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.