I’ve had several conversations over the last couple weeks with close friends about how strange adult relationships (friendships or otherwise) are–it’s as if in our minds as young people we think relationships will be: easier, less messy, more convenient, less drama, **fill in the blank here**. But, I think they’re harder…Playing on the playground at school it’s natural to go up to someone you don’t know and see if they want to play tag/ball/make-believe. But as an adult, it’s weird (okay, downright creepy sometimes) to walk up to another adult and say “Hi! My name is Shannon, want to be friends?” As an empath, I crave deep relationships. As an extrovert, I thrive on being around people. Together it can be a daunting combination. Because truly it isn’t quantity that matters (though sometimes that’s misleading), but it’s quality. I fall into caring about people super easily–really I care about all people and so it’s easy enough to find my connection on some level when I interact with new folks. And it’s often true that I can overwhelm others with my attentiveness and need for connection (I worry about the smother affect).
But recently I’ve struggled with connecting (not because anyone is doing anything wrong, but what I seek is not necessarily in line with what others can give). Many of my friends are coupled/married. That’s the first degree of separation (Kevin Bacon not included). Being a third wheel is something I’ve done for a loooong time. And it’s never really been a problem, but it’s different when we have jobs and bills and live more structured “I have to check with my partner” lives. And, though my sister who I live with is often my +1 in social settings, I don’t always have to check with her if I am just getting together with a friend or group. Add to this that some of these friends also have kids (second degree of separation). I love my friends’ kids, truly. But it means more flexibility in plans, rescheduling, or not having intentional time for months on end. It can be frustrating. It’s caused me to re-evaluate my reactions recently because I’ve been working so hard in 2019 to “be brave, be vulnerable, be wild”. And that has meant sharing how I feel (even when I know it’s ridiculous) and asking for what I need. Sometimes then I overlook the needs of others because I get frustrated by plans falling through. And–whoa–you’re telling me other people have needs too? Reality is that people can’t always give us what we need (even if they want to)–and that doesn’t necessarily mean they care about us any less. This is a big realization for me. Not that I didn’t already know it, but it’s like I could fully understand it for the first time. It’s a major reframe for me, and a process. I’m committing to understanding this more and trying really hard to take it in stride which feels counterintuitive. But, damn, I sure do miss the days of college when you could spend time with your people 24/7.
Adulting also makes the dating world difficult to navigate (you’re right, I don’t openly talk about this in person or here on my blog–be brave. be vulnerable. be wild–right?). Online dating is weird, it feels unnatural, and there is something about having absolutely no connection to the person you are talking to/going to meet that gives me the willies. Give me a blind date or dating an acquaintance any day over online/app-based dating. Also, the hook up culture runs rampant in online dating (if that’s your thing, no shame, it’s just definitely not where I am at this stage in my life–you do you though). It doesn’t seem that culture changes across platform (even though branding would lead you to believe otherwise). So I’m left with trying to meet and get to know people in the day to day–friends and potential dates.
There is a fine line (a gossamer barrier) between friendships and romantic relationships as adults–it’s harder to tell the difference. It’s harder to genuinely try and get to know someone, because you want friendship and camaraderie and support, without crossing over into any of those dating synonyms: talking, hanging out, dating, courting (does anyone still say this?), exclusive, bf/gf, etc. I’ve been concentrating on finding and growing friendships the last few months, but how is getting to know someone really all that different from “talking”? It’s easy to misread signals and cues and actions. Because today you can no longer assume whether the other person is into men or women, its not uncommon to think you are being friendly when someone else thinks you are flirting no matter the gender or relationship. That’s only one reason why clarity of our intentions and needs is so important (even when we don’t know–because saying “I don’t know” is an answer). And things change, you can think one thing and then find you feel another, or maybe you really just finally have an answer instead of not knowing. So continued communication and vulnerability is important, in any type of relationship. We all see situations with our own set of lenses. I worry sometimes my innate need for connection (what some would see as “clingy”) is too much or makes my intentions seem they are something other than what I say. In reality, I just love people and love them hard–that’s part of how my empathic nature presents.
Maybe I’m talking in circles, and maybe none of this makes sense outside of my own head. But I find myself sociologically analyzing my interactions and heart tugs and bonds with others–I can’t help it. I grow and age and “mature”, and thus I learn more. And where it brings some answers, it brings a hell of a lot more questions to the surface that make me evaluate my actions and what I want (or rather what I need). All I can do is try to be honest in all things, to be unapologetically me (even though I say “I’m sorry” too much). I’m not perfect, but I am genuine–that has to count for something.
I’ve been singing this on repeat (getting all of the High School show choir feels).