With any amount of luck, your past relationships will not resemble mine. I’ve left more than a few broken relationships in my wake through the years. But in my defense, I was never taught how to foster and nurture, caring and loving bonds. It just wasn’t in my upbringing.
But regardless of how I got here, they’re still my broken relationships and therefore, my responsibility to do what I can to make right what I neglected and abandoned so long ago. In the following, I’ll go over what some of my past experiences were and how I realized I needed a change. Also, what I’m learning about repairing the relationships I’ve neglected. Let’s jump in in the beginning.
Where To Even Start
I began the work of setting my relationships right a few years ago. How I got to the place where they had been neglected so badly, I can’t really explain except, it was how I was taught to treat them. I was left alone in a house, raised by television. I did this until I was old enough to realize that I didn’t have to stay inside anymore. It was then, in my early teens, that I began roaming around the city I grew up in, looking for ways to drink or have a good time. Mostly to avoid going home to the neglected and abandonment I was used to, in a house that used to feel like a home.
So instead of building lasting friendships and tight bonds with others, I was looking for someone to buy me alcohol so I could avoid the pervasive loneliness I was living with. I think the worst part about it was, I didn’t even realize that was what I was doing. It just felt good in the moment. Drinking to avoid feeling. But I’m sure most people feel that way when they’re in the middle of making a bad choice. Like eating that extra pastry, or skipping a workout, just this once that turns into a month. For me it was drinking that extra 4-5 beers or popping a pill.
But what I was really avoiding was, the hard work I needed to put in, in order to get the return I desired. Lasting friendships. I was an expert at this. I was drinking to avoid coming home to my emotional world and racked up enough debt to keep me busy paying it off for years. And along the way, I think I neglected all of my relationships almost to the point where I had nobody to rely on or call friend. This was a frightening place to be.
Arrogance the Relationship Destroyer
When I saw the mess I had made of my relationships, that’s when I realized something needed to change. Not to mention how lonely I was feeling. I was lonely because I had been pushing everybody away to protect myself from getting hurt. By them leaving me or tearing me apart as most people had done to me in my past. And one of the ways I isolated was by acting arrogant. Better than those around me.
I went into this a little in last weeks post about impossible standards. My caregivers had held me to such a high standard, that there was no way that I would ever meet it. So instead of admitting that I wasn’t “good enough” for my caregivers by failing to meet their impossible standards, I chose to adopt the same method of keeping people at a distance as was being done to me. By acting as though nothing were good enough to meet my standards.
I hadn’t realized that my caregivers were acting from the same hurt place of feeling insecure as I was. Or that I had learned how to disconnect from others by watching them. I only knew that I felt as though I wasn’t enough as I was to be loved. So I was scared of other people “realizing” the same thing that I had felt. Not realizing it wasn’t my fault. We were all too arrogant to let our guard down for long enough to realize that we all wanted the same thing. To be loved and accepted by one another.
And this is how I neglected just about every relationship I had. Too afraid to connect, too scared to be alone. These were confusing times filled with anxiety and a pervasive loneliness. But things changed for me when I thought I fell in love with a woman. Something changed in me that woke me and suddenly made me realized that the ways in which I was living were truly unsustainable.
What Really Matters
It was in this life changing relationship that I truly felt heard and seen for the first time since I was abandoned in my childhood. This is when I came to understand that what really matters isn’t how somebody else sees you. Or what they think about you. But instead it is about the quality of the connections you have with these people.
Most of my connections with others were based on how I wanted them to see me or how I saw them. Which was really whatever they wanted me to be. I did this so I could feel liked, accepted and approved of by them. It was all a game on the most superficial of levels. I thought that if I looked or acted a certain way, the way that I saw those I was seeking attention from act, that I would then be loved and accepted by those I was acting like.
But what I didn’t realize was, that they were just acting the part also. Not really knowing what to do to feel belonging. So they did what they saw others do that gained them acceptance. It seems so silly thinking about it now. Because it’s something that a simple, direct and honest conversation would have resolved. But we were so insecure in our belonging that we were scared to death to even broach the topic.
Insecurity with Others & Making a Change
Instead we just did the dance of trying to follow whatever trend was popular in hopes that someone would accept us for our rendition of it. When I thought I was in love, I thought I was feeling the recognition of being seen for who I was. Not the person who was hustling for others approval that I was putting on. What I was looking for was feeling accepted for the authentic person I thought they saw in me. But they really fell in love with the version of me that I was acting as, not who I was.
The relationship ended in a way fitting to how it began. But it made me think about how I had built my relationships in the past, and how I wanted to build them going forward into the future. I’ve come to the understanding that, our connections to one another, in authentic and intimate ways, are really what matters most.
But I also understand that you don’t write people off. I recognized the changes I went through, how difficult they (the changes) were to initiate and endure as they were happening, and the resiliency I cultivated in the process. And if I could do it, than others could do it too. This is what made me reach out to the people that had once populated my past self’s life and ask for a fresh start.
What I’ve come to understand about what being authentic means to me is, that I never really wanted to be mean or arrogant in the first place. All the ways I was acting to seek approval from those I sought to feel belonging with, wasn’t really who I was. I wasn’t mean. Nor did I want to be mean. I wasn’t better than others. Acting that way was exhausting and lead to me feeling isolated and judged by others.
These were the barriers I needed break down in order to be in authentic relationships with people. Also hoping that the bridges I burned along the way weren’t so damaged that I couldn’t repair them.
Building Bridges, Repairing Relationships
I started by reaching out to those who I used to be good friends with in the past. This was surprisingly fruitful, as I heard from some people I hadn’t talked to for at least a decade or two. This is where being friends with most of the people I knew from my past on Facebook came in handy. All I had to do was send a message and see if they would reply.
And I began talking to quite a few people this way. But this time, instead of complaining about somebody or something, finding comradery in misery the ways I used to, I asked them questions about what was happening in their lives. We explored common interests we shared. Which, not surprisingly, we had quite a few. This is when I realized that we were friends for a reason. Our shared interests were the foundation of our relationship and why we were able to stand the test of time. This realization felt good : )
We were now exploring who we were in ways that made us feel more connected. Also a better representation of who we are as people. Sure, we would still commiserate from time to time. About the difficult things in life. But we were no longer basing all of our interactions in this mind frame. Life was more than the difficult experiences we had to endure. It helps that we are adults now, instead of self absorbed teenagers too : ) And this level of authenticity lead to another dimension of feeling belonging. And that is of building intimacy.
When I talk about intimacy, I’m talking about the feeling of being close with another, and not only in a sexual way. Sure, there is that facet of knowing somebody, but it isn’t the ONLY expression of feeling soothed by another’s presence.
This was however, not the lesson I was taught growing up. The physical act of making love was what was most valued in my family environment. Especially when it was connected to how attractive somebody looked. This left us all feeling like we didn’t quite belong because it all hinged on the condition of us being attractive. As Melba would say, no bueno.
Redefining What it Means to be Close
So when I started rebuilding the relationships from my past over again, I was now focused on our shared interests and how we could turn those into shared experiences. For instance, my stepsister loves to hike. I love to hike. So I’ve recently connected with her and made plans to hit the trails together.
This not only gives us the chance to experience something we both love together, but it will also give me the opportunity to apologize for not being the bigger brother I could have been. Had I known then what I know now. And hopefully, we’ll start something new. This reminds me of a line from a Peter, Bjorn and John song, “Object of My Affection” that goes, “just because something starts differently, doesn’t mean it’s worth less.”
And that’s just it. The chance to start something new. It doesn’t mean that it’ll be perfect, or that the pain from the past will magically go away. But we have the chance to make something stronger. And hopefully in the process, be happier for it.
Why We Should Even Bother
And this is really what it comes down to. We change and build healthy relationships so we can have a better quality of life. So we can be in a more positive disposition more often. We’ll create better memories that we can revisit down the road together. In short, fuller, happier lives.
So if you’ve been neglecting the relationships from your past, or just feel as though you want a fresh start, a chance to rebuild your relationships for the better, there’s no time like the present. Get out there and reconnect. Be honest with yourself and those you want to connect with and you’ll build intimacy from authenticity. And these are the relationships worth building. Peace & thanks for reading : )