Love is… scary.

I didn’t expect to write that title. It just came out as I began to type. The last decade of my life has been dedicated to the pursuit of deep, meaningful and (wait for it…) lasting relationships. I grew up as a Third Culture Kid, like many of you readers, and mobility was my stability. I knew that I was good at initiating friendships but long-lasting ones were less comfortable for me. For a start, they were unfamiliar. Either they left or I did… this was the rhythm of my life. While this sounds painful, I’d built up some pretty sturdy callouses. Goodbyes weren’t that hard for me and I was confident in my ability to rebuild social connections at will.

I’d been raised in a community that saw this ability to let go and rebuild as a ‘skill set’ and, until recently, I adopted a similar perspective. I acknowledged that I had other skill sets missing – the ability to maintain friendships and engage in ‘small talk’, for instance. But I wasn’t too concerned by these. “I’ll adapt”, I thought. “I’ll learn”. So I did. I learnt how to do friendship building over time, and in place. I learnt how to stay and how to build community. I thought I was doing great. But I didn’t account for how I’d feel about these friends. And I didn’t account for how scary those feelings would be. I didn’t account for love.

In reducing friendship to a set of behavioural rituals and routines, I had focused on data rather than experiences. Data said “this is how people make and keep friends, and how people perform friendship”. Experience crept up on me. Experience of love and intimacy and mutuality says, “but what about if I lose them?”

For a brain hardwired to predict and adapt to loss, relational attachment is frightening. Attachment implies dependence and that dependence threatens the very survival of a soul in perpetual transit. Scary.

I have been scared many times over the last few weeks.

Sharing in the gut-wrenching grief of a friend in a time of terrible loss. Scared that another’s pain can hurt me so so deeply.

Hearing the joy of friends in pregnancy and with newborns, and realising I’ll be able to watch their kids grow up. Scared because these children don’t have to love me or even tolerate me, as I’m not ‘family’. And yet I love them so much already.

Being ‘seen’ and understood by a colleague, unexpectedly and unwaveringly. Scared because I thought I was so good at being invulnerable.

Being hugged spontaneously by a dear friend, and being taken aback by how much that meant to me. Scared because I have never needed friends before.

It has never felt so good to be so scared.

4 comments

  1. Dan says:

    “Goodbyes weren’t that hard for me . . .” Somewhere around age 50, goodbyes became very hard for me. Majorly upsetting. I’m almost 77 now, and the goodbyes aren’t quite so traumatic. I have no explanation of the onset or the passing; just sharing it as somewhat related to your piece. (We left West Africa on short notice back in 1955, and didn’t get the opportunity to say hardly any goodbyes.)

    With St. Valentine’s day hard upon us, I’m reminded also (in a somewhat related way) of Canadian singer Anne Murray’s song “You needed me.” A favorite. Maybe she was singing of being scared, too, Dr. Rachel.

    • Dr. Rachel Cason says:

      Thank you for reading, Dan. Goodbyes are a strange thing… I found them fine as a child but, like you, they are becoming harder. I’m sorry you didn’t have that opportunity to say goodbye to West Africa, and the people that you were leaving. Thank you for the song reference too… and for joining the conversation!

  2. Dan says:

    The song presents both sides of the coin: You needed me; I needed you.

    I cried a tear
    You wiped it dry
    I was confused
    You cleared my mind
    I sold my soul
    You bought it back for me
    And held me up
    And gave me dignity
    Somehow you needed me
    You gave me strength
    To stand alone again
    To face the world
    Out on my own again
    You put me high
    Upon a pedestal
    So high that I could
    Almost see eternity
    You needed me, you needed me
    And I can’t believe it’s you

    I can’t believe it’s true
    I needed you
    And you were there
    And I’ll never leave
    Why should I leave, I’d be a fool
    ‘Cause I’ve finally found
    Someone who really cares
    You held my hand
    When it was cold
    When I was lost
    You took me home
    You gave me hope
    When I was at the end
    And turned my lies
    Back into truth again
    You even called me friend
    You gave me strength
    To stand alone again
    To face the world
    Out on my own again
    You put me high
    Upon a pedestal
    So high that I could
    Almost see eternity
    You needed me, you needed me
    You needed me, you needed me

  3. devbhoomimedia says:

    The intentional effort required for friendship can be described as making room in your life for others. It means you will make room in your schedule, budget, ministry goals, and family life for friendship.

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