The Problem With “Instimacy”

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“You stretched for the stars and you know how it feels to reach too high
Too far
Too soon
You saw the whole of the moon”   –The Whole of the Moon, The Waterboys

Ok, who reading this post has tried online dating?  Raise your hand – figuratively or literally.

Or, who has ever headed off to freshman year in college and was so glad to find a friend that first day that you became inseparable besties for the first week of classes and then realized you didn’t even really like each other?

Or, who has sat next to someone at a table at a conference and the “hitting it off” vibes were so strong that you told each other your life stories before dessert and coffee were served?

Over the last ten years, I’ve thought ALOT about relationships we have with people….how we find people to be in relationship with, who we choose to stick with, and why some of those relationships just run off the rails as soon as they’ve begun. And ultimately, I think I’ve decided that so many of our problems in relationship come down to a weakening of our boundaries around our sacred space – our hearts, our souls, and all that we’ve experienced and treasure in life that makes us uniquely us.

This post is one of a three-part series I intend to write on this subject, the second being “Why You Should Stop Making Everyone Comfortable” and the final being “Unhelpful Platitudes and Other Stupid Things People Say”.

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We live in a horribly disconnected society even though we are all on social media, networking away and “sharing” our lives.  I’m not bashing social media; I have a very robust Facebook life that gives me alot of joy, especially through ridiculous daily meme posting.  And, I have friends who post about meaningful things, not just superficial ramblings about last night’s dinner or pics of duck-lip posing.

I think alot of people are just really lonely, and with the influence of our “get everything quick” culture, we want to build relationships and feel secure really quickly, too. I’m a huge fan of relationships and new friendships, but I have also realized that trying to build them too quickly – something I refer to as instimacy (instant-intimacy)- can really cause more hurt in the long run than intentionally moving slowly and steadily.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Online dating…in some ways, it’s a brilliant idea.  You’re able to narrow down the dating pool by honing in on the types of people you will most likely be compatible with, the ones who have similar interests, the ones who might be looking for the same things you are.  Basically, you can much more efficiently find a likely partner than just meandering through life hoping someone shows up on your doorstep, or doing the bar scene, or many of the numerous other ways that people try to meet each other.

So, you get on a site and find someone who seems to be in your tribe, and you start messaging within the dating site.  When that proves promising, you move on to actual texting. Then, you and this person text consistently until you finally decide to meet up.  Maybe you have a phone call or two in there, just to make sure the other person isn’t a real creep or completely making up what they’ve been texting about.

Then…you meet.  And you suddenly skip half of the conversations you would traditionally have on a date because you already had them via text. And you find yourself telling this person, that you really barely know, much more about yourself than you normally would.

Instimacy.

It’s great for a while….until it’s not.

The problem is, instimacy isn’t real intimacy because so much of it is based on the stories we have in our heads about who the other person is. They have stories in their heads about us as well. We take those texts, or those phone conversations, and a few dating site pics (or maybe you’ve advanced to Facebook and Instagram by then) and you concoct a whole narrative of who you think that person is. So, on those early dates, you’re having intimate conversations with an illusion.  The illusion you have of the person could, in fact, be spot on and true, but so many times it isn’t.

Or, maybe the stories you have about each other are so very true that you burn too hot too fast, and it’s not sustainable because you haven’t taken the time to build a foundation of trust and respect.  You know alot about that person, but you haven’t “experienced” them to know them at their core. There is nothing to tie that person to you or you to that person. So off you go in the world, if things don’t work out, knowing a crap ton about the other person and vice versa, wondering if the exchange was ever ultimately meaningful. Or you realize that you might have lost something that could have been really good because you were both hoping for way too much too soon

This is a hard lesson to learn…that to go slow and steady is better.  But I think in most cases it’s really true.

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I grew up believing that honesty was a paramount value in life.  The unfortunate part was that I was never really taught that honesty is nuanced, so I had to start learning it as an adult.  I now know that being honest doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to describe all of yourself in literal detail.  And, in most cases, the people in your life need to earn your honesty. The truth that you tell someone you’ve known forever and can trust should not be the same truth you tell someone you just met.  (I hope you all realize that I’m talking about personal honesty around who you are and your boundaries….not superficial things that every person in society really needs to tell the literal truth about just to be a decent human being).

I’m a pretty transparent person. Anyone who reads this blog very often knows I spill alot of gory details about myself and my emotional life.  I’ve grown to be this way because I’ve learned that 1) shame tends to naturally fall away when hard things are spoken out loud, and 2) other people need to hear your stories so they know they aren’t alone in their life experiences….they aren’t the only ones who have had “insert whatever here” happen to them….they aren’t the only ones to ever feel “insert more whatever here.”

Being open, transparent, and honest with people is generally a good thing. But maybe we all need to learn to hold our pasts, the things that are most important to us in life, our deepest secrets and hopes, with a little more reverence. Each of us have had hard things happen to us in life….things that radically changed us, or hurt us deeply, or in some way impacted us at our core. Those things are a part of who we are, and none of us deserve to have anyone trample over them, whether intentionally or unconsciously.  But because those people we are doing instimacy with don’t really understand us, they can’t know the things in us that need to be protected and held carefully.

It is up to each of us alone, as individuals, to protect ourselves. We have to parcel out what we reveal to people as they earn it, as they prove themselves trustworthy.  Words and promises don’t cut it here.  They have to show themselves trustworthy to handle the responsibility of seeing and experiencing the real you.

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I don’t think this dynamic of instimacy only occurs in romantic relationships; I’ve seen it with friendships before, and even work relationships.  In our desire to feel connected and a part of something, we allow others to be careless with us, and we are careless with others.

As I heard Richard Rohr say today, the goal is love, but the path to that goal is also love.  The means and the end are the same.  We can’t skip steps or rush building a good foundation to get the relationships we want.  We have to tread carefully with other people’s hearts and heavy stuff, and we have to insist that others who want to be in relationships with us do the same.

Building these foundations and earning honesty requires that we get out of the stories in our heads…our stories about the other person and our stories about what we think is happening at the moment. This means one conversation at a time, each marked by ample amounts of space and distance. It means recognizing that each of us is a unique, amazing person whose real self, not just a fabricated story in the mind, deserves to be seen and valued and treated with respect.

 

Why You Should Stop Making Everyone Comfortable

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Credit: Xavier Verges

I suffer from a chronic disorder.  It’s called: “Making Other People Comfortable At My Own Expense-osis”. The tricky thing about this ailment is that it typically presents first in childhood, and unless quickly nipped in the bud, it can wreak havoc on one’s ability to manage life well in the adolescent and adult years.

Symptoms of MOPCAMOE-osis include:

-a persistent weakening of personal boundaries and self-care constructs in order to accommodate another person’s desires or preferences

-an inability to feel completely comfortable in social situations because of the fear that somehow you are imposing on someone’s else comfort, even if you have no clue how you might be doing that

-a tendency to over-apologize for everything, and a tendency to offer a quick “That’s OK!” when a person has wronged you but throws out an insincere and thoughtless apology with impeccable timing

-a deep inclination toward hard and fast rule-following so that you can ensure you don’t break any social mores, workplace norms, unspoken relationship expectations, or arbitrary guidelines devised by others in your life for how you can interact with them.

-a reluctance to initially be too outgoing or “yourself” in case you’re not enough for people, or worse….too much for them.

-the insane urge to always explain yourself so that others understand your motives and that you never intended to make them uncomfortable when you were being yourself

As you can see, this is quite a serious condition to suffer from because it impacts every single area of one’s life. We who have it don’t develop it through any fault of our own, but the consequences can range from an inability to stand up for oneself and be authentic all the way to being outright traumatized by hurtful people.

My own case of MOPCAMOE-osis has regressed significantly over the last ten years, thanks to therapy, doing alot of shadow work, and learning to take the advice of the great actor Shah Rukh Khan: “Don’t Take No Shit from Anybody”….a line he so eloquently offered in a speech a few years back at the University of Edinburgh.  Ahhh….I adore him.

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Our society, it seems to me, does alot of teaching us at a young age to make others’ comfort a priority over our own. And not to be male bashing at all, but girls and women are certainly groomed in this fashion, much more in some contexts than others.

One of the first examples of this comfort prioritization that comes to mind is how we work with our children.  There was a post on Facebook yesterday covering an article about how girls should not be pressured to give out hugs during the holiday season.  I didn’t read the article because the headline said it all.  No child should be compelled to have any physical interaction with anyone that they don’t want to. But we are so conditioned to push them to do these things, aren’t we?  Billy, hug your great aunt that you’ve only met one time in your life. Sarah, let Bob (elderly friend of the family) give you a kiss on the cheek. Oh come on, Katie, it’s (insert whoever you want here)! You know them!  Give them a hug (or kiss, or handshake, or whatever other physical contact is being asked for). I can recall so many times as a child that I felt obligated to engage in some kind of harmless physical contact with an adult that I didn’t want to…but I knew the repercussions would be hurt feelings and disappointment.   While I was a very affectionate child, there were times my creep-o-meter went off strongly, but I believed that the other person’s comfort was more important than mine, so I ignored my personal boundaries and did what was asked of me anyway.

As a young mom, I initially fell into this same trap with my kids.  When I knew someone in their lives wanted a hug or kiss, I would encourage the boys to be friendly and do it.  Now days, though, NOPE.  I leave it entirely at my kids’ discretion.  If they want to hug someone, it is completely up to them.  If they want a kiss on the cheek, it is up to them. And other than offer a polite “hello” to a new acquaintance, I don’t insist on any interactions from them that they don’t feel comfortable with.   Kids need to learn early on that their boundaries matter, and their comfort level is no less important that those of other people. We need to be especially careful of this with our children who have a temperament that is prone to the development of  MOPCAMOE-osis. I also believe that we need to pay attention to the fact that our kids’ creep-o-meters might be more sometimes sensitive than ours as adults.

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It seems pretty apparent to me that in our society we unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, groom our daughters to believe that their job is to make other people comfortable.  This obviously is harder to do for girls with certain strong personalities and temperaments, but for others, this teaching is swallowed up whole and internalized.  I’m totally thinking of Type 2s on the Enneagram here, a group in which I happen to be a card-carrying member.

I grew up in the Church and have moved through numerous denominations and individual faith communities over the years.  Something that I have witnessed again and again is how prevalent rape culture is in these.  I’m not Christianity or church hating – far from it – but some of this just needs to be called out for what it is so we can all grow and heal from it. Rape culture happens when women are told that our job is to ignore our discomfort alarms going off to make sure that men feel at ease, that they get what they want, that their needs are more important.

Women in the Church, and in contexts of society that are influenced by “Christian values” are very frequently told what a little girl, grown woman, and wife should look like.  We need to be cute, feminine, calm, hospitable, nurturing, selfless,…the list could go on and on. I know it could seem like I’m slapping huge labels on this and broadly stereotyping, but I think if you look at overall patterns and the big picture, what I’m alluding to rings true.

Rape culture can sound harsh, too, I know.  But here are some examples, in no particular order, that I’ve seen or experienced in my own life that make me know that it is present.

1. As I mentioned quite a while back in a post on divorce, women in our culture know, either consciously or unconsciously, that marrying a man (and in some cases just being in a relationship with one) offers them a step up in status. This was externally very true in the recent past, but it is still true regarding how we are perceived by others. I personally experienced a dramatic up-tic in the respect I got from others in all spheres of my world when I got married. I’ve met a ton of women who know this happens, and who have admitted that they pushed aside their discomfort and married, not because of love, but because of the social benefits it brought them.

2. I went to a marriage conference once, years ago, by the authors of the well-known Love and Respect book authors.  I know these are good people with good intentions to help marriages, but I will unreservedly denounce the message in this book and all the other ones like it.  It irks me to no end that people can take a few lines out of a letter written almost two thousand years ago, from a patriarchal society, and use it to definitely outline how men and women should interact with each other today – especially when they are telling women to make themselves uncomfortable so that the men in their lives feel respected.  Disgusting.  During the conference, during a special breakout time for just the women, Sarah Eggerichs (the author’s wife), admonished all of us to just give our husbands sex whenever they wanted, because it “only takes a few minutes, ladies!”  This talk went on to include that men didn’t need to “earn” our respect….we have to treat them “respectfully” so that they can, in turn, be capable of giving us the love that we want.  Again, it all comes down again to women stroking men’s egos and making them comfortable, all the while having to weaken our own boundaries.

3. Why is the onus always put on women to moderate men’s behavior through our own actions and behavior?  Still, so frequently, when women are assaulted they are asked what they were wearing to provoke the attack?  Or, had they had a little too much to drink?  Or, were they out running late at night? Or, were they overly flirtatious?  In so many churches I’ve attended, girls and women are told to dress certain ways so that they don’t tempt men or cause husbands to stray.  The men can’t help the way they feel, and can’t control themselves because of their biological constitution. These kinds of statements blow my mind, because amazingly enough, I know SO MANY good men who are entirely capable of controlling themselves around women. And when did it become the responsibility of all females to protect the virtues of men? I’m pretty sure it goes back to a mythical story about the inherent sinfulness of a woman named Eve who caused her man to do wrong.  When we allow our girls to be taught this kind of logic, we are only perpetuating rape culture and giving men a scapegoat for their inappropriate behavior.  We should not be teaching girls how to dress to make other people comfortable.  We should be teaching our girls to dress in ways that make them comfortable, that gives them self confidence, that makes them feel self-respected.

4. Sex trafficking is a huge problem in this country, but one that doesn’t just happen in a bubble. There are real societal dynamics that help support it – dynamics that are rooted in so many of our “traditional values” and bad theology. All of us need to be careful that we don’t promote and normalize the dynamics that directly enable the sex trafficking industry.  Consider the following:

“But I don’t make rape jokes!”

While rape jokes are the most obvious example of rape culture, they are not the only things that perpetuate rape culture. Things like :

  • Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”)
  • Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”)
  • Sexually explicit jokes
  • Tolerance of sexual harassment
  • Inflating false rape report statistics
  • Publicly scrutinizing a victim’s dress, mental state, motives, and history
  • Defining “manhood” as dominant and sexually aggressive
  • Defining “womanhood” as submissive and sexually passive
  • Pressure on men to “score”
  • Pressure on women to not appear “cold”
  • Assuming only promiscuous women get raped
  • Assuming that men don’t get raped or that only “weak” men get raped
  • Refusing to take rape accusations seriously
  • Teaching women to avoid getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape

https://encstophumantrafficking.org/rape-culture/

And while I know this song/video isn’t perfect and it makes women look a little weak and in need of saving, I still love it:

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In this post, I’m not trying to make the point that we as individuals should live our entire lives in a completely comfortable state.  I’m a huge believer that discomfort and obstacles are the paths that lead to change and growth.  In many cases, we have to learn that we ultimately don’t have control over much, and we have to learn to let go of our attachments to things. However, I believe our comfort surrounding our individuality as persons, our emotional health, and our physical wellbeing are things that we should hold as top priorities.  We are not obligated to make other people feel emotionally better. We are not obligated to give anyone physical contact. We are not obligated to ease another’s discomfort when it hurts us.  If we possess the self-agency to choose to do those things, that is another matter entirely. But the important point is that we have to be able to “choose” and have our “yes” or “no” respected. Every. Single. Time.

Other people may become angry or hate us for not putting out what they think we should. They may tell themselves stories about our motivations and who we are. But this ability to maintain autonomy is, I believe, one of the most important parts of being human.

It’s really hard for me personally, to put my own comfort level above others’. Part of it’s my personality and childhood wounds, part of it is the messages I’ve heard from people, the Church, and society, part of it is because I genuinely care about how other people feel and want them to be happy.  And, part of it is a lack of practice in strengthening the belief muscle that I will in fact not die if people think I come off as a bitch or cold or self-absorbed when I’m firming up my boundaries.

But I now know, where I once didn’t, that my boundaries as just as valid as others’. I have the same right to exist and feel safe and pursue my dreams as every single other person does. I am a legitimate part of the universe and existence.  I have the right to say what is OK for me and what is not. And so do you.

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After all this on maintaining your own comfort level, it needs to be said that we need to respect the comfort of other people and their physical and personal boundaries. Though so much of this seems like common sense, we seem to miss the mark again and again. We make excuses about why it’s OK to step over boundaries and invade others’ personal space.

There is a great video that was made several years ago using the analogy of making someone tea to getting consent for sex. The video is simple and brilliant, and it applies to SO much more than sex.  Respect the personal boundaries of others, let their “no” be no, and don’t force others to become uncomfortable so you can get what you want.  It’s pretty basic, really.

Anyway, check out the video, and better yet, pass it on to your kids when they’re old enough to understand it. Maybe even pass it on to the adults in your life who think that what they want is more important than the things that make you uncomfortable.

 

 

The Songs That Undo Me

Music is my heart language.  I think in song lyrics (and can always provide a good song lyric for any situation I find myself in), and music is always running through my head.  I’ve had the unfortunate experience, on several occasions, to have a boss stop me in the middle of what they were saying and ask, “Julie, are you really humming (or singing) while I’m talking to you?!”  To my horror, I would realize that I was, in fact, humming or singing without realizing it, all the while completely listening to what they were saying.  I just can’t help it.

I’m one of those people who can get physical chest pain from an emotional experience elicited by a song or good lyrics.  I also think there is really nothing better in the entire world than speeding down a two-lane country road with the windows down while belting out a really good song at the top of your lungs.

I had a couple of conversations this last month with friends about songs that I feel define my life….the ones that undo me every time I hear them. There are five songs in particular that I call my “life songs”…the ones that resonate with me on a heart level. These are the songs I tell my best friends they should make sure and play at my funeral. Not because I’m morbid or anything, but because they speak to who I am and what got my attention in life; they speak to the human experience.  And also because I want it to be clear that I don’t want any “I’ll Fly Away” rapture style hymns sung when I kick the bucket.

So, listed in order of my favorites with a little commentary included for each, here are my life songs:

  1. Falling Slowly from the Once movie soundtrack

This song….OMG.  Gets me every. single. time.  My friend Jemima first introduced it to me about five years ago. The movie was wonderful and sweet, but the song lyrics are just amazing.  To me, it’s all about hope, making choices to change direction in life, to stop doing the same things that have always and only resulted in suffering. It’s about being seen and understood by someone who really knows and accepts you, and both of you offering hope to each other.  It’s a song about redemption, of having space and time to truly find ourselves and start anew.  This will forever be my heart song.

2. Holy Now by Peter Mayer

I still remember where I was the first time I heard this song.  My theological scaffolding was crumbling, and I was questioning everything Christian.  One day, about five years ago, I was in the sunroom of my house outside Boston, running on the treadmill, and listening to a podcast.  The podcast host mentioned this song, so I went and looked it up and listened.  I was completely bowled over.  I think I must have listened to it ten more times in the next hour that day.  This song represents EXACTLY how I feel about life now.  Once, I thought that the Earth was destined for the burn barrel and that miracles happened only here and there to other people.  Now, because of so many changes that have happened in my life, I am overjoyed at the goodness and grace I experience on a regular basis, even when life is hard. While I adhere less to “rules” for how to live life, I feel like I approach life with a gravitas I didn’t have before. EVERYTHING is holy, everything is sacred.  And this makes life worth getting up for every day, even when shit happens.

3. Human, by Christina Perri

This week every single area of my life blew up in my face. I was completely knocked on my ass and forced to remember that I am not invincible and that I have limited capacity. This is the song that reminds me that while I can do alot, I’m still just a human.  I have boundaries, I can be hurt by people, I can be overwhelmed.  Being human is OK; it’s who I am in this life, and I need to remember that margin and self-care and boundaries that protect my heart are good and necessary things. This is the song that comes to mind when I’ve reached my end and all there is to do is cry and reach out to my people who stand beside me when I have nothing left.

4. Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, sung by Pentatonix

Is this not one of the absolute best songs ever written? It sums up so much of life and what it means to love, and how hard and devastating that can be. “Love is not a victory march; it’s  a cold and broken hallelujah.”  Agh!  Yes! Most love does not come easy.  Most love is painful, wrenching, heartbreaking and so often that love is not returned. But we do it anyway because love is good and right even when it doesn’t come easy.  We are baffled by life and love and all of those who we try but do not understand, and because of grace, we can say hallelujah anyway, even when we are spurned or facing death or feeling utterly broken.

5. Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol

When it comes down to it, don’t we all just want to know we’re not alone?  We don’t need to have all the answers, we don’t have to be perfect, we don’t require alot of stuff. At a heart level, I think most of us just want to know that we are seen and heard and accepted. Will someone be there if we crash and burn? Is there someone who will join us in the mindless things of life just because they want to be with us? Will anyone join us in our misery and just be with us when we aren’t able to actually offer anything in return? This is what I hear every time I listen to this song…the human desire to not be left alone.

 

What are YOUR life songs, and why?