drifting in and out of loneliness

People drift in and out of our lives. We can try to hold on to varying degrees, but sometimes people just lose touch.

We are physical beings, and proximity has far more of an impact than we realize. Radical as this may sound, that’s okay. Sometimes we need to be around particular people, they teach us lessons and hopefully, we help them, and then we part ways.

There’s that line of thought that we are the sum of the five people we are closest to. It makes sense that we want to hold onto people who, in some way, are a part of us. Yet, we change, life goes on, and so the people around us end up changing also.

One of the downsides of letting people leave and enter our lives is that if a rough time hits us in a moment of transition, we can feel alone.

You are not. You’re just stuck in a mindset where it’s easy to feel like there’s no one out there who can understand. But if millions of people feel like no one understands, the likelihood is that, yes, someone does, you just haven’t run into them yet, and the good news is that there is so many of us on the planet we’re overwhelming the planet.

Things change, for better sometimes, for worse others, but far more often than both of those is change itself. If we stop expecting our ideas of situations to fall out exactly into predetermined categories, we may be able to enjoy them more.

If you think a situation will be absolutely terrible, of course, it will be. If you think a situation will be fun, it probably will be. Our mindset works like a self-fulfilling prophecy at times, and sometimes even happy expectations can let us down.

As to say, things may or may not turn out like we expect, so try not to expect too much. Be prepared, but be open. Let people go, let things go, and let them in so we can appreciate every moment we have to the fullest.

spell out where you’re at

Traditional weddings are a lot of planning, stress, and drama. Whenever you have large numbers of people to organize, then you throw in personal bonds that may or may not be the most sturdy, and ideas of how perfect the day needs to be– it’s significantly stressful. However the most important part is the promises made.

That’s the meat of the event at the end of the day. People will leave the venue, the set up will be packed up, flowers will wilt, and family and friends will scatter back to their personal corners of the globe. The thing that lasts is the idea that, “I love you, and I am committed to you and this relationship”. In practice, maybe that idea isn’t meant or kept. But when we look at the ideal traditional wedding, the point is that this couple is being upfront about their feelings and intentions and promising to keep those intentions alive every day. No matter your romantic relationship status, we all can do with more honesty and love.

Promises and depth of connection don’t have to limited to romantic couples and special days. Each day, how we interact with those close to us is our way of speaking a promise to them. Maybe it’s, “School comes first, but I’ll help you after,” or “I like hanging out with you but I don’t trust you with my personal struggle” or any of a large number of things. We don’t have to be super close with a large number of people, it is difficult, exhausting, and has little benefit. What we can do, however, is look at those people who are close, or who we want to be close with. We can decide to actively be honest and loving to them because they are special to us. By reminding ourselves, we hold ourselves accountable to treating them like they deserve.

friendship as the gold standard

Having good friends is like being treated to a five star meal. Being able to relate to another person’s struggles, being able to support one another: these things make such a massive impact on our lives! There needs to be people who we can be causal with, but can also be there for you emotionally. While expressing emotions can be taboo in certain social customs, being able to rely upon a friend and express those feelings is the key to not breaking down.

However, if we want to have good friends, we first have to be good friends ourselves. The first step to being a good friend is being sincere; if we want to have high quality interactions, we need to find people who we truly care about and can relate to. We can become friends and be friendly with most people, but having a deeper relationship requires a stronger basis of interaction. The second step is being compassionate and loving. Romantic relationships aren’t the only relationships that need care. Platonic love may seem counter intuitive, but it is incredibly important and a potent force. Sex doesn’t have to be involved to have a strong bond with someone, nor should it replace a strong bond.

The third step to being a good friend is listening. As shocking as it may seem, sometimes the world does not revolve around us. It’s easy to say and hard to follow, but truly we are better people when we aren’t so concerned with ourselves. If someone talks to you, they have a reason for doing so. If it’s a friend, you should care about what they say because that reason was enough to motivate them to confide in you. Granted, some reasons matter more than others. But listening is a skill, and motivations are complicated things. How can you know them and how can you help them if you don’t listen to what they say?

Good friends are more precious than silver and gold. When we are sincere, loving, and ready to listen, we can be supportive to those we care about.

romantic love isn’t the only kind of love

Valentine’s Day is a corporate holiday. It was made to make money by selling chocolates and heart cards and stuffed bears holding heart cards or chocolates. The trope is to have some romantic time with candles and express your love for the “special person” in your life. The thing is, when they say “special person”, they usually always imply it to be a girlfriend or boyfriend. If we take Valentine’s Day and the abstract concept of love out of the frills however, who says that special person has to be someone you’re romantically involved with?

Love comes in all shapes and sizes, that’s clear if you’ve watched enough Disney movies. Still, we tend to fixate on romantic relationships because we’re the sort of creatures who like lifelong partners. Familial relationships and friendships usually don’t become as close as a romantic couple might become, at least in the West. What we need is support emotionally, and oftentimes that role is played by a romantic partner. Valentine’s Day is thus important for those relationships because it reaffirms, “Yeah, we do the boring routine stuff, but while you know I love you, let me remind you how much I genuinely like you and your company”.

HOWEVER, there is a huge missing element there. Just because Valentine’s Day is traditionally for romantic partners doesn’t mean you have to follow tradition. It’s designed to get you to appreciate those closest, and those closest aren’t always involved with you romantically. And that’s okay! Actually, most couples have anniversaries and so they already have a designated time to adore each other. On birthdays, an individual get crowded with friends and family. Valentine’s Day could offer a time to celebrate those individual friendships that get left out of the celebration loop!

In any case, even if you think you have no one special, you can always show appreciation and love for those around it. Love is not monopolized by romantic relationships, and seeing it like that will only limit the beauty of your life. We are never alone, so let’s thank those who have supported us, who have been with us! It matters. Stuffed bears and plastic hearts? Eh. Maybe not so much.

Forming ice

Thanks to Radiolab, I learned today that pure water doesn’t actually freeze at “freezing point”; instead, in most instances, it needs a ‘seed’ to help the water molecules structure themselves into solid form. The seed can be a piece of dust or bacterium, but when that seed is introduced, that is when fluid gains form. 

Like water, we need a seed to start out with. We think we can structure ourselves under the right circumstances, no big deal, but we end up needing to depend on an outside force. It can be a strong wound to pride to accept that you need help. Afterall, we want to think of ourselves as competent. Needing others means that you can’t make it on your own, and needing others means you need to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is embarressing. It’s revealing the ugliest, worst parts of yourself, knowing that you can only hope people won’t leave you after. It’s hard to depend on people. However, it’s even harder not depending on anyone. 

When we depend on others, and use that support to form something bigger than you both, that’s important. One of the most amazing things about water is this solidification. Whereas every other molecule grows heavier and denser in solid form, water grows lighter when it turns into ice. The very fact that ice floats means so much to our environment, allows for so much life. We can’t see what we can become if we don’t become vulnerable and accept support from others. Furthermore, without accepting support ourselves, it’s hard to give support and help that others need. Don’t be fluid, find your structure, find your seed. It’s worth it. 

Halloween isn’t about death in practice, but you can use it to kill off the problems between you and those you care about

Happy Halloween! For a holiday associated with death, dark creatures, and general wickedness, the majority of people have a fondness for halloween. It’s like horror movies- you don’t like the vicious creature that’s slowly hunting everyone down, you like the thrill. And Halloween is a thrill! Operating at night, talking strangers out of their candy, masking your identity: these are all pleasurable activites because they are customs that we take part in as a community. 

For some, Halloween is just an excuse to party. However, the importance of the holiday isn’t that it’s celebrating creatures of darkness, but that we are celebrating a time together with people we care about in a light hearted manner. The features of the holiday are creepy, but sometimes creepy is fun! It’s an aesthetic that marks it apart from the rest of the year. It has a sort of childlike glee compared to Valentine’s day or Thanksgiving. 

Whatever your views on Halloween, just remember that it’s a holiday. At the end of the day,  it’s not about some costume or summoning demons, but about having an excuse to be with the people you love, sharing in traditions you care about. Even if you hate everything about this night, don’t close yourself off! Sometimes you need to shake things up from the routine.

What does your face look like?

We only see the mirror view of ourselves. Others get to see all angles of our faces, but we are limited in seeing how we really look on a daily basis. That’s why seeing a video of yourself is such a peculiar event; you are suddenly the onlooker of your own actions. But what is it like for a stranger? What parts of you are most salient? What aspect of your face do people focus on?  It’s important to think about because perspective because we get really caught up in our own heads sometimes.

The fact is, we dwell on certain things. We get bored and start thinking about tasks that aren’t necessary for survival like the humans we are. However it also means that when anything occurs, we are looking through a subjective lens. The faults we see may not be obvious to other people. The beautiful parts we see might also be hidden. We are used to our own standard of features, people, places, emotions, and we compare everything to it,  but it remains an unquantifiable bar. 

All of this is just to say that it’s easy to forget that not everyone has had the same experiences. Not everyone sees what you see. To some people, our noses might be the first thing they think about. To others it might be our forehead or chin. When frustrations arise, try to look on as an outsider. Try to bend your mind. You don’t have to agree, just get out of your own head for a little bit and you’ll find that it shows the other person a great deal of respect.

Don’t starve yourself from people

For social beings who by nature need communication and contact, we have a really bad habit of isolating ourselves. We would prefer to hide behind social media, small talk, and our own self-doubts rather than try and make connections. Socialization is hard work, even for extroverts. You are a bubble of experiences, ideas, thoughts, temperament, and genetics and you meet another bubble that has all its own experiences and beliefs. Who knows if youre bubbles overlap? Trying to find similarities is frightening because people don’t always click right away.

Making friends means being vulnerable, and vulnerability is uncomfortable because it means not being able to predict the future as well. Even something as minor as revealing you love dogs: what if they hate dogs and have had traumatic experiences with them? It’s unlikely, but the more personal the topics get, the more risky it is to share them because you don’t know how they’ll react. As much as social anxiety is seen as over reacting in our culture, it’s actually not that unreasonable when you consider how socialization puts identity and sense of self at risk.

We like focusing on the ‘good stuff’, especially in American culture. We like feeling good, looking good, and being happy 100% of the time. When we talk and risk oursleves, we demand and expect payback for that socialization risk. Yet sometimes the result is awkward and embarrassing. It’s not required to be pretty and it usually isn’t  smooth at all. In fact, it can be uncomfortable and unsatisfying.  Talking to other people is hard, that’s proven by how entire college majors are dedicated to simple communication.

It’s okay to be socially awkward, everything gets better with practice. It’s okay to miscommunicate something, you’ll keep at it and they’ll eventually catch on. It’s okay to not know what to say, you’re not a mind-reader. It’s natural to have some difficulties when bridging the gap between two entirely different lives. Keep at it! Keep taking risks and communicating with people. Closing ourselves off socially is starving ourselves of a basic pyschological desire, so stay fed! It might not always seem worth it in the moment but it is in the long run.

 

Asking questions 

What does it mean to be human? Are we a sum of memories? Is there some sort of innate seed of a soul we can’t ever get rid of? Are we simply a brain? Scientists, philosophers, and anyone else who has ever taken a really long shower have debated this with themselves. It’s good to ask these questions, it helps us define what we believe and who we are. However it can be a toil to really try and figure that sort of thing out; a trouble we don’t really want to deal with all the time. Some people do everything in their power to avoid thinking about existence, others spend all their time doing it. Overthinking can get you into a dark spiral, but ignoring the big questions can make it hard to find meaning. The real question is how do we find the balance between the two? Where is the perfect level of cognition?

The first time I had chocolate soymilk I was disgusted. The second time I thought it was alright. The third time was pretty good, and today it was absolutely delicious.  We might never get a clear answer when it comes to philosophical questions because even the small things like our opinions about a drink can be impacted by time, location, mood, etc. However by asking them, we force oursleves to take a hard look at the world we perceive, and surprisingly at the world within oursleves. It would be handy to have some sort of meter that guided you to the “perfect” level of cognition, or some sort of algorithm for life. Yet it is the nature of this ambiguity that gives us meaning and maybe a clue as to what makes us human. 

Life is more trial and error than a systematic procedure. We operate on general concepts and broad ideas. We can be cruel or kind but we exist. So exist! Overthink, underthink, make mistakes, feel terrible, feel terrific! Ask the big questions and do your best to answer them. Then watch some mindless TV because it’s fun. If you don’t know what you’re doing, try and figure it out! The greatest mistake we can make is tricking ourselves into thinking we don’t have a choice and stagnating. You can do this. 

It’s okay to be afraid

Fear is a part of our lives. As Americans, we don’t like thinking about that: “We’re free independent people! We do what we want because we want to do it!” But even if we say the only thing to fear is fear itself, we don’t apply that to our everyday lives. We fear being judged, failing, being embarrassed, and more. Then it stops us, freezes us up from taking risks.

However, fear is also a powerful motivator, if you’ve heard any villian-monologue. True in a lot of cases, fear is an influential emotion. It can even be a healthy motivator. Everyone experiences fear at some time or another, but it’s a matter of what scares you that drives your actions. If we fear remaining the same, we can strive to make a change. If we teach ourselves to fear the risk of doing nothing, we can convince ourselves to take risks that help us in the long run. 

And it’s okay to be afraid! Fear has such a negative connotation around it because it seems like only cowards get scared. However, fear is very real. It’s even a wise action to be afraid; it means you know the risks and are alert for your safety. Being afraid means being on guard in dangerous situations. If you are afraid, you can prepare yourself, it makes evolutionary sense. When we experience this fear, the key isn’t to try and ignore it, but push through it. Be afraid and take the jump anyways.