For the last few weeks I have been mulling over one of my eldest son’s revelations in his Victim Impact statement. “It is hard to make friends.” It devastated me when he wrote it because I could see this reflected in his life as he is terrified to get hurt again. But it has continued to hover over everything since then as I’ve tried to figure out how this truth applied to me. Just like that puzzle piece you aren’t quite sure if it was in the wrong box so you put it to the side and wait to see how the picture assembles. And as more parts begin to fit you hope to be able to tell if this wayward piece is even part of the puzzle at all.
As someone who is very analytical and likes to avoid every crisis I couldn’t tell if I wanted it to interlock or not but recent events have proven that it does belong and it seems so obvious now.
That small sentence is a part of almost everyone’s picture. Making friends is difficult; there is courage behind every new relationship and sacrifice behind every sustained one. I don’t believe that there is any way around this. One cannot insulate themselves from the pain that our interactions bring.
I see two extremes in which we try to save ourselves from this catastrophe: the first one being, my knee-jerk reaction, exclusion. We avoid people and connection. We keep our distance and never really let people in. We find that comfortable boundary within and always make sure to stay on one side of it. The relationships are few and can be shallow as we begin to believe the things about ourselves that we tell others. It becomes easy to think that we are as one dimensional as we portray.
And the other side is over-inclusion. We embrace everyone and try to connect with everything. Our friend list is extensive but often surface. We have lots of relationships but few that are deep or meaningful. When someone starts to get too close we distance ourselves and find a new distraction to focus on. We convince ourselves that we are willing to get out there and we aren’t afraid to get hurt, but in reality we are terrified to let anyone get too close and just use our extensive friendship résumé to excuse how we cycle through people
And as opposite as these two contrasting responses are they share so many similarities. These are the self defence mechanisms that we use to protect our hearts. These are the ways in which we try to minimize the pain that connection brings. And though they continue to fail us we cling to the hope that they make it easier. They both keep people at a distance. They both result in the same sad ending.
So as I start to examine the vacancy in my life that Colin and Madeline left I find myself vacillating between these two extremes. Desperately wanting true connection, but needing to guard myself against the risks involved. And that is the juxtaposition of it all, if you don’t have real relationships it hurts yet if you do have real relationships it hurts too.
And so I sit at my table with that piece in my hand. I know exactly where it goes as it’s matching outline is there staring back at me. I’m still tempted to set it aside and work on something more interesting or even throw it in a different box. But it won’t change the fact that making friends is hard.