“This is the circus. Everybody’s trying to not go home.”
To be human is to be a social creature, and it is an endless adventure and collection of lessons to interact with other beings and establish relationship. I have learned over time that relationships can work like a drug – we get so high on feeling like we belong to a group and are in the in-crowd, or we get wasted on love (usually not real love) and keep coming back for more, only to feel restless and dissatisfied. Only to feel unloved.
We find those who irritate us or get us, some we can’t stop thinking about and others easily forgotten. We click or feel indifferent. Relating can be a circus, a fervent distraction of smoke and mirrors, a blowing of fire and ice. It can also be exquisitely real, and wonderful, and a lot like coming home. At its best, it is (almost) home.
It’s dawned on me lately how much I (sometimes) don’t want to grow up and how youth really is wasted on the young. How coming home to ourselves, day after day and year after year can at times feel overwhelmingly lonely. How authentic human connection is what it’s all about, and yet even when we are lucky enough to find it, it is not completely lasting. It comes, it goes.
I sometimes don’t want to grow up because, I think when you get free, you want to spend every waking second with others reveling in such joy. You want to share it and talk about it and give it away and make something warm and visceral, something constant. Those teenaged stretches, those early twenties, so lost and insecure and in terrible suffering! If only we could live backwards.
But you always have to go home. You have to go home to yourself at some point. And I think such freedom of finally loving yourself enough to want to venture out without motive only comes with time, with cultivating experience and wisdom, with slaying the dragons that dog your younger years. The glory days come later. You want to return to yourself at sixteen, at twenty four and say, be cheerful, sir, your fears don’t matter! You cannot. Youth wasted. Onward.
It takes time to really connect to ourselves, let alone others. To be human is to see from a skewed frame, and we must learn to see better. We look out our little individual windows, and because each of us observes the big wide world from that solitary perspective, we think it is personal to us. We see something, and we think we, the seers, are what it has in common, that we are the constant, the common denominator. This is a misperception but it feels extremely real, and it can create an exorbitant amount of fear.
It is the feeling of being watched by everyone when you walk into a room, as if they are all in cahoots and collectively judging you based on what they see. (They’re not.) It is the feeling of being alone in your painful (or joyful) experience or that strange idea that others have life figured out while you are stumbling along blindly. We can feel very separate in our minds, and so to befriend ourselves and then join with others and share the common experience is a worthy goal. It is something inherent to all living beings – to really hear and feel, I do that, too. Individualism and collectivism, coming together.
What is a connection and how do we make one? And who with? And for how long? When we’re little, we practice with our family, and if we are blessed enough we have a decent bonds with caregivers who love us and mirror to us a friendly world. We make friends at school as children, sometimes based on who sits next to us in class or shares the same lunchbox, sometimes built on deeper understanding or natural likeness.
A few of my closest friends in high school were kindred spirits with whom I shared a connection based on love of music and movies, or unity over common family dynamics and mild traumas, or a similar sense of humor. Sometimes it was just about who wanted to smoke pot with me or who seemed cool or was convenient. There were those people you spent all your time with but secretly felt ambivalent toward. And there were those people you wanted to be friends with but just couldn’t get close to, for whatever reason. The disconnects are the hardest.
My personal opinion is that we can make authentic connections at any point in our lives, but as we grow older and become more ourselves, our capacity for true kinship grows stronger. Though I had some very special friends in childhood and adolescence, I did not meet the people who I can really spill my guts to and completely be myself with until I was in my mid to late twenties. Much of this had to do with my willingness to be vulnerable and open and let people know me. To say, this hurts, can you help me? I used to never ever ever ask for help, and I did not let myself be loved. The most I asked for, if I asked at all, were scraps. I chased the unavailable, the hurtful, the aloof. I got nervous when you really tried to love me.
Fast forward some time and work and whatever the fuck later, and now, I allow it, or at least I try to, because I want it and need it, and I know what it feels like to not be loved. It’s a knife in the gut and an eight year old abandoned cry. Though some strange lost part of me still finds comfort in the old familiarity of inconsistency and rejection, being truly loved and treated well is obviously the path. It is the circus act that does not lie.
To be seen, listened to, and supported is a gift. I have friends who do this today. They have shown up for me through difficult experiences and deeply painful emotions. They are little angels, and I love them with my whole heart. I hope they feel that.
I know without a doubt that my capacity to connect with others today in a profound and worthwhile manner, came from my ability to love myself and feel at home with just me, in solitude and quiet. Which I really do. To not need nothing ever but to need nothing right now. To not be frantically searching for some external magic trick distraction. The only thing as good as that, as a connection of kindness and acceptance with ourselves, is a connection of kindness and acceptance with someone else. Everything grows from there.
And so we attempt this with so many, and so many disappoint us, but a few get in there. We go to the circus and we get swept up. Sometimes it’s fake and you don’t get what you see, but sometimes that feeling of connection has meaning and is meaningful. Sometimes the people you meet out there actually give a shit and actually want to love you, unabashedly. And yet, still, we come back to ourselves. We learn how long to stay and when to accept that we’ve got to hit the road. It always comes, when there is nothing left to do but sleep.
We don’t want it to end. We do not want to go home. We have to.
I find that the best of relationships are built on this understanding; that though we try so hard to be loved by each other, and we can and do love each other, we must continually return to the first home. Ourselves. We cannot be saved, we cannot be fixed. We tend to ourselves and share what we learn. A friend, a partner, a true lover is a gift, but not a white knight. The best ones do not try to save. The best ones do not judge, no matter what you might do. The best say, it’s normal to feel that way, we are all part of the same circus, how can I help?