I have a friend, Roger*, who I have a fascinating intellectual connection with.
It seems impossible for our catch ups to last any less than 3 hours.
It feels like neither of us wants to leave because there’s always still so much left to discuss. Eventually we get hungry or tired of walking laps around the Tan and head our separate ways, but the conversation continues to run in my head.
My brain ends up buzzing with concepts and perspectives. On the way home, I always have at least five different trains of thought that Neville tries to unpack all at once, and it often spurs the ideas for a new blog post or three. Case in point.
Roger* tells me that his walks home are also full of deep thought about what we’ve talked about, and that he doesn’t often have these kinds of conversations with others.
*Not his actual name. Roger is my vacuum.
Often for a few days after we catch up, we’ll send each other resources about the ideas we talked about, or random TV shows or memes, and the fun banter continues sporadically.
And then, all of a sudden something shifts. It’s like the line goes dead.
One moment it’s cracklingly alive with the connection of two minds meeting. Next moment, radio silence.
I can feel Roger’s energy shift and withdraw, and not long after, I shut down and follow suit.
I’m used to it now, I know this pattern. It always feels like a shame, but it doesn’t hurt like it did at the start. Which is usually a sign that Neville has successfully deployed my dismissive tendencies. My concrete walls are back up so I feel completely neutral.
But when this first happened, Neville hadn’t prepared the cement mix, and it hurt. Roger and I had only been hanging out for a few months when he suddenly withdrew.
The change in communication was so abrupt it triggered some of my deepest insecurities.
I was loving the connection we had, and was so excited to have found a friend with whom I can have such epic conversations with. I was certain he was just as drawn to our conversations as I was. I’m not usually much of a texter at all, but it seemed like he was, and in between catching up, we’d end up texting loads about all sorts of ideas, music recommendations, etc.
Roger is a great communicator, so when the texts started drying up all of a sudden, I immediately took it to mean that he’d lost interest in our friendship.
I’ve had many instances in my younger years where friendships ended and I lacked the self awareness to understand what happened. Back then, Neville decided that I must be unlovable in friendships.
Roger’s first sudden disappearance felt like yet another piece of evidence for Neville’s case.
I was hurt, which always leads me to be a bit of a dick, and Roger and I got ourselves into a bit of a defensive standoff.
(Which incidentally, inspired yet another blog post: How to turn a passive aggressive standoff into relationship gold)
After a bit of a kerfuffle, we resolved things, and continued our friendship in a much more low-key way.
By now I’ve realised this is a pattern – periods of full connection and epic conversations, followed swiftly by total or partial withdrawal for a while.
It’s like summer and we’re both open and light and connected. Then bam, with the flick of a switch, we’ve skipped autumn, and it’s winter.
During winter I can’t remember whether we were even really friends.
Then at some point, one of us reaches out, spring starts to open us back up, and the connection returns to summer for a short while. And so the cycle continues.
But each time, the sun feels a little less warm. I go in with more concrete-sunscreen, expecting the sun to disappear at any moment. I care less, and put less effort into staying in touch.
I’m 87% sure (because he told me so!) that Roger loves our conversations just as much as I do. So I have no idea why this pattern plays out with our friendship just yet (it’s still under investigation by Sherlock Neville)…
But I do know that what I perceive in others is always a reflection of something I need to look at.
Life is a mirror.
I used to think sayings like that were complete bollocks. Until I saw this “life is a mirror” malarkey play out in my own life, over and over.
I’d judge the shit out of someone for something, then (much) later realise I had that exact trait in myself, buried deep.
I’d bring the thing out into the light, work with it, heal it, and suddenly, bam, the person I’d judged suddenly seemed like a perfectly lovely human to me, judgement evaporated.
So what the hell is in the mirror that Roger is holding up for me, Neville started to wonder.
And then he clicked.
Connection scares the bejaysus out of me.
Much as I crave it, I also run from it with the same level of enthusiasm.
When I start a new friendship and the connection seems to thrive; when we really spark off each other, I get excited and overenthusiastic, like a puppy.
And then, raw terror strikes. I feel the preemptive fear that I’ve felt many times before – if I go all in on the friendship excitement, the other person might freak out and pull away.
I preemptively feel the pain of rejection – of feeling like I’m “too much”. And so I shut my excitement down before it can happen.
OR if they’re super keen about the friendship (even if I am too), I swing the other way and start to worry that they will be “too much”.
I start worrying that they might come to depend on me, that they might want to hang out all the time, that I won’t be able to keep my much fought-for introvert freedom intact. So I push them away til I can be sure they can stand on their own without smothering me.
We become like opposing magnets. If they’re too keen, I pull away, if I’m too keen, they pull away.
It’s all too much for Neville. So instead, when a great connection starts developing with a friend (especially female friends), I will often withdraw, try to cool things down.
The fear that we’ll have the beautiful connection whisked away from us (or have it turn into a burden) is too much for Neville to handle. The stronger the connection feels, the more cement Neville mixes.
He chips away in the night, putting up walls around me. I often don’t notice it until it’s too late, and the connection has slowed from a burning flame into a tiny flicker.
Then I continue the friendship from a distance, safe behind the walls of my concrete tower, coming down in the lift only occasionally to connect.
Neville guards the perimeter fiercely, making sure only tolerable doses of connection get in.
Roger’s mind is an engineer – perhaps he builds faster than Neville. Perhaps Roger gets to the top of his concrete tower way before Neville even realises it’s time to start building.
Every time it happens, I stand at the bottom of Roger’s fort for a minute, wondering where he went.
Then I shrug and walk off, “Oh well, didn’t care anyway.”
Neville has completed our new fort.