Even though we desire friendship and love, the truth is often we’re actually afraid of getting close. Are we lonely because we’re doing it to ourselves?
Loneliness is one of the mot prevalent issues in our world today. No matter what suburb, city, country, culture, religion or creed you’re from, all of us know what it is at times to go through periods of loneliness. Mother Teresa famously stated that loneliness and the fear of being unwanted are the greatest forms of poverty in our world. I know I’ve seen all sorts of levels of poverty of the material, and yet every time it is the poverty of the spirit that is far greater still.
In recent weeks I’ve found the topic of loneliness coming up a lot. All of us desire to be close to others, and yet so many times it is such a great struggle. A lot of people are going through seasons where they are finding out who their true friends are, or aren’t. Others still have mentioned a deep frustration with a failure to connect to people, or to the right people. Others have found the issue of intimacy with the opposite sex a painful conversation, entrenched with regret and uncertainty. I know there are certainly times in my own life where getting close to others is something I suck at doing.
The paradox of all of it is that we desire intimacy, but we’re so afraid of getting close. It’s so annoying because all we want to do is have those closer friendships and relationships, but we self sabotage so many times and cut ourselves off. The worst thing is we know we’re doing it – like we’re torturing ourselves with our own heart.
Make no mistake about it – this is a big deal. To be close to others is one of our deepest needs, so it’s no wonder it affects us so much. Here are some reasons why we’re afraid of getting close.
#1: Unproven trust
I think one of the main reasons why we’re afraid of getting close to others is that we’re not sure if we can trust them yet. Here they are seeming to be asking for a certain level of conversation or trust or friendship, but you’re not entirely sure you can actually meet them there.
I think it’s perfectly valid to question whether or not you can trust someone. There’s a lot of cases where you can’t. How do you know this person actually has your best interests at heart? How do you know this is a friend who’s going to go the distance? How can you be sure they actually are going to be consistent and there for you? We don’t want to be making key connections with people who are going to gossip about us or belittle who we are or how we feel.
I know for me, consistency is a big thing. I like to see whether or not people actually live a life that matches what they say. If they say they want to help people, I want to see that they actually help people. If they say they’re a great friend, I want to see how they treat their existing friends. If they say they value character and integrity, I want to see it lived out. If this group is always talking about people feeling like family, I like seeing that the people in the group actually do feel that loved. Life actually provides a lot of situations and scenarios where we are able to see whether or not.
Knowing you can trust someone takes so much of the fear away in getting closer to them. But we have to be paying attention.
#2: Changing our lives and plans
All of us have dreams and plans and goals we want to see achieved. Sometimes we want them within certain time frames. We have our 2 year, 5 year, 10 year, 30 year plan.
But usually our plans only compensate for one person. They don’t always involve the consideration of someone with a slightly differing view, a ministry that takes a different tangent, a partner or group of friends who are going to have their own ideas.
People take up our time. People have their own views of what they want their future to look like. Getting so close to the lives of others often means that I can’t actually stay the same. I had a friend once who was so adamant that when she got in a relationship, she never wanted to change. She wanted to stay exactly the same. Unfortunately, she ended up doing the relationship like she was still single, keeping her feelings to herself, not making joint plans and so on. There’s only so long a relationship like that can last. There are plenty of married people still trying to live an independent life, too.
Even within friendships this is often the case too, probably even more so – friends don’t have anything binding them to you necessarily, they’re free to live their own lives. To continue in closeness and relationship with them means I have to give some priority and time to going out of my way to get in their way. And hopefully it’s reciprocated.
Intimacy requires change. We have to allow our lives to join to others.
#3: Past experiences and past mistakes
This one. Ah man. The past is often such a destroyer to our future. We’re tormented by what happened the last time a similar experience or relationship occurred. If you were betrayed last time, you’re waiting for it to happen again. If you felt a certain way or did certain things to get closer, we have a tendency to desire things playing out in a similar fashion this time. Even good experiences tint our view of our present reality when it comes to relating to others.
And then there’s our mistakes.
Getting close to someone may mean that they find out that I don’t have it all together. I was talking with some people about friendships after church on Friday night and we were saying how often we project a mask that we tell people is us. This is me – this person I want to be, who has it all together, who loves others, who never has a negative thought, who is completely consistent and worthwhile.
But it’s not. And I wish you could see and love the real me.
Oh inconsistent me, crying out for consistency.
Intimacy means naked without shame. It means you know everything I’m thinking about, everything I’m feeling, everything I’ve done. And if I still hate myself for what I’ve done or who I am, I’m going to be afraid that you might think the same thing about me too. Or you might leave me. You might see something you don’t like and be like that friend/that church/that ex/that family member who said they’d be there and left because of something I’m not.
I’ve seen people do all sorts of things to try to find healing in this area. They try books and avoiding things and keeping to themselves and talking about how they’re on a journey and all the rest of it. They even try praying over the sound of their crying heart. All of these have a time and place, and I’m a big believer in these for sure.
But you can’t heal if you’re keeping it to yourself.
And no, I don’t think it’s healthy or right to spill out your deepest problems to everyone. But let’s have a look at who we are able to develop that trust with. People you are safe to let the walls down in front of.
#4: A lack of grace
I guess this one is the reverse case of the last one. This is when we’re getting close to someone and then we find out their past mistakes. Or how they’re feeling. Or the harsher things they believe. Or the way they’ve treated close friends before. We’re afraid we’ll find out something about them that will make us feel repulsed or disgusted.
And often we just do what they’re afraid we’ll do – we leave. We cut them off, we write them off early, we don’t want to hear it.
But if we all keep doing that to each other… who on earth can any of us connect with?
Love is giving someone permission to let you down. He’s going to hurt you. She’s going to misunderstand you. They do have those deep rooted issues that they might not be addressing problem.
But just remember that they are just as broken as you and I. And without grace, we would still be overlooked and isolated too. If we want to be better friends and get this intimacy and closeness thing right, we have to see people as they are.
In them you can see the same pain and struggle you and I have been through, my friend. You’re looking at the brokenness that all of us contain and face. We’re all just broken vessels with fractured relationships, trying to find our wholeness again. And if we really want to get rid of being afraid of getting close, we have to stop blaming the broken for being broken, and start learning to love regardless.
I’ve touched on a few of the issues here, but there are so many more reasons, and so many more layers to the ones I’ve already listed, affecting people’s ability to get close. What are some ones you notice? Can you relate to any of these?