What if each of us opened our hearts just a little more to everyone around us? If we looked inward before reacting? If we thought of others before we thought of our own personal gain? Have you ever wondered about what might happen if you told the person you loved how you really feel, and where it might take your relationship?
According to my last post, this post was supposed to be entitled "Ich bin immer allein und immer reisen." I lied. I'll talk about loneliness here as well, but I decided to focus on connection, love, and how extremely bizarre it is to date in the 21st century. Because, come on, you know it's fucking bizarre too. Tinder, Bumble, Snapchat, iMessaging...all of it is so, so strange. We hide behind a language called "emoji," fear eye contact and confrontation, and seemingly have lost the ability to communicate face-to-face...never mind the notion of letter writing.
We anxiously attempt to discern what it meant when he or she sent us the hugging emoticon or—OMG!—the kissy face emoticon. We ask our friends for their opinions. The situation amplifies with long distance relationships. With constant excitement comes endless confusion. WHAT THE FUCK is wrong with us?! A friend of mine told me, "At a deeper layer, these silly pictures that appear in our keyboards now have become straight-up lexicon. In one sense, it's really nice and fun that we have them. When it comes to love, I would rather read or hear one 'I love you' over 1000 kissy-face emojis." Amen, brother. Amen. Similarly, if away from the human I'm dating, I'd rather receive one phone call a week than daily, empty text messages. Been there, done that. Never again. Express yourself, people. know it's not easy for everyone, but just try. Raised with smart phones glued to their hands, Gen Z barely knows how to handwrite at all. A 21-year-old kid recently asked me what a postcard was and how it works. I wish I was joking. Our parents and grandparents must think our generation is so flawed and so lost. I don't blame them for their lack of understanding. Modern relationships are flawed, we are lost, and dating is weird.
I'm going to be a bit random and all over the place here, but I've had a lot of these thoughts occupying my brain and in the spirit of speaking my truth, I'll let it out. The catalyst for this diarrhea-esque thought stream was actually an ad that popped up and caught my eye before Jai Wolf's Indian Summer (great song, btw) played on YouTube the other day. Being a former student of both advertising and human behavior, my eye is keen to advertising that evokes emotion.
In this case, Julius Meinl is launching an initiative called, "Meet with a Poem"—a global experiment to rewrite the way we show our feelings, challenging people in more than 10 countries to show their feelings again. A recent study shows that 1 in 5 people didn’t tell their partner “I love you” in over a year. When did this happen? When did we forget that the way to really bond with each other passes through our hearts? Here's the piece, and yes—I am confirming what you're suspecting—I did cry as I watched it:
First of all my mind goes, "Wait,what the fuck?! You think you're in love but you've never said it?" Then I think about the commonality of the "it's complicated" answer in regards to relationships...of course relationships are complicated and it's difficult - it wouldn't be worth doing if it wasn't this way. In many ways, love is complicated...but it's also pretty simple. It's a feeling. When you're there, you know it. Warmth. Butterflies. Tingles. It's sharing this feelings through words that is often the challenge. But this commercial...what a beautiful, raw portrait of how a simple, but meaningful interaction can shift the state of a relationship...how being intentional with your words with the willingness to dare to be vulnerable can make an impact.
There are two choices in life—we can choose to love or we can choose to be fearful. Love is definitely more challenge, but it's always more rewarding...and after all, true love is not binding, instead it is the most free feeling in the world.
When we love someone we say we're "in love" or "falling in love." So, in this sense, love is a place—a space—that we fall into completely in mind, body and spirit with someone else. But, it's extremely rare to be fully present in all of these things with someone else who is fully present in all three at the same time. In that sense, love ebbs and love flows. It's imperfect, but if you can find a flow with another human and connect with respect, patience and humility, I believe it's the most incredible gift this Universe can give us (other than filet mignon and unicorns, of course). This goes for both intimate relationships as well as relationships with family and friends.
This idea of being present and "showing up" is poignant in modern society, where instant gratification rules a culture with extreme attention deficit issues. In order to love and be loved, you have to want to show up relentlessly and without pride. The real relationships in my life are the ones who are there no matter what or when, and fully. The pressure to be connected to technology is bigger than ever, and often we—as humans—fall into a dangerous pattern of attempting to fill the connection void in our life with meaningless virtual interactions. Problem is, it's a temporary fix. I too am guilty of this fix. The noise is overwhelming, and so we find ourselves retreating to solitude to unplug and get away from it all. Don't get me wrong, technology is not all bad...it's just a matter of how we use it and I believe we have to be intentional to ensure we don't replace human connection with it, but instead use it as a means to enhance human connection.
Because, after all, we as humans are meant to connect. I recently reflected on this with a friend as I sit here in this small Austrian village with only my thoughts to accompany me. When you're in a relationship, you are comforted by the fact that you have one human thinking of you before thinking of anything else. As someone who has been in long term relationships, I've experienced this feeling and then found it to be the biggest challenge when transitioning to single life. That loss is hard and humbling. It's a great lesson, and when you get to the other side it's also somewhat of a freeing feeling, but it's still a challenging adjustment. I wrote to her,
On top of that, as a single human, you're all of a sudden seemingly invisible to others because you're not in a relationship. They forget to invite you to gatherings unless you're right in front of them. Does society cast us aside because we value individuality? Watch the film, Lobster...an eclectic, slightly dark but true depiction of the way in which our culture views singledom. Jesus Christ. What an odd world we live in.
I strongly recommend reading Sebastian Junger's TRIBE: On Homecoming and Belonging. Seriously. Just buy it now and get it over with.
-5 MIN PAUSE FOR YOU TO BUY THE BOOK-
You're welcome. You'll be happy you just did that. The literature is fascinating, and discusses the principle that we, as humans, have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding—"Tribes." This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival. Have you ever thought about that? Something called the "self-determination theory" which "holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered 'intrinsic' to human happiness and far outweigh 'extrinsic' values such as beauty, money and status." However, in our modern society, we often place more value on extrinsic values...quick fixes that lead to unhappiness, depression, and other issues.
What if we operated on the three pillars of self-determination—autonomy, competence, and community—what would happen then?
My God, is that not the truth?! Can I please escape back to tribal society, where life was simple and enjoyable?
Yesterday as I drove to Salzburg, I listened to Lewis Howes' podcast with Glennon Doyle called, "Become a Love Warrior In and Out of Marriage". In the podcast, she discusses the notion of authenticity and pain, noting that you can either be "shiny and admired or real and loved." The pain that comes from being real and loved is not the same pain that comes from hiding in the face of fear. It's not withering. Because, when you hide, you'll never fully realize who you are. Being real and loved is badass and freeing.
Why is it so hard to share our feelings? Afraid to be real? Afraid to be vulnerable? For me, this idea is so foreign it actually has taken me some tough lessons to reach a point of understanding it. For that, I am thankful...I am thankful the idea is foreign because it means I grew up in a loving household with a family who wasn't afraid to show affection. I think we're afraid to let love in because we fear loss more than love itself. But, what if we were to shift our mindset about loss and introduce the notion of impermanence into our relationships? Would it be less scary to give more of ourselves if we realized that impermanence exists in all aspects of life and removed expectation from the relationship equation? If we calibrated our energy with others' and were able to meet them in a safe place, would they be more willing to be vulnerable?
It's often said that we're more apt to regret the things we don't say than the things we do say. Cliche, but true. I'm thankful I've been able to choose my words carefully and mindfully and have stared fear in the face and still have chosen to love rather than to hide.
So, as I navigate the single life and maneuver dating in the 21st century while continuing to attempt to foster meaningful, authentic relationships and human connection...I'll remember the importance of one simple principle: being present (aka) showing the fuck up.
If you're thinking about someone, let them know...most doors aren't open forever, and you never know what kind of positive affect you can have if you don't say anything at all.