A while back I met with a mentor to talk about a relationship I was in at the time. I remember telling him how afraid I was.
Nothing was wrong with her or with our relationship. In fact, everything was good. Which is why I think I was so afraid—afraid that I’d get hurt.
You see, within this relationship, I wasn’t relating so much as I was performing, working so hard at presenting the perfect, most ideal version of myself. I was afraid that eventually she might see me the way in which I then saw myself. And so out of this fear, I ended the relationship.
I ended the relationship because I wanted the intimacy without the possibility of rejection or hurt.
The Curse of Controllable Friendships
In today’s world, many of us find ourselves oscillating between our need for attachment and our fear of rejection. We so desperately want to be with someone, but are scared to get too close to anyone. So in response, we keep everyone at a safe “controllable” distance, where they are close enough to kind of know us, but are far enough where they can never really hurt us.
Social media provides the perfect platform for this. We have the ability to edit our Facebook profiles, proofread our texts and post photoshopped “selfies” where the risk is seemingly minimal. What we’re not realizing though, is that the reward is temporal and the cost is extremely detrimental. In this age of Facebook, it’s never been easier to get the feeling of being accepted while not having to risk vulnerability and the possibility of being rejected.
We’ve become a generation that prefers Netflix to dating, texting to talking, pornography to sex and being liked by many instead of being loved by few. As a result, so many of us are finding ourselves to be and feel as if we’re surrounded by people yet still alone.
It may seem obvious, but it bears restating: Living life to its full can’t happen when we never let anyone in; it can only become a reality within the environment of safe, healthy, authentic relationships that allow us the space to be vulnerable, to be ourselves.
Connecting VS. Escaping
Our smartphones have allowed us to connect, but also they have given us the opportunity to escape, or rather, disconnect from the reality of life. Our knee-jerk reaction in times of discomfort has been to reach for our phones. Whether it’s waiting in line at the super market, in an office meeting at work or during a heated conflict.
But what if engaging in conflict, embracing the mundane reality that comes with life and staying focused on one person or activity at a time was necessary to having a better, healthier, more substantial life?
You see, this forces us to not only deepen our relationships, it allows us the opportunity to deepen our understanding of who we are as individuals.
Most of us present a sort of representation of ourselves online, usually only including the very best parts of ourselves. So few of those we “know” actually know us. It’s almost as if we’ve become professional “performers,” living our lives out on the stages of social media.
The thing is, life is not meant to be a nonstop performance. Though it feels great to be applauded and accepted by thousands, when who we are on stage, (or rather online) is not who we are in real life, the risk of being rejected is lower, but the reward of ever being truly accepted is diminished.
This is why Ralph Waldo Emerson is famously quoted saying, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
If we never risk being vulnerable, we’re never going to experience being loved. We’re given this illusion of being heard and accepted, lending us the false perception of feeling connected. But this is not meeting our innate, biological need for true acceptance and touch from someone who knows you, and accepts the real you, as opposed to this idealistic falsified image of you.
So then, in light of this information, what do we do?
It’s simple, we choose.
We choose between fearing and risking, performing and truly living, embracing a time of controlled loneliness and being content with the mundane. And here’s where the beauty of the Gospel comes in: It gives us permission to be imperfect, to be vulnerable, to simply embrace who we truly are and that we are accepted as we are.
Being vulnerable and risking connection is not so much of a risk that you might get hurt someday, it’s a guarantee that you will get hurt. Sociologist and researcher Sherry Turkle says so well, “Who said that a life without conflict, without dealing with the past, or without rubbing up against the troublesome people is better?”
A life without problems might be safer, but it’s not better than experiencing the fruit of allowing yourself to be seen in the light.
When you step onto the messy battlefield of relationships, you’re going to get hit. Some hits will be worse then others, and some hits will take longer to recover from, but after each hit you’re going to get up. Why? Because in the choice between loneliness and connection, we all ultimately want connection.
Andy Gill is currently studying at Princeton Theological. He speaks to youth and young adults, writes and tweets about faith, God, relationships and life at andygill.org. More interestinglyÐheÕs a nerd at heart and is 33.3 percent serious, 33.3% humor, and the rest is just water.