I was walking through a grand reopening at Aldi’s. The store was completely packed, the grocery baskets were bumper to bumper. A couple of times, strangers reached out to talk with me about little things, like the aisle width or the temperature of the store. Each time it happened, I panicked. I could feel my stomach dropping and my fear escalating to the top of my scalp. The panic was for no reason, no reason at all. Friendly people were just making comments in Aldi. Something that happens in grocery stores every day all across America.
Ironically, back at home (before the Aldi trip) I had just joined a chat room to assuage my loneliness. It didn’t occur to me until later in the day how unreasonable my thinking is. I am completely reluctant, and even scared, to start a conversation with a stranger. Even if that stranger is a little old lady in a grocery store, asking for help. Online, I am fearless in my quest to find new friends. What gives? And why the difference, panic versus fearlessness?
Part of what is at issue with truly reaching out to humans instead of computer screens is humans are messy. They need you at the most inconvenient of times. They always call when you are busy and sometimes humans disagree with you. You can work through issues, but still not be level in real life. And this is one of those instances.
“Trauma compromises our ability to engage with others by replacing patterns of connection with patterns of protection” -Stephen Porges
Why make the effort to have real human relationships when, in the past, you’ve been hurt so much? Real relationships require effort, compromise and even sacrifice. There is an investment and there are times when that investment is a mistake, or it sets you up for pain. With quasi-relationships that are only real on my computer screen, I don’t have to make those sacrifices. I pick up my computer — when I feel like it. I respond to emails — when I feel like it. I provide comfort and support with words when I have the energy to do so, not when someone needs me to provide that support. That’s because I can put my computer away.
Obviously, you cannot put your friend away any more than you can put yourself away. Humans don’t operate like that. We feel when we feel, we need when we need. Real friendship develops after you have waded through the anxiety and pain of the first few meetings. It is unwieldy and inconvenient. Humans are messy, demanding, blubbering and even bloody. When you love them, you might end up spending time in their world and that world may not be as pleasant as your own.
Other humans can disagree with you and even disapprove of you. Or they be disappointed by a decision that you have made. That, my friends, can be challenging.
And again, there is that feeling of panic that accompanied the mild overture the little old lady in Aldi made toward me. Will I be hurt again? Will she try to put me down because she is unhappy? Will she treat me like Betty, Sheila or Jack? Ultimately, hurting my feelings and treating me badly?
I have to weigh it all out, but in the end, I know the only friendship worth having is a real friendship with a real human. One that can cause inconvenience, because she calls too late at night, one that can be annoying because she doesn’t approve of my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) habits.
I’ll choose a friend who can ask me for a favor at inconvenient times. The reason I do this is simple. My computer — no matter how much reading and chatting I do — doesn’t keep me company. The computer won’t hold my hand when I am sick, hug me when I am sad or sit with me when I need a companion. A computer can’t do those things for me. So, yes I will. I will sacrifice the convenience of my life to have my companions. I will drive 100 miles, buy gifts when I have no money, listen when I have no time. For love. And I will keep on trying. Because that hug is worth it.