The Real Reason I’m So Distant

2016 December 26

It’s that time of year, when we talk about gathering together.  It’s also the time of year when many of us feel overwhelmed. Not overwhelmed by others, but by our insecurities that seem most exaggerated and noticed when we are in the presence of others.

Spending time with those we care about can bring into focus parts of ourselves that we like—and parts of ourselves that we are sensitive about.  Parts of ourselves we don’t want to reveal.  Parts of ourselves we want to hide.  Parts of ourselves we are embarrassed by.  Parts of ourselves that we can shield from others for short bursts of time—but not the parts of ourselves we can hide from people who know us best and we most care about . . .

I know I can’t hide from you like I do with others.   I see it in how you’re looking at me.  I know you and because I do, I know what that look means.  I know you know what I’m thinking—and I can’t handle that right now.  I want to hide right now. I just want to perform without anyone knowing that it’s an act.  I don’t want someone to see through me.  I don’t want you to call me out.  I don’t want you to question me.  I don’t want you to know that I’m not okay even though I’m saying everything is fine.  I can’t redirect your attention. I can’t trick you.  Your closeness scares me. 

And so we begin to retreat from the people we know most intimately.  Slowly.  Distance isn’t like conflict. Conflict is a spectacle—it’s easy to notice because you can point to a clear beginning and ending.  It’s available for everyone to know.

Distancing ourselves from the people we know best is different because it’s silent and invisible.  Distance is what we create in our minds long before and after we interact, even though it changes everything that can happen when we are together . . .

“I’m embarrassed about what is happening.  I’m not who I want to be.  I’m not ready for you to hear me like this.”

“I can’t talk about this even though I want to.  I don’t know how to start. I don’t know where it will go. I don’t know how it will end.”

“I’m so disappointed in what he didn’t do—but I don’t even know how to bring it up because it seems so petty. But it’s making me upset every time I think about it.”

“I don’t want to let you down.  I can’t be this way in front of you.”

“I need to be alone—and get myself together. I need to figure this out on my own.” 

“I can’t let her know what I’m really feeling right now. It’s so intense but I don’t know if this is how I really feel—forever—or just right now.”

“I feel like I’ve failed.  And I can’t handle thinking you will look at me differently now.  I’m not who I want you to think I am.” 

Relational distance is what happens when no one else is looking.  Distance lives and breathes in the spaces of doubt and the cracks of certainty.  My distance eventually becomes our distance.  It has to and it always does—even though no one is able to ever trace it back to its original source. This is the danger of the contagion of relational distance.  There is no trace of it until it completely infiltrates every part of a relationship.  My doubts matter not just for me.  They can’t help but become our doubts, and our doubts can’t help but eventually find their way into how we interact…

A hug becomes a quick embrace.

Conversations are shortened.

Touch is avoided. 

A text is substituted for the sound of a voice.

Coffee get togethers are delayed. 

Eye contact is averted. 

Topics are evaded. 

Motives are questioned.

The people we care most about can also be the people we are most afraid to give permission to see us at our most vulnerable and afraid.  Left undone for too long, momentary distance between two people becomes a fully formed relational habit that erases the past and memorializes distance into just the way we act when we are with each other

In this season of togetherness, I’m going to constantly remind myself that the best way to protect myself from feeling disconnected from the people I care about is to momentarily silence my vulnerabilities, long enough so a mere embrace can become a hug.  So touch is extended longer than I might feel comfortable. So eye contact is maintained even though I may feel inadequate.  So I ignore my initial desire to cancel a coffee with a friend.  So conversations are maintained long enough to travel through awkwardness.  Then, and only then, might I lose myself long enough to create connection on the other side of distance and allow those closest to me to see all the parts of me—not just the sides I showcase to the rest of the world.

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Marsha Collins permalink
    December 27, 2016

    I stumbled across your site on Christmas Eve after googling “hospice caregiver burnout” and realized these posts provide the context and validation I’d been searching for since my husband entered hospice.
    What I hadn’t anticipated was how jarring it would be to gather with friends but without my spouse on the holiday. This post helps me understand why and gives me skills to cope. Many thanks.

  2. December 27, 2016

    Zachary, thank you for this timely (and timeless) message. I will remember what you wrote, “In this season of togetherness, I’m going to constantly remind myself that the best way to protect myself from feeling disconnected from the people I care about is to momentarily silence my vulnerabilities,” and the ways you mention that we might do this. Thank you.

  3. December 27, 2016

    What a sensitive and timely reflection. Thank you! I have been afflicted by what you describe in my life, especially when I’ve been at my lowest. It’s interesting – one thing that I find works for me (if I remember to practice it!) is finding a way to be kind to the person I’m closest to. Bringing someone a cup of tea – someone I’m a bit frightened of – this helps me to get that eye contact, accept an embrace. It’s so interesting the way we humans work. Warmest wishes for a wonderful holiday season with your family, Zachary!

  4. December 28, 2016

    Wonderful advice, Donna! I can’t think of a better philosophy to live wisely and closely.

  5. December 28, 2016

    Thanks for your ongoing support, Norris.

  6. December 28, 2016

    Marsha, thanks so much for the comment. We’re so glad you found The Unprepared Caregiver community–a place where we are unafraid to explore the entire care experience. Thinking of you, your husband, and entire family.

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