Not so long ago, I saw someone in the street to whom I have not spoken in a few years now. A reminder of the things I do not do well around people and relationships. None of it is easy to think about, or to look at, but I promised myself honesty this year, and that means not dodging the things that are profoundly uncomfortable.
Based on observation, I’m a good person to have as an acquaintance. I can show up and be helpful as required, I’m not too intense, passably entertaining and so forth. I do fairly well with acquaintances, and there are a lot of people in my life who I know a little bit, have small amounts of contact with and who do not seem to find me especially problematic.
Generally where it goes wrong is where there’s any move to make that more involved. The people who move closer most usually move away again – and the faster they moved in, the faster they leave. A few years ago, in the space of a few months one round of this went from ‘we should be the new Inklings*’ to ‘our lives should never cross again’ and the extremity of it, both ways, still troubles me. I did not utter either line. This year has brought other rounds of people who moved forward and then away.
Mostly I stay still. I worry about being excessive and difficult to deal with, and increasingly I don’t share any of the more awkward bits of me. I am, if anything getting worse at putting a hand up to express fragility, or need, especially if I’m depressed. I know this would trouble me if I was watching someone else do it. But what I do best (in terms of how I impact on other people) largely, are the less involved, less emotionally intimate connections with people. The exceptions to this are few and only one of them spends significant amounts of time with me in person.
It’s not lack of care or open heartedness on my part, I realise. There are a lot of people I care for deeply, a fair few people I would go so far as to say I love. Any move forward suggests the possibility for a balancing retreat a little way into the future. It’s a dance that has badly damaged my confidence, and I just don’t have the energy for it anymore. I think if anyone else ran at me, suggesting we could be some kind of fabulous thing, I would simply run away and spare myself the inevitable consequences.
What I have always wanted, were deep, enduring, open hearted friendships that were based on honesty, and trust. What I can do well are fairly superficial, open hearted, lightly available but be careful at all times kinds of friendships. Those of you who will respond to this with warmth and encouragement are people who are only slightly involved with my life, internet people, or people I see occasionally. Lovely people who I value, but who I increasingly believe are only ever going to be in my life as distant and occasional features. What I get alongside this are odd people running at me proclaiming that they will be all the things, and then running away again, and I do not know why. Why this is what I attract, and why I can’t deal with it better.
There was a brief moment of eye contact in the street, with the person who would have been the new Inklings with me. I looked down, and I kept moving. ‘Our lives should never cross again’ except of course that they do because it’s a small town and we have people in common. A final request that I do my best to honour, and which haunts me nonetheless. I’ve spent years not knowing what to do with any of this. I think the answer is to accept where my strengths are – being a certain kind of friend at a certain kind of distance, and to let go of the idea of having really close friends who would choose to be involved in my life in more than a brief run forwards and run away kind of style.
*Literary group involving Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.