Trust. Simple in theory, yet complex and nuanced in practice.
It’s no secret that trust is an essential pillar for any strong, healthy relationship.
I’m willing to bet most — if not all — of us have heard the saying, “Trust is earned, not given”.
If you’re like me, you adopted this saying as one of your personal beliefs.
It was a mantra I lived by my whole life. Trust was not something to give haphazardly. That was too risky. It was something given in small doses, slowly building a tolerance of trust earned over time. This was how trust worked.
That is until, well… life happened.
My real experience challenged this belief and eventually changed it.
“For there to be betrayal, there would have to have been trust first.” — Suzanne Collin
A Tale as old as time
In college, I spent a good amount of time in what modern dating would classify as a situation-ship.
At the time, I didn’t mind the lack of labels. I didn’t know “what we were”, but I knew what we had.
Personally, trust never came easy. I struggled opening up to others. But with this guy? I showed parts of myself that I otherwise kept hidden. It came naturally. Even though it could get messy, it was worth it. It was worth it to feel trust and safety coexist.
Yet, like many love stories throughout history, this fairytale ended in tragedy.
Lies and deception were exposed by mutual friends. They came bearing gifts of truth: a long, complex love triangle that involves another girl.
For the first time, the heart I long denied I had was broken. For me, the most serious interpersonal offense had been committed: the betrayal of my trust.
Until then, the feeling of betrayal was foreign to me.
I had never given enough trust for it to be betrayed.
Trust was like the stock market: a game of risks.
That’s why I diversified my portfolio of personal relationships. Invest a little here, a little there. That way, I didn’t lose my life savings thanks to one bad investment.
At first, I told myself I probably deserved it.
You see, he betrayed my trust. But there was a time I had betrayed his trust. I knew I wanted to be trusted with the truth than not at all.
I confessed to my offense, pleading guilty for my crimes against his trust. The sentence for my crimes? A subconscious mission to earn back his trust, but maybe the sentence just didn’t fit the crime.
In the following months, my friends would share with me what they knew about this other girl.
They probably thought they were helping by telling me about her involvement with other guys. The revelations only compounded my hurt. It was painful knowing all the ways she had and continued to betray his trust — yet he still gave it to her.
I’m not proud of how I dealt with this at first.
What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was acting on my belief that trust is earned, not given.
I declared myself the de-facto arbiter of truth. I had dealt with the truth of my infidelity and his infidelity. I figured it was time to deal with her infidelity.
I put her on trial for the crimes against his trust. I presented him with the evidence given to me, proving her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Surely, she’d be convicted for her offenses. Yet, it seemed she was never sentenced for her crimes against his trust. She must’ve had one heck of a lawyer in the court of appeals.
A hard truth pill to swallow
Even though I had appointed myself as the arbiter of truth, there was one truth I hadn’t grasped: the truth within the words once spoken to me by this girl.
We exchanged words face to face one night. I asked her if she wanted me to reveal the truth about her to our previously mutual love interest.
With a hint of pride, she responded, “As if he’d believe you.”
This was the moment I stepped away from the conversation, stepped out of the imaginary fighting ring, and stepped down from my role as arbiter of truth.
It was a hard pill to swallow, but she was right.
He probably wouldn’t believe me. It didn’t matter if she or I had earned his trust. What she knew and I didn’t was it only mattered that she had his trust and I didn’t.
It took two years for me to step back into the fighting ring, only this time to face myself. I finally understood why her words replayed in my mind, finally acknowledging the truth in them.
Her words would replay in my head because of the cognitive dissonance between my beliefs and my experiences.
My experiences contradicted my life-long beliefs.
As far as I knew, she hadn’t exactly given him many reasons to earn his trust. Yet, he gave it to her.
I was given his trust, lost it, and then worked tirelessly to earn it back. Yet, he never gave it back to me completely.
He gave me plenty of reasons not to trust him. In hindsight, he didn’t exactly do much to earn my trust. Yet, I still gave it to him.
Love and relationships can be messy.
In this case, there were no clear villains or heroes. No real victors, none of us completely innocent, all of us equally imperfect.
When it comes to trust in relationships, believing that it is earned instead of given proved to be too simplistic for the complexity that is the human experience.
Trust as a choice
I realized to believe trust is something earned is to imply ambiguous, yet objective measures to determine trustworthiness.
As if there’s a scientific method to it, where I could conduct experiments in relationships, collecting data on trustworthiness. However, the experiment of life gave me plenty of evidence to refute this belief.
Trust cannot be earned, only given.
Believing trust is something that is earned is to also believe trust is something you can be entitled to receive.
Trust is a choice.
You could be one of the most trustworthy people in the world.
You could have your invisible certificate of trustability to prove it. But, someone can still choose not to give you their trust. Alternatively, someone can give you plenty of reasons not to trust them and you can still choose to give them your trust.
Why is it that you can be one of the most trustworthy person in the world and someone can still choose not to trust you? It’s because this is one of those situations where “it’s nothing personal” applies.
Someone’s choice not to give you their trust likely has nothing to do with you. There’s probably a fear surrounding trust.
No matter the perceived fear, it’s usually past experiences informing that perception. We cannot change someone’s perception. They are the only ones who are responsible to, and who can, change their perceptions.
There may be times where trust becomes more nuanced.
People can show us what they can and cannot be trusted with, we just need to learn how to see it. It took me a while to understand this.
Eventually, I realized this guy had shown me I could trust him with my secrets, just not with matters of commitment.
He would tell me that he hated people talking about him. Because of his distaste for people talking about him behind his back, a part of me knew that I could trust him not to tell others what I had confided in him.
He also told me he’d been cheated on in the past, He knew it wounded him, I knew it still impacted him. Through this he showed me that I couldn’t trust him with commitment, I just chose not to listen.
That was my fault, not his. Believing I could prove he could trust me and have his wounds magically go away was my own ignorance.
People can show us if we can trust them, and in which ways. We just have to listen, choose to acknowledge it, to see it clearly.
How do I make my choices of trust?
I wish there was a one-size-fits-all answer to this dilemma.
Sadly, there isn’t.
While I may not be able to tell you what to do, I can give advice on what not to do.
When making your choices of who to give your trust to, it’s important not to let the past limit the future.
The past can haunt, but it can also heal. Past experiences are opportunities to learn and grow in the present, to implement what was learned in the future. The lessons will be different for everyone. Whatever the lesson is, you are the only one who can know for certain what it is.
The most important thing is to not let others make your choices of trust for you. Tune out the external voices, tune into your internal voice. Listen to what it’s saying. Take a moment to ask yourself if your internal voice is speaking from a place of faith or fear.
When your trust has been betrayed in the past, it’s understandable to be fearful to choose to trust again. I still struggle to heal my internal voice that speaks the language of fear. It’s easier to listen to the voice of fear and choose to withhold trust rather than to choose to give trust. Just like a muscle, your internal voice that speaks from a place of faith takes time and practice to build its strength.
To overcome the voice of fear, it can help to observe the person outside of your interactions with them. No, I don’t mean stalk them. What I mean is to observe if they demonstrate dependability in other areas of their life. Do they show up to appointments and commitments on time? If they’re late, do they give others a heads up? Or just expect them to deal with it? Observing someone’s dependability in other areas of their lives can give us clues. If they demonstrate dependability, there’s a good chance you can depend on them to honor the trust you chose to give.
Trust is one of the abstracts of life. It’s not black and white.
Instead, there are many shades of grey.
Whether it’s giving your trust to people, to whatever higher power you may believe in, or even to your elected representatives to prioritize the interests of your constituency — trust is a choice. It is a choice we each make every day.
The most important thing of all is to choose to trust yourself. To trust yourself to make the right choices for yourself.
At the end of the day, trust is a choice you can only make for yourself — it is not something that can be earned or entitled to be given.
You can only trust yourself to choose wisely.