Editorial Note: This was written and published in 2013, but is as relevant today as it has been every day since. It has also been updated quite a bit to reflect more readings and reflections on a subject which has at different times consumed me.
“Fare Thee with Patience And Grace because relationships are a cuntpunt.” (John 3:16, 44)
Pretty sure that’s factually correct.
Aside from explosive physical chemistry, intellectual compatibility, and sharing laughter, there is one key element to any healthy relationship if it is to endure: Trust.
If it could make a face, the expression of the little girl in the photo is the same expression my heart would make every time it has to engage trust in the world of romance.
Turning to one of the subject matter experts, let’s look at philosopher Onora O’Neill who argues that trustworthiness is illustrated in four repeated character qualities: Competence. Reliability. Honesty. And making oneself vulnerable to another.
Interesting this, because we are immediately faced with the tautological argument that to be Vulnerable, one must be willing to Trust; to Trust, one must be willing to be Vulnerable. (And by “tautological”, I very seriously mean “asshole”.) On these two ingredients as means to a healthy, loving, long-term relationship, and which when in abundance, open the doors to deeper commitment and more facile communication between lovers, I can hear you grumbling ‘trust needs to be earned, not just freely handed out’. After some growing pains, I am forced to agree with you to a certain extent – there are intelligent ways to trust, as equally as there are stupid self-destructive ways to trust. Handing trust out freely and blindly is a Danger-Will-Robinson-Danger scenario, 100%.
The reality of trusting everyone at first glance is trusting in equal measure the trustworthy and untrustworthy. Nothing intelligent about this, where our hearts are implicated. [I have in the past argued that even when we trust someone who eventually proves untrustworthy, it is a reflection on them, not us. I have changed my mind (and reserve the right to do so again in future) because that reflection, while it is on them, affects us directly and brings us some degree of pain which, if it can be avoided, then avoid it. There are enough means by which we can experience pain without actually giving someone a knife and laying our chest bare.]
The questions then become – where do we position ourselves in order to engage O’Neill’s four qualities appropriately? How can we ensure some kind of heart-intelligence in a new situation? Two ways. First, with the greatest exercise in patience. Second, to create the room for trust to show itself, since the solidifying of trust can only come with time. This room it is where the individual can exhibit their trustworthy qualities – a space without suspicion or challenge, without harassment to prove themselves. Rather, a space where they are free to roam (as are you) and where their own behaviors and actions, one after the other, paint for you a picture of who they are (& vice versa). Trustworthy or not. Essentially, a balanced, neutral stage on which they and we act, and on which we both receive the actions of the other.
In space, with time, and with eyes wide open, trustworthiness will prove true or false.
Turning to the natural extension of O’Neill’s argument regarding when it is that someone is untrustworthy – It won’t be clear-cut, like maths. Unfortunately (and I know this is what you were hoping to find), your new piece won’t suddenly be standing in your front window Marcel Marceau’ing “I AM UNTRUSTWORTHY SHHHHH!” and offering you cookies as recompense. What you will have is a series of flags to which you must pay attention – because these flags, they are on a map and in time that map will reveal itself and you will be able to connect this engagement’s route to right over that nice mountain range where it fell to its death.
Extrapolating the signals from O’Neill, these people are unreliable wanks who can’t get it together (and have no interest in improving their station). They will first feed you half-truths, then entire lies. They will break their word. They will be guarded.
Don’t believe me? Think back to the time(s) that someone has fucked with your sense of trust and revisit all of the flags that you had stared at eyes wide shut. What do you see now, today?
In the absence of an actual professional con job, most people trip up. This, not because they are dumb (though generally they tend to be, and I believe that the untrustworthy are in fact of lesser intelligence), but rather because the Universe, She does not protect those who are unworthy of protection. She does not protect those who would take advantage of a gentle heart; She is in your corner. Trust Her, if you cannot trust anyone else. (This statement is on a personal, not political / Peoples level. Because Palestine. And Syria. And Detroit. And Canada’s disappeared Aboriginal women. And the impoverished. Ad infinitum.)
Again, and as ever – pay attention. Observation is your best friend both on your good days and your bad.
The biggest kicker in all of this is that even someone who is trustworthy might end up smashing your heart into little pieces at any given moment. That’s the risk, a risk which exists even after years of commitment. (Thanks, BB!) We can all avoid this risk, by living beneath a rock. More poignant is that you and I, all 13 of us, might get our hearts smashed and ripped and torn apart 87 times before someone really lovely comes along and helps us place a bandage over the last cut and then not only gives us a cookie, but actually bakes one just for us. One day, the return on all of this risk, it will be a windfall inshAllah.
Man, oh man. InshAllah.
The amazing picture taken from Sheranator(dot)com.