“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Relationships are a huge and pervasive topic of conversation. Every social media feed is full of people telling us how great theirs are and every grocery store tabloid rack is littered with stories about how terrible our favorite or most hated celebrities have it. Do these stories really interest us and if so why?
It has become sadly comical these days to walk through a crowd and see every man, woman and child with their noses pointed toward the ground looking at a cell phone. I’ve joked that future generations are going to come out of the womb in that bent over position. Such a high percentage of our communication is done through virtual means. But how much of that communication is real? Whether it be on social media, in email or text we are “communicating” more than ever and yet we are simply alone in the most crowded room. We collect friends and professional connections we have never met and display the numbers like some kind of trophy. Meanwhile human beings have become expendable and throw away. The “other fish in the sea” idea has been taken to an all new level of dysfunction. We’ve built up such a competitive environment and a need to be as “happy” as everyone else.
Have we forgotten how to enjoy our own solitary company? Is our need for connection so great we’ll sacrifice everything to achieve it? If you enjoyed and were comfortable enough being alone wouldn’t it make it much easier to see clearly whether someone you met was right for you? It seems like we rush from encounter to encounter always trying to “make it work” and we might not even be sure what “working” looks like.
We are a society in pain. The pain manifests differently in each person, but it distils down to one simple truth. Too many of us have either lost sight of who we are and what we value most or do not take active steps to live according to those values. We no longer live in an authentic fashion, and it affects every aspect of our lives. We spend our waking hours attempting to please parents, employers, and personal relationships. We blame each other, society and technology.
We build entire identities around these paths we’ve mistakenly begun to follow. We tell ourselves and others “This is who or what I am.” And we make them believe it because we think we believe. But at some level, this “truth” is not comfortable for us. Somewhere inside a part of us knows differently and feels the disconnect between our thoughts or actions and our true heart.
Once we’ve established these false personae, we struggle to maintain them and live with the constant fear (whether we are conscious of it or not) we will be discovered. The pain this confusion causes leads us to look for solutions everywhere except within ourselves. The insecurities we’ve carried since childhood lead to self-medicating which then leads to cover up and denial and the cycle repeats. In our efforts to fit in, we often look to individuals such as celebrities or organizations, causes, and social groups not aligned with our true values because we’ve yet to identify or in some cases forgotten what those values are.
“That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves.”
― Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain
For decades we’ve been fighting drug abuse, alcoholism, infidelity and obesity as if finding the cure to those things would suddenly turn our country around and make it “like the good old days.” We have hundreds of books on self-awareness, communication and other concepts related to both our internal and external relationship with ourselves and the world around us. Possibly even more conversation and discussion have revolved around the woes of mankind and what is seen as the decline in values, motivation and morals.
Our interactions with others are strained, uncomfortable and fraught with skepticism or doubt at best. At worst we are outright duplicitous. But because we may not even realize we are doing it the long term results can be disastrous. As individuals, we are experts in all manner of things relating to our professions or hobbies even celebrities we’ve never met but know precious little about the person we are closest to in ourselves.
It keeps us in an almost constant state of stress for which honesty and transparency are the only solutions. Every interaction turns into a dance to determine what to divulge and what to keep secret as well as a struggle to guess how much of what we hear from others we can trust. We become skeptical and mistrustful. For many folks, this means building walls. And because each of us is unique in the power and number of our negative or traumatic experiences, those walls will be higher, thicker or less permeable for some than others.
Consider the generally accepted pattern of new relationships where everyone is on their “best behavior.” We only divulge the best parts of us. Our conversations are all politically correct. Every interaction is structured such that the darker or more challenging parts of us stay hidden. I often ask people about what they consider acceptable first date topics. I’m not surprised to get answers like basic background, previous travel, education, common interests. To me that seems like a waste of time. If we make a significant connection I will have time to hear about those things later. I learn much more about a person when I offer up things about myself and see their reaction or when I ask something potentially uncomfortable and find whether they are willing to answer.
I have described myself as an open book, but one that isn’t a required read. I’m willing to tell you anything you want to know even though you might not always like the answer. I figure if we have a major difference of ideology I’d like to know sooner rather than later.
I don’t know a great deal about child psychology. But, it’s pretty safe to say that if even with all our acquired wisdom we are still trying to figure it out in our 30’s, 40’s and way beyond, there is virtually no hope of parsing it out as toddlers. This unavoidable immaturity of thought process leaves us incredibly vulnerable to all manner of confusion and mixed signals. One of the earliest and greatest tragedies coming from that confusion is it often makes us susceptible to allowing others make us question our value or self-worth. Nearly everyone we meet has an opinion about what we should do, how we should act, what diet is best for us etc. In my life I had men telling me I needed sex, doctors telling me I needed medications and well-meaning friends and family telling me I needed religion. Too often we let others dictate who we are and what we’ll do with our lives. We walk around thinking we are broken and if you think you are broken you are more likely to be taken advantage of.
But if you approach each situation knowing that going home alone is better than going home with the wrong person, your ability to evaluate each encounter improves significantly. When your standards for success change so do your odds of achieving it. The very act of getting pickier and putting yourself first actually increases your attractiveness to the people most compatible to you.
Do you have thoughts or input on this subject? Please let me know what you think by leaving your comments below.