Curiosity and Relationships

Note from Hannah: This is a guest post by Portland therapist, Bonnie Dunn, LCSW. It’s part of the New Perspectives series where writers give us their take on emotional wellness and the human experience.

In honor of July 4th, Hannah did a post about Freedom.  Her last line was:  “Freedom is a stance of curiosity, experimentation and play”.   I’m pretty sure Hannah was referring to that healthy curiosity about life and people, and for the record, I think she’s right about how important it is.   But sometimes, showing curiosity about other people is seen as invasive, an intrusion into a person’s privacy.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re a society that was built on a person’s right to personal freedom and privacy – our famous “right to remain silent” that protects us from the prying of others.  And that’s a good thing.  But I sometimes wonder if, in our deference to the idea of privacy, we’ve muffled one of the crucial qualities of good relationships – healthy curiosity.

Sometimes curiosity gets confused with nosiness.  Nosiness IS intrusive.  Nosiness is interested in the information learned about another person, not in the person themselves.  It is often used to gain an edge over another person, and almost always results in uneasiness and mistrust.  Nothing about nosiness feels OK in a good relationship.

In relationships, curiosity says, “You’re interesting to me.  I’d like to know more about you”.  It’s respectful, but at the same time conveys a wish to know someone better.  When another person expresses curiosity about us, we have to decide whether to keep to ourselves, stay on a surface level, or reveal more.   Are they being nosy, or is this their way to get to know us better?  It’s a personal choice, and there is no “right” way to respond.  All relationships start out on the surface.  But over time, you can go deeper.  Through give-and-take, and with a healthy dose of respectful curiosity, more is revealed and more is shared.

Do we lose a part of ourselves when we open up to others, or do we feel a closeness that comes from knowing someone better – and being known better by them?   Could it be both?

About Bonnie Dunn, LCSW: I have been a therapist in the Portland area for many years.  Part of the reason I love being a therapist is that I have always been curious – about the diverse ways people think about life and relationships, and about the different and creative ways that people approach problems to solve them. As a therapist, I have the privilege of being a part of that process. 

(Photo Credit: Bonnie Dunn)


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