This the end of the series, and it’s fitting this is the one I’ve been kicking the can down the road on all week. That’s right, we’re talking about making and breaking social connections.
This is a two-parter because it’s the good, but it’s the bad too.
Something I’ve always struggled with (and likely always will) is feeling connected to the people around me. There are a variety of reasons, I don’t know how to fully unpack them without having to pay my readers 80 dollars an hour if I turn this into a therapy session.
You could say it’s because I’ve got an independent streak the size of Texas, and I don’t want to lean on anyone (because I think people are just going to let you down eventually). You could say it’s because I’m a shy introvert who genuinely doesn’t want to spend a good deal of time around people, which naturally inhibits the ability to make and build connections with others. You could probably say it’s for a lot of reasons. No matter how you look at it, it’s true. Not much to do in changing that core trait. At least not any time soon.
But I know the core trait is dangerous. I know I’m not actually alone. Turns out, against my best efforts, that I’ve got friends across the country. I try not to argue with them too much when they tell me why they’re friends with me. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Shakey Graves has a song (and a little bit of a story to go with it) on the whole not being alone thing. Jump to about 11:50 for the story behind the song:
So what changed for me? I’m not really sure. A little and then a lot.
Truthfully, I think some of it was necessity. At some point, I needed friends and not in some abstract sense.
I’d always had friends, but I never really reached out. I never really leaned on them. When the hits would come, I’d just crawl back up and ask for another round.
It wasn’t sustainable, and it started to have some pretty significant effects. I hated going to work. I was getting sick more often. And then I managed to get an injury to my chest that pretty much decimated my ability to active at all. And we know I like to use exercise to manage stress.
Even then, I wasn’t really reaching out to friends. One or two people were kept in the loop, but that was about it. I didn’t want to seem weak. I didn’t want people to know my problems. I still don’t. I just now know that’s not a healthy way to go out and about in the world.
What was weird was I had all these friends that I hadn’t even properly realized were there.
The eureka moment happened when I invited my friends for dinner on my birthday. And then I realized I’d just invited an obscenely large group to a restaurant. And nearly all of them showed up. One person missed out of about 15 or 16 invited.
I actually felt bad because there were so many people, I wasn’t able to properly talk to all of them even though they’d taken time to come celebrate with me.
At some point, a friend of mine called me a social tesseract. I would not be around people as a general state of being, and then all of sudden invite a large crowd of people to do something, and they’d show up.
It was weird.
I think part of it was that I didn’t do it very often, so they either showed up because they knew it was rare or they felt guilty. Either way, they were there when they didn’t have to be.
And that was when I started to realize people were there for me who didn’t have to be. I don’t really count family (though I realize for some folks family members aren’t there for them) because it’s in the contract. Something you can take for granted. But with friends, that’s such a transient group of people in the full scale of your life that it’s easy to devalue it if you’re not careful.
But still, they were there for me, but I wasn’t really reaching out. I wasn’t really letting people know what was going on.
For me, reaching out has always been an act of necessity. I generally won’t let people know what’s going on until it’s too late to help. After I’ve gotten out of whatever anxiety hole I’ve fallen into, I then have someone else who’s in on the game and I know I can reach out to when I need it.
I don’t recommend this tactic. I’d recommend reaching out before falling in the hole. You know, so you don’t fall in the hole. Falling in the anxiety hole is bad. OK?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more intentional about maintaining friendships. I’ve been better about checking in with people if I couldn’t remember the last time we caught up. I’ve started visiting friends. The idea of going somewhere just to visit friends was completely foreign to me until a few years ago, but even then, it started as an act of necessity. Now I’ve kept doing it because I see the value it has.
There’s no magical formula to maintaining friendships. At least none that I’ve found. Mostly it’s just about being there for people when you can and not being afraid of letting them be there for you as well.
Unfortunately, as important as it is to maintain connections, sometimes you have to break them. This part is the reason I’ve been kicking the can down the road on this post.
Here’s a tongue-in-cheek farewell song for you:
Breaking connections is never fun. I’ve never happily cut someone out of my life. Not once. Even if I’m happy for them to be gone, the act of cutting them off brings some combination of sadness, anxiety, and/or anger.
Every single time.
Facebook and cell phones really just ruined this whole endeavor. I wish it was 20 years ago when you could just pretend you lost the address book. Hell, you probably wouldn’t have to pretend because how they hell would they know? People moved and got new phone numbers. You weren’t going to see or hear from them again.
Sometimes cutting people off isn’t really cutting people off. You just drifted apart. It happens. But after a couple of years, you see that number on your phone for a person you don’t really know anymore, what are you going to do? You haven’t reached out, but neither have they.
These have always just been sad for me. I’ve been collecting towns and colleges, so I can’t really justify keeping all those numbers all these years. There are people I used to see every day who I couldn’t phone up if I wanted to right now. It’s weird to think that version of me is hanging out with people who I haven’t seen in a decade.
But that’s the easy one. Sometimes you have to make an active decision to cut off contact.
There are a lot of reasons I’ve had to do this, but ultimately, it was always for my mental health. To even have their number on my phone was something I couldn’t stomach.
I’ve felt a lot of emotions doing this. I’ve been angry that it came to that. I’ve felt anxious that I’d be exposed as a bad person for cutting off contact. And of course, there’s sadness that someone who was important to you won’t be important moving forward. I suppose no one really becomes inaccessible these days, but I’ve only ever had one person re-emerge as a friend after cutting off contact with them.
And Facebook makes this a rough process. If you really want someone gone from your sphere, you gotta get rid of them on social media too, but it’s just social media, right? What’s the big deal? Why wouldn’t you want to see this person you’ve lost touch with or this person you had a falling out with? What’s so wrong with that?
In some ways, the world was better off when you couldn’t stay in touch so easily. You had to pick and choose who you stayed in touch with. You had to cultivate only the very best of your friendships. You’d have fewer connections, but at least those would be the good ones, not just a mountain of old acquaintances who don’t really know anything meaningful about you but tell you happy birthday because the computer told them to.
But I’m tired of writing. This post and this series are officially done. But I won’t leave without the summary you all want:
- Sometimes your mental health deserves a good soundtrack.
- Don’t underestimate the mental toll physical pain can take on you.
- Don’t underestimate the value of physical activity for your mental health.
- It’s ok to take care of yourself.
- And it’s important to maintain the right connections (and end the wrong ones) in your life.
Adios, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, aloha, ciao, later gator.