closeness is rare
against people pleasing
I spent a lot of time on my roof of my last apartment. I’d take a speaker and watch seemingly one continuous stream of bodies, hopes, ambitions flow through the heart of the Mission District. I’d lay down a blanket and lie flat, my back pressed against a thin barrier between me and the ceiling plane below. The sky was usually clear, unassuming, indifferent to my antics: eating tacos from a La Taqueria, writing, reading. Back then I found the steady dance between solitude and togetherness that twirled through adulthood both terrifying and freeing. I still do.
Big cities are just an entangled web of people all one degree removed from each other. I found it both intimate and jarring: being flung into proximity and expected to swim. But actual closeness is rare. Which is why in a crowded room or a bustling city you can still continue to feel terribly lonely.
I was thinking, recently, about the way I glided on the surface of a lot of friendships in the past. I was always in large groups in college and watched them fade out one by one until only few individuals remained. Back then I optimized for being accepted or being liked. And only now am I realizing that was a sort of painful place to occupy. Being liked by everyone isn’t possible without some contortion or diminishing of self.
These days the restraint against people pleasing comes more naturally to me. Maybe there’s something about writing a blog and throwing it out into the internet ether for people to like/dislike/engage with me on this weird, warped, and beautiful plane of ideas and concepts. Or maybe it’s just my tastes solidifying. I know what I like now: individuals, closeness, depth, vulnerability. I don’t like: intense parties, large groups, clout-chasing. I don’t force a lot of things now. Because things are uncontrollable. People are unpredictable. I feel less shame around being selective or unreachable or misunderstood.
An Ask Polly I read a few days ago really stuck with me:
It’s not weak to feel shame. I’m sure you were raised in a culture of perfection, motion, improvement, finish lines. But great art is the opposite of shame. Any rule with the taint or stank of shame on it will fuck up your art. Every imperative that is perfection-based or perfection-guided is, by nature, broken and twisted and toxic.
Any shame will fuck up your art. But it’s less talked about that any shame around your intrinsic beliefs, passions, intensity will also fuck up your relationships.
You could go your whole life trying to get people, or even a specific someone to see you. We witness this a lot in asymmetric relationships where people spend a lot of time forcing closeness or depth or resonance with another person that just may not exist. Then there are people who just get it. You don’t have to say too much — they are observant, highly intuitive and good listeners. They will just get it. The attention you are fighting for does not have to feel like yanking teeth. The right people will naturally be curious.
There are people out there who will be enchanted by the machinations of your mind. You don’t have to pretzel yourself into an image or a set of traits or squeeze into something uncomfortable to be valuable. Being in good relationships allow you to stay tender, to know the borders of the mind are open and wide and free to roam. Thoughts can spill off the edge and land in a safe place. I wrote this a while ago, “Good decisions feel like floating, not sinking. Good people too. I search for that feeling everywhere now.”
I think it was George Saunders who wrote stay open, forever, so open it hurts, and then open up some more. We only start to make real relationships when we stop hiding, when we open up. I used to love a fantasy — morphing myself into exactly who you wanted me to be. But that wasn’t real, was it? There was no longevity, no depth to that. Nowadays I think reality is far more romantic. I like that there are a million people wrong for me, and only a few right. I like that we mess up and forgive. Witnessing, observing, each other is an art form. There is no act more faithful than letting yourself be seen.
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Quote of the Week
Our lives disconnect and reconnect, we move on, and later we may again touch one another, again bounce away. This is the felt shape of a human life, neither simply linear nor wholly disjunctive nor endlessly bifurcating, but rather this [. . .] sequence of bumpings-into and tumblings-apart.