A Bit of
Strain and Emptiness
Recently I’ve shifted the focus of my social life from trying to be more socially skillful to paying attention to how I feel about other, individual people—that is, paying attention to my gut feeling. It has since become clear to me that most of the social connections in my life- old and new, people I make contact with frequently and people I don’t- are strained.
What I realized is that I really don’t have a problem with talking to people. I don’t have social anxiety. I don’t hate people. I’m not “awkward.” And I’m not stupid. And, to be frank, I don’t really care whether I’m introverted or extraverted. Thinking in those terms has only added to the fog.
I’ve always held back, to an extent, in most of my connections most of the time with other people. I’ve been aware of this for several years. I always thought it was me, me, me—my fault. I needed to try harder.
That has worked to an extent. I share the dark and intimate details and thoughts of my life more readily (not all of them, of course). It has become easier for me to talk about uncomfortable topics and to have difficult, highly-transparent conversations with people.
Still, something has always felt off to me. I’ve always found it highly relieving to run into a room, close and lock the door behind me, and sink into aloneness. Ah, no people here…
When I started deliberately thinking about my social difficulties several months ago, however, I found that solitude and running away from social situations steadily became less and less relieving. I couldn’t hide anymore, and I didn’t want to. That approach was behind me.
As I said, I’ve always held back a little bit. Sometimes, a lot. Up to this point I’ve generally written that off that feeling of strain and empitness, deciding it’s not that big of a deal.
A connection doesn’t need to perfect to be worthwhile. I can still enjoy someone’s company and have fun. I can still have meaningful conversations. I can still talk about the intimate details of life with someone, if it’s appropriate to do so.
But there are a lot of bases that don’t get touched. I’ve always tried to downplay it, but now it really seems like a lot.
Is the Problem Really You?
I almost never talk about this website with any of my acquaintances or family members. I think the majority know it exists, but I can’t tell you for sure. When the topic is brought up, it doesn’t go very deep. Sometimes people ask, “Do you make any money?” but that’s sort of it (and the answer is, kimwrate.com has made a total profit of $11.40 in its nearly-19 months of operation, all from sales of What is a Real Life?).
It’s possible that this website is silly and just needs continued work to become worthy of being talked about. I won’t deny that.
The way I speak and the way I write are very different—too different. Talking about the things I write about often seems like it would be pushy or annoying (though I’ve been able to do it more as time goes on). Is it that I write about things that are silly? Is it that I just need to push myself to be more honest when in conversation? Or does it seem like such a monstrous task, in the moment of conversation, because deep down I know the other person doesn’t really care?
Think about it. Let’s say you’re into astronomy. You have lots of friends who are into it, and you happily talk about it with each other all the time. Maybe you even go stargazing together.
One day, you meet a person you find attractive (let’s say she’s female), and you take her on a date. She informs you that she has no interest in astronomy. In fact, she thinks the whole field is the product of controversy, and all images of outer space- even those seen directly through a telescope- are created by people using Photoshop. Consequently, she doesn’t want to hear a damned thing about astronomy, because it will only piss her off and ruin her night.
Especially if you wanted to be on friendly terms with this girl (which presumably you do, if you’re on a date), you would find it difficult to talk about astronomy with her—correct? Would it make sense to blame yourself for having difficulty talking about astronomy? Would you conclude that you need to “work on yourself” and “overcome the blocks” to talking about astronomy?
Of course you wouldn’t, bonehead. Not when there are other people you talk about astronomy with all the time. Obviously the case would be that this particular relationship isn’t open to that subject. There’s nothing wrong with you.
The only thing you’re doing wrong, in fact, is trying to court someone (yes, I said that) who not only tolerates, but hates something that is important to you.
Sure, you could have a fun few dates. You could go skydiving or dumpster diving or whatever it is couples do (Really, can someone tell me?).
But imagine her being your best friend or your girlfriend. Imagine laying down next to her, desiring to speak with her about the mysteries of the universe—the things that fascinate you most…
And she thinks they’re a load of bullshit.
Imagine trying to live with her. Imagine trying to do it for years on end.
If deep intimacy and unconditional love is your goal, then it is a mistake for you to pursue this relationship. It will never be more than half-baked. Maybe 80% of it can be wonderful, but that last 20% floating around in the ether will keep you wondering, clawing, fretting—perhaps even regretting.
Now, I know that it isn’t necessary or practical to get all of your desires met through one relationship. That’s an awful lot of strain to put on another person.
But what if ALL of your relationships are half-baked and juiced with tolerance? What if you keep writing off that little bit that’s missing, saying that you don’t need it to have fun, until you have made this excuse for every single person in your life who you’ve spoken to more than once? Will it surprise you when you feel needy or clingy or unsure of yourself? Will it confuse you why you crave such aloneness?
That’s basically what I’ve managed to create continually for the last 20 years.
And I don’t want to live that way anymore.
I tried that approach for a long time. It seemed worth it for a long time. But now I see that it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
Love Without Power
The basic way to describe this situation is that there has been a good deal of love in my life, but my relationships have chronically been lacking in power.
At a very basic level, whenever I’ve been in school, I’ve had many connections. I’ve had plenty of people to talk to, most of whom were on the same Cross Country/Track team as me.
As I said, I could enjoy these connections. I could even reveal and share things about myself, and be useful to others when it made sense to.
But these connections were hard to stay with for long—not just in regards to the duration of the relationship (which was especially the case in college), but also to how long I could hold a conversation. It wouldn’t take much before my mind would get foggy. I felt like it would get loose and away from me, as though it wasn’t mine anymore. And I certainly wasn’t experiencing inspiration or a flow state taking over.
Of course, I didn’t just feel this way at school—it was just most apparent there. I would feel it with family members and other people as well.
Two Different Worlds
The last few months I spent some time in two very different environments. The first, during my semester off (Fall 2015), I attended services and other meetings at a local church (it’s Unitarian Universalist, so it has no dogma. There is no holy book for this religion, if you can even call it a religion). It was one of the most positive and supportive environments I’ve ever been in, and I felt I could speak very openly there.
Once I returned to school in the Winter, however (for the Spring 2016 semester), I started to feel a bit “off” being there. I was straddling two very different social worlds. I was excited to be back in school, and I felt I wanted to focus on being with people closer to my age—even if they weren’t as bright as the people at the church (sorry guys). At least there were beautiful women at school—particularly ones my age. Now that was something to be excited about. :)
So that’s what I did, and I haven’t been to the church in about four months.
Looking back, I’m wondering if the church felt a bit too detached from the physical world for me, whereas school was too attached. The church was very loving, peaceful, and mindful of truth, but I’m not sure there was a lot of fiery passion for being alive and kicking ass.
On the other hand, the atmosphere at school was too heavy. A lot of people were bogged down in the minutiae of physical existence and the trivialities of the modern world. People were concerned with grades, money, getting jobs, and looking good. There was a lot of anxiety, unhappiness, and spitefulness in this environment, as well as strain between people. The gossip and petty conflicts are ubiquitous.
In particular, there was a lot of complaining, which I just can’t handle much of. When I’m around complaining I feel like a storm is racing through my brain.
On top of all this, it was rare to find deep, deliberate thought or feelings of being closely connected. Instead there’s quite a lot of snap-chatting and social media-thumping, which I practically know nothing about.
At school and with my peers I’ve always found it easier to be humorous and say outlandish things, as silly children often do. I especially find it easier to talk about sexuality. With adults I can have more intellectual conversations but I feel more stifled in these other regards, as though I’m living in the Victorian era.
Anyway, school ended a month ago (May 2016), and I more or less haven’t kept up with anyone from there, similarly to the church.
Whenever I think about my relationships from the view that they are lacking in power, the word that comes to mind is “Piddly.” My social life is filled with a pile of piddly, ho-hum chickenshit, from which occasionally emerges one person sinking their vampire fangs into the other.
My my, that sounds violent. And dirty.
I guess the reality is, I don’t need people to stop looking at their phones so they start paying attention to me. Instead I need to walk away, and not pursue connections that are bound to be half-baked and tension-filled in the first place.
Keep your eyes glued to Facebook, minion. That signifies to me that I want nothing to do with you.
Anyway, what I’ve decided to do about all this is give up. Let it all go to hell. Stop thinking about people I don’t talk to anymore. Stop talking to people I don’t want to talk to.
I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what your job title is. I don’t care if we share the same last name. I don’t care if you’ve given me money. I don’t care if I’ve cried in front of you. If I can only be half a woman when I am around you, then the connection between us is dead. There is no connection.
I would rather have a Thanksgiving dinner of rocks by myself than pursue such death. At least I can have fun figuring out how to eat the rocks.
Escaping the Gray Zone
Yes, this is harsh. Even for me. But I TRIED. I tried to swim around in the gray zone. I tried for years.
It’s just not worth the time. I don’t see why I would live in a half-brained state when I can feel amazing all the time. Which I do feel pretty darn good quite a bit of the time, and it’s continually getting better. That is, so long as I am not wasting away trying to hold the attention of someone who would probably rather not have me in it.
I used to see friends drifting away from me as a bad thing. Now I embrace it. Thank god we don’t have to do that anymore.
When I would witness myself deliberately avoiding people I used to talk to, I thought I was being lazy and selfish. But maybe it’s for the best. Especially if it turns out that the other person was avoiding me as well, which is perfectly possible.
Before I go on, I should clarify. When I talk about relationships lacking in power, I mean that there is a lack of self-expression, exercise of will, and doing anything edgy. There’s nothing really elevating or challenging or expanding—certainly not directly and deliberately.
Such relationships tend to be stagnant and predictable, like standing on the shore of a beach and never doing much more than occasionally dipping a toe in the water (and declaring that it’s too damn cold). As such, giving my attention to these relationships mitigates my ability to enjoy the heck out of myself. So it only makes sense that I tend to semi-avoid people.
It’s like running a little too slow. Yeah, I’m doing the thing, but I’m not really engaged with it. I’m not really doing anything new or exciting or deliberate. I’m just coasting. My mind is in a fog, thinking about things that don’t really matter, and not focusing on the task at hand. I’m lost at sea—awash in a gray zone.
It’s also like eating candy. Yeah, you’re putting food into your body, but it won’t do much except help you coast mindlessly, which is to sleep through life. Your body gets some input, but it isn’t really being nourished. Certainly not at a deep level.
There is a degree of connection and enjoyment in such relationships and such slow runs (and perhaps in candy, if you’re into that kind of thing), but there is an oompf that is missing. That oompf is power.
So, this might sound extreme to you, walking away from all relationships that are starved of power.
The reality is, I’m not really doing anything. For the most part this is just a shift in attention. I’m basically just refraining from thinking about people who I barely or don’t talk to anymore, and I’m saying “No” to people who I’ve felt out of sync with for a while.
But that sounds like an understatement. The experience of this is far more intense. I feel like my brain has been freed. I don’t need to put up the effort of attending to endless bittersweetness anymore. As I have been saying all along, I really don’t need to impress anyone.
Here’s the thing. The types of connections I’m letting go of—most of the people involved either don’t care about or don’t pay attention to me in the first place, and if they do, it is attention that is not really worthy of acknowledgement.
The point: I won’t really be missed anywhere.
I haven’t been going over every individual relationship in my mind, targeting specific people. Basically all I’m doing is taking a step back and seeing which relationships seem worth continuing to give deliberate attention to. At this point, there are a handful. The number is in the single digits. If you know me personally, it shouldn’t be hard to guess where you stand.
What about strangers? The same basic protocol applies to everyone. If someone feels right to me, I’ll talk to them. If not, no thanks. As long as I’m not being an outright jerk, I don’t need to concern myself with that person’s opinion.
I tell you… The shift in clarity of mind has been so huge. It’s SO much easier to seriously consider only five people.
Make Way for Appreciation
Of course, it isn’t the number itself that makes the difference. “Too much” is never the problem. It’s too much that you don’t want. I said the same thing about material possessions in Meeting Life at its Level. I owned a lot of things that I didn’t really appreciate and, consequently, couldn’t care for responsibly. Now that I live on my own, and I only took the things with me I really cared about, I can appreciate those things so much more.
It’s amazing that I can look at my car and feel so grateful for it. I feel like it’s a good friend. It looks so beautiful shining in the sun. I swear, it’s the closest an object can get to having a soul (well, aside from Artificial Intelligence, but that’s a whole different topic).
I feel similarly about my laptop. I appreciate these things immensely. I take care of them, and they help me to express myself and do things that are important to me, which includes meeting my physical needs.
I appreciated my car and laptop while I lived with my parents, too. But there was always a little bit of clutter in the way… That last 20%, that extra oompf, just wasn’t there.
Now, it is.
Imagine having a connection like this with another human… Where the gratitude can actually be reciprocated. Now that would be intense and beautiful.
A Real Chance
It might seem like I’m not giving people enough of a chance. That would be correct. I haven’t. I’ve always tried to force and manage human relationships, slapping them down to the ground, keeping them corralled and in my sight… All to preserve their mediocrity. Now that’s the stink of beauty right there.
I haven’t given the world enough of a chance to show me that connecting can be wonderful. That it doesn’t have to be obstructed by tolerance and tension. That I don’t have to have to feel drained and bitter. That I don’t have to hide.
Taking this stance is actually helping me to feel more at peace with the types of connections I’m leaving behind. I don’t have to get all worked up about those people anymore, because it’s clear that we don’t need each other. We can just leave each other alone and maybe say hello sometimes (or not!). The walls of tolerance exist between us no longer. We can be relatively neutral, rather than try to be positive and end up making things negative in the process.
We don’t have to talk to each other. We don’t have to talk about each other. We don’t even have to think about each other. We can treat each other fairly and civilly, and that’s that.
God. I can’t get over how much better I feel. This is amazing.
As I’ve written previously, specific, individual relationships aren’t really the point. As such, this isn’t about closing the door on specific individual people. If I run into someone I haven’t talked to in a while, and in that moment it feels quite natural to connect, then I will do so. Similarly, if I ask someone to hang out who I’m normally on good terms with, and I feel there’s a bit of tension around that invitation, I might take it back (often I get a “no” when this happens anyway).
Opposites Attract? Why?
I don’t have a logical list of criteria for things that I look for or require in another person. As I wrote in Silence the Voices, I’ve been surprised by the people I’ve been turned off by as well as those who I have connected closely with. A lot of people appeared on the outside that they should have been very compatible with me, due to similar interests and ways of thinking. But seeing that things have basically ended between us, I guess they weren’t. Likewise, on the other hand, I have found closeness with people who are ridiculously different from me.
I don’t really understand this.
I often do things in a rather roundabout way. This isn’t the same as dancing on eggshells—it’s more like walking into the woods without looking at a map first. I simply cannot do anything that’s too predictable. If I start writing about something and I know exactly what I’m going to say, 90% of the time I just stop. I can’t do it. Most of the articles on this website began from a state of relative uncertainty. Some days I sit down at my laptop and have no idea what is about to come out of me. I hope it’s not vomit.
So that’s a possible explanation—a desire for mystery.
Another possibility is that where there appears to be similarity, there actually is substantial difference; and, where there appears to be substantial difference, there actually is similarity. Maybe the differences are merely external, and they don’t actually matter all that much. We may have different interests, different lifestyles, and even different approaches to life (e.g. in regards to self-trust), but some core aspect of ourselves is the same—maybe our base desires.
Or, there may be no sameness. Maybe it is our differences that bring us together. We feel attracted to one another (not necessarily physically) because there is a lot that we can learn from each other and explore together. This seems more likely (and also more cliché) than the shared-core idea from the stinky last paragraph.
As certain relationships in my life unfold, I see this as being a more viable possibility. My feeling is that this is indeed the case.
From a more logical standpoint, though, it’s too soon to make a solid conclusion. Admittedly I’ve only experienced this with one person, so it may be the exception rather than the rule. Plus, for all I know, I’m selling myself on a dream. I’ll have to verify that, but it will take some time. This is certainly worth exploring further.
Gratitude for the Past
Overall, the general door of connection is open. It’s just the window of strain that is closed.
Then again, I might only let people in through the side entrance, which is labelled with love AND power.
I hope that me sorting out my thoughts and desires and conflicts and whatnot helps you to do the same. If none of this resonates with you, you either have a beautiful social life (yay!) or you have a stanky, stanky one, and you aren’t prepared to admit it.
If you have a beautiful social life, I’ve just articulated what you have probably undergone already in some form.
If you have a stanky social life, and are in relative denial, I’ve probably just made you uncomfortable. Maybe it has taken you an hour to read this article, if you have even reached this point (and actually read the whole way through). You’ve been distracted—you’ve been sitting there peeking at your phone, watching buzzards fly in circles around your head, pulling out your own hairs, picking your nose, even farting and smelling your farts. You’ve sunk down into the chair, and you’re stewing in your own feverishness. You don’t really know what to do. You’re nervous. You would probably love some ice cream right now (or a bunch of ripe bananas with cashews, if you’re one of those smelly raw foodists).
Eventually your fog will lift you up out of your chair, and you’ll make your way to the bathroom and plop down on the toilet, and you will be stranded there for some time—paralyzed, with your warm, bare buttcheeks stuck to the shiny, cold porcelain. You’ll ponder quite a bit, about nothing in particular, as liquid and undigested seeds pass through your cheeks. You’ll look at the blank walls. You’ll look down at the floor. You’ll wonder how you got here. You’ll wonder why things are the way they are. You’ll forget to ask yourself what the “things” are, anyway.
I am excited for you, my friend. Right now you live in a smelly, dirty world. Once you can own that dirt, and acknowledge that you put it there, you can move it away. You’ll be clear that it isn’t anyone else’s dirt, and as such you can do what you want with it. You can allow the dirt to continue accumulating, though if you’re clear that it’s your dirt you probably will not want to do that. Sometimes you’ll allow tiny clumps to plop down here and there, but the sight of the dirt will twinge something in your conscience, and you’ll decide that the dirt has to go.
One day, when you’re having the time of your life, something will hit you. It’s the past. You’ll remember what life used to be like—how dirty things used to be. You will be in disbelief for a moment.
Then you will thank your dirt-trapped past-self for having had the courage to stand up, jump into the ocean, and be dirty no more. And you’ll realize that the ability and desire to live in the ocean was always with you. All you had to do was trust and express it.
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