1. I feel lonely a lot of the time the last few years
2. I’m (still) crap at being deeply vulnerable
During my adult life, I’ve moved around a lot. Different jobs, different cities, different countries.. So I’m pretty used to starting over somewhere new, exploring and opening and making every effort to be sociable and meet new people…and make new friends.
You learn a lot about human psychology in this way.
How most people (who stay in the same place) are happy to stick with the friends they grew up with, do the same things every weekend, and aren’t that interested in making new friends outside their established circle (which is why, as an expat, you usually just end up being friends with other expats; not because you don’t make an effort to make friends with the indigenous folks, but because they’re not that bothered about extending their circle of friends).
How after about your mid-twenties, men are no longer (ever) interested in being friends (I realise at this juncture some people will ask the rhetorical question “Were they ever?”, but even if they weren’t, back in the day they pretended and you could hang out and have a few beers together without it getting weird at least some of the time).
How rare and precious it is to meet someone with whom you have that instantaneous click, that feeling of recognition, of having known each other for ages, of intrinsically understanding each other. And how the deliciousness of that never diminishes.
How deeply everyone longs for connection. How making new friends is vulnerable. How so many people seem to settle for less than what they long for.
How much harder it is in your 30’s than when you were a kid, or at university.
How no one talks about it because we’re scared we’ll be called friendless weirdos and pointed at like lepers.
So I’m breaking the silence.
From the moment of separation at birth til our death, we are all seeking connection. Not just people to party with, but searingly deep connection. The creation of a space between you that fuses you together, so that you are no longer separate. A shared reality in which you are no longer facing the world alone.
We tend to search desperately for this in romantic partners (who should also ideally fulfill an assortment of criteria that will nurse our childhood wounds, love and accept our shadows, and caress our sense of worth and value), and then fall apart when the intensity of the demand implodes the relationship.
The people I know who are great at life, are also great at friendship. They swim gracefully through the reefs and rocks of friendship as they do life, washing over troubles and rounding upon new encounters with all the ease of a particularly well-adapted eel.
But many people (most) are not such natural experts at cultivating deep connection. Many people spend much of their lives feeling isolated (even when they’re surrounded by other people). Many people bear their joys and their sadnesses alone. Particularly in a society where anxiety disorders and depression run rampant, but where there is still so much stigma attached to both that shame is added to the mix and the pain of it is borne silently.
Friendship and me
My own experiences with friendship have been mixed.
I always had a few very close friends but had trouble in bigger groups. I never felt like I ‘belonged’ in the general mix. I made friends easily in one-to-one connection but struggled to show myself and connect in groups.
To a large extent, that is still the case.
At school and at university I had my tribes, easeful places of soul connection, for which I am infinitely grateful, because growing up feeling understood by at least a handful of fellow humans eased the existential anxiety that was my constant companion.
But since University, with all my moving and the craziness of life (admittedly some people tell me I cram a lot into mine) it’s become much harder.
There are old friendships that have run their course; where interests and approach to life have diverged to the point of losing that shared space. There are old friendships that persist doggedly, in spite of long absences and missed birthdays; where the shared moments of that particular brand of madness is all that is needed to rekindle the flames of connection, no matter how much time goes by.
There are new friendships that remain at a disappointingly superficial level, despite attempts to infuse them with more meaning. And then there are ones that are born out of that magical elixir of shared understanding, the ones that make you feel like you’ve come home.
There are many in my somewhat nomadic life, that come into being and infuse us with joy for a short time before one or the other of us is swept away once more on the currents of life. Many that are separated by thousands of kilometers. Many that never had the chance to blossom.
The bottom line of it is that the last few years, the sum of these friendships has felt insufficient. I long to have a few close girlfriends (guy friends would also be great) who actually live near me to really share my life with.
Because the reality is that when you’re officially ‘grown up’ and single and nomadic, you don’t automatically have people who share your life. And that feeling of being witnessed is something that we are wired to need.
As I’ve come to know myself more over the years, I’ve learnt that there are particular environments where I am much more likely to find kindred spirits. However even in this age of Meetup.com, Facebook groups, expat groups, and the myriad other ways of finding people who have shared interests with you, it’s still not that easy to find those people who you can connect with on a deep level (whose particular brand of madness, if you will, matches yours).
Even for me, with my deeply rooted desire to be fully transparent and authentic, it’s hard to just get naked in this world. To be brave enough to really show who you are; a vulnerable, big-hearted human searching for connection, towing behind you all your scars and hopes and dreams, and the meandering story of your life.
And I think that part of the reason for that is that we still live in a world where vulnerability is regarded as weakness. And that this perception is so pervasive that in most environments it still feels like the weight of a fully open heart will crack the brittle veneer of social norms. And God help you if you do that. After all, in most places you need to show up not just as normal but as cool.
The dark side of human nature
This culture of coolness (where coolness is almost entirely externalized and the material is valued over the intrinsic) is responsible for so much of the shame and anxiety that people have about showing and sharing themselves fully, in all their scared, ugly, damaged human truth. In a culture where there isn’t space for those ‘undesirable’ parts of ourselves, the result is twofold.
1. We will never be fully seen and therefore only partly witnessed, and the sense of wholeness that is derived from having our experience as a Self be seen and shared is elusive. All manner of psychosocial disorders arise form this, and we have yet to establish any approach that yields sustainable results on a bigger scale.
2. The repression and secreting away of our ‘undesirable’ dark parts mean these are externally expressed in unhealthy (unconscious) ways, often masked in socially acceptable forms. Hence the ugliness, cruelty, and violence that we see across almost all cultures, as well as the unrepentant ravaging of the earth.
Our fear of the darker aspects of ourselves has led us to create a culture that tries to pretend that they doesn’t exist. That this doesn’t work is indisputable at this point, and yet our resistance individually and culturally to transform into a society that is open and accepting of all the intricacies of human nature is slow to yield.
A culture that accepts only the light creates an underbelly for the expression of the dark. And until we learn to value and express both the light and the dark side of human nature, we will continue to have the dark furtively expressed externally. In a world where one man can cause enormous destruction, that is a dangerous game to continue to play.
So how do we go about changing culture?
It starts with me and you. It starts with individuals being brave enough to face their own dark side, to work on integrating it, and to show up in the world as the beautiful, complex, multidimensional beings that we truly are. Owning ALL of who we are. Showing others that it’s ok to be in the world just as they are.
Bringing all of who we are into the workplace. Into sports teams. Into business and politics and education. Creating systems that support and honour full human expression. That make space for the dark side. That value vulnerability and understand that connection is the basis of all of human endeavour.
The Quiet Revolution is a revolution of the heart, of the soul. Vulnerability is not optional.
We have no choice but to bare our hearts, if we want to save the world.