I Only Knew One Way to Relate
For most of my life, meaningful relationships were defined by and were dependent on, long, meaningful conversations. If for some reason, I could not have long, meaningful conversations with someone, it meant I could not be close to them.
I think the template for meaningful relationships was my relationship with my grandmother who could sit and talk for hours with me (or anyone). Her topics ranged from superficial to deep but it was always a feeling of connection and love.
When I unconsciously made long conversations a requirement for relationships, it severely restricted my ability to connect with people. Yes, I do also have skills for short interactions with people. I know how to keep things pleasant. I know how to be nice. I know how to be quiet. But that kind of interaction always felt like a consolation prize for what I really craved: deep conversation.
Knowledge Was a Way to Connect
I love to learn, it’s one of my favorite things, so I’ve often sought connections with people who were studying the same things (in the same classes in school), or doing the same things professionally. I love to talk shop, not only because I learn, but because I connect.
But a lot of people don’t like to do that. They find it tedious. Or going deeper makes them feel insecure—or they simply don’t have the time for anything so impractical. The result is a feeling of loneliness. I judge all the superficial interactions as meaningless and I hold my breath for those rare times when I can connect.
This Came up Recently in Some Work on My Mom
I was working a situation from when I was 21 and I had decided to choose a different path than what she wanted for me. On my Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet, I wrote some statements about wanting and needing her to have some long conversations with me, to talk freely about everything.
As I did this work, questioning what I was believing, I found some really cool options. One was the option for me to have long conversations with myself. For me, this looked like going to a library on a Sunday when I could spend all day mapping out my thinking and my plans and taking my time with it.
This kind of exercise is right up my alley. I know just how to do it and how to hold myself when I do it. I just never saw it as an option because I was wanting Mom’s approval. I was dependent on having the deep conversations I wanted with her. When I turned it around, I saw that it is much more fulfilling to explore how to get my own approval.
I Equated Love with Long Conversations
Mom was not really into long conversations. She didn’t seem to relish thinking deeply about things and talking them over just to see what new insights would come.
She did not seem to use that kind of conversation as a means of connecting. She much preferred to do things together (which I used to judge as superficial). She was practical.
Flexibility Is Growing in Me
This has been happening for a while as I’ve been doing my work, but it’s becoming even more clear with this worksheet on my mom. My requirement for long conversations is lifting. I’m finding that it is possible to be very close to someone without having long conversations, and without having conversations that expose the inner workings of things.
It is meaningful to simply sit with someone, or walk with someone, or play pickleball with someone. I can fill myself with what interests me when I’m alone, and when I come together with others I’m not needing it from them. Moreover, I start to find the “superficial” things meaningful for me too.
This lack of neediness feels so healthy and good. With the old way, anyone who didn’t think like I do was holding me back. In the new way, no one holds me back. I take care of myself and share whatever flavor of connection feels natural for each situation.
This Feels Like Freedom
I love deep conversations, but I’m also coming to love just being with someone without conversing on an intellectual level. These are different flavors of connection, and both are great once I let go of my story of what real connection should look like.
I bet I’m a lot easier to be with too when I’m not pushing, or even secretly wishing, for deeper conversation.
I Keep Working Mother, Father, Sister, Brother
Byron Katie has encouraged us to do The Work on these prime relationships in addition to whatever shows up in daily life. My mom passed away 11 years ago, but I continue to grow in understanding for her and the connection becomes closer with each worksheet I do on her.
The best part is that this work on Mom gives insights and new options for so many other relationships.
Join Us a Weekend Zoom Retreat June 26-27
If you’d like to spend a weekend doing The Work with me, join us for a virtual retreat. Over two days, we’ll meet for 20 hours covering almost all time zones. Join us for as many of the two-hour sessions as you like.
We will do group work, partner work, and there will always be the option for individual written work as well. I look forward to diving into The Work as always with you during this virtual retreat.
Have a great week,
“In the pursuit of love, approval, and appreciation, what do we think? We think that the love and approval of others are the keys to the kingdom—to every good thing in the world. We think that seeking romance brings love, a sexual partner, long-term closeness, marriage, family. And we think that trying to impress society—trying to win the admiration of the right people—is our best shot at bringing fame, wealth, and satisfaction into our lives.
“So we think that if we succeed in the quest, we’re home: safe, warm, and appreciated. And what if we fail? We’re homeless, out in the cold, lost in the crowd, unnoticed, lonely, and forgotten. If those are the stakes, no wonder the quest can be so fearful and all-consuming. No wonder a compliment can make your day and a harsh word can ruin it.” Byron Katie, I Need Your Love, Is It True?
Further reading: Why Do I Care What Others Think of Me so Much?