To stay afloat, two boats must operate independently even though they may travel together.
Maybe it’s because I grew up as the only boy with two younger sisters. I had my own room and spent time alone frequently. Whatever the reason, I seemed to have only two modes of being with people: completely alone and independent, or completely given over to others with little ability to be myself.
This all-or-nothing approach to human interactions spilled over into my approach to friendships. I had plenty of acquaintances but I didn’t consider them to be friends. Only a few times in my life did I have what I called “friends” where we spent a lot of time together. But these never lasted very long.
I imagined friendship to be some kind of thing where you shared everything with someone. No one seemed to be quite the right person for doing that. I imagined that others had these kinds of friendships, but not me. And there was always a hidden motive to find that kind of friendship.
The result was that I sometimes shared too much, or asked too much, and drove potential friends away. There was a neediness in me that made me not so fun to get close to. In addition, sometimes my attempts at closeness got confused for romantic attachment and backfired quickly. In short, it has been confusing.
As I continue to live and do my self-inquiry, I find myself better able to bridge the two opposite sides of myself: the independent person who likes to be alone, and the part of me that wants connection.
I recently questioned an underlying belief, “To have a good friendship, I have to share everything.” The turnaround floored me: “To have a good friendship, I have to NOT share everything.”
This opposite idea resonated immediately. In thinking I should share everything, I had been blurring the lines between self and friend. It was like I was trying to tie two boats together or jump ship completely instead of sailing together independently for a while. All or nothing!
Now, I get it. There’s nothing wrong with being close to others, but I don’t really want to join completely. I can share meaningful things, but I don’t have to share everything with someone to be a friend. In fact, doing so can ruin a friendship.
Suddenly, when seen from this perspective, I have lots of friends. Each friend has a different connection with me. People I didn’t think of as friends because of my narrow definition are now seen as friends. Taken together, my friends support all sides of me, but I don’t have to depend on just one of them for everything.
This also leaves room for me to be my own best friend. I can share everything with me. I know just how to listen to me. I am interested in all the things I like to do and talk about. There is less neediness in me for connection because I’m connected with myself.
So now I refer to this turnaround as I connect with various friends. I think “What will I share with this friend? And what will I not share with them?” Just the idea of consciously not sharing some things feels balancing for me. It is just the opposite of my tendency to share it all in attempt to manipulate closeness. Now, I’m just enjoying friends for what they are: other independent people I can learn and grow and have fun with.