feelings toward the beloved and refusing to demand that the beloved account for herself in light of one’s own feelings.
But what, you will now want to say – and you are not wrong to say it – about cases of, say, clear and pernicious infidelity? If I have decided to choose to (continue to) trust you, then can I cease to trust you? Yes, of course. But I must recognize that it is still my choice to stop trusting you. The fact of your infidelity does not require me to stop trusting you. And it certainly cannot always be an indication of stinginess or narrowness when some one does stop trusting some other one. But it cannot be said to be so simple as that the fact that you did X revealed you to me as one who must not be trusted. If it reveals anything, perhaps it reveals a need to reevaluate the commitments assumed to be in place but not lately articulated. Or something like that.
And when you do do something – as you will – that moves me to doubt and worry and fear and fret beyond my endurance, so that I cannot bear alone the pain of my doubt; after you have made your attempt to soothe me, then I will accept that attempt as a balm for my soreness and take up my commitment to trusting all over again. Without reproach. Without accusation. Without making of my hurt a grievance to be brought over and over. Trusting without ever being able to know, certainly, that your efforts to soothe my doubt were made in good faith and not held out as a mask to conceal from me the accuracy of my fearful assessment.