A friend recently texted a quote to me that made me stop in my tracks and begrudgingly agree with the author.
It was from a psychologist named Dan Allender who recently wrote “At a deep level, I’m torn in two by caring pursuit. I want someone who WANTS to hear me. Does hear me. Takes me seriously. Pursues me. Goes farther into my heart than the initial conversation might have indicated. But, on the rare occasions someone does this. I panic and try to escape. I don’t want to be taken too seriously or pursued too deeply, neither do I want the other person to quit or to be fed up…Most conversations are like junk food–tasty and addictive, but not nutritious or life changing.”
If you fearlessly search yourself, you might agree with most or even all of this quote. In the South, we pride ourselves on being welcoming and hospitable. While this may be true on the surface, I’ve found that human interactions are becoming more brief and more superficial. It is so easy now to just send a text instead of making a call or paying a visit. (“I’m just too busy” or “There is this other more pressing matter I must attend to.”) and I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this.
I feel this begs a larger issue of how we love. At Onsite we encourage our clients to be their true, authentic self (unapologetically, fearlessly) and to open themselves up to new relationships and novel experiences. But doing this can create a reticence and feeling of vulnerability that can be unnerving. “Will I be rejected?” or “Will I come across as overly needy?” are some of the typical fears that arise within us when we feel we are making ourselves vulnerable.
This issue arose in my life recently when I moved to a new neighborhood and started meeting some of the residents. I had run into this one fellow several times and we chatted briefly as our children played together. He had this perpetually kind look on his face and seemed immune to all the frenetic activity of the children around him. There was something about his spirit and demeanor that made me want to know more about him. I made what I thought was a heroically risky gesture when I asked for his cell number and programmed it into my phone. (“Careful Neil, act only mildly interested and don’t come across as overly needy,” I’m sure I told myself. “Don’t want this guy thinking I’m gonna bug him or that I’m desperate for a friend or anything like that…”). I found out he wasn’t from the South, he was from the West coast and I had heard those folks just don’t roll the way we Southerners do. Also I had made the mistake of mentioning that I was a psychiatrist, upping the “This guy could be a creep” factor exponentially. I was gonna have to lay low for a while and play this one safe.
To my amazement I got a text from this fellow (Bill) in the next couple of days. “Hey amigo, wanna meet this Saturday for a cup of coffee?” (Amigo-cool term-gotta remember that one. Not as intimate as “friend” and not as standoffish as “sir.” Amigo was a good opening salvo.)
I met with Bill for coffee and it went fine; we spoke about our wives, our kids, my recent move, his new house that was being built. As we parted I thought about the next measured and most appropriate contact. Should I invite his family over to our new townhome? Nah, too intimate and they can’t escape (nor can we) if it doesn’t go well. Maybe dinner at a local restaurant with the spouses would be a better option.
We have a family farm 40 miles south of Nashville and Fall is the perfect time of year to entertain there. I felt that first crisp bite of Fall air and my impulsive inner child overrode my safe, stodgy “mature self”.
“Hey, let’s have a party out at the farm this weekend. I’ll hire a band and we can pick up some barbecue and it’ll be great!” I told my wife. She reminded me that it was already Thursday but I was unshaken. “Who can we invite?” she asked. “We just moved here?”
The inner child in me kept plowing forward, “I know, let’s invite Bill and his family and also that new guy from work and his girlfriend.” My wife had only briefly met the girlfriend, I had recently met Bill and outside of my business relationship with the other guy, none of us knew each other at all. The whole thing had a poorly planned, impulsive feel about it that I find both exciting and frightening. On Saturday morning I called a musician I had never spoken to before and asked if she could play at the farm later that night. Miracle of miracles, she had a cancellation and promised to come. I called my sis and told her of our impromptu plan and encouraged her to invite friends and attend the party.
In summary, the party was an unmitigated success. Outside of the fun, food and fellowship I was struck by the nature and quality of the social interactions that occurred in that setting. People sacrificed their Saturday night and took a chance on a last minute party requiring an hour drive to be at a place they had never been and to fellowship with people they barely knew. We all left that gathering with a much deeper knowledge of and appreciation for each other. Put simply, we finally congregated in a setting to listen to and to finally truly hear (undistracted, unhurried) each other’s stories.
I did learn a lesson in all of this that I don’t want to ever get away from. Relationships develop much more rapidly and more deeply when we press in to people and their story with a fearless, shameless and vulnerable mindset. Remember the quote from Dr. Allender, “I don’t want to be taken too seriously or pursued too deeply, neither do I want the other person to quit or be fed up.” We want intimacy on our terms and on our timeline. But relationships don’t develop like that. I want to encourage you (and me) to put pride and conventional wisdom aside and to fearlessly and shamelessly press in to people and their story. You have absolutely nothing to lose and possibly a few more “amigos” to gain.
Now go and love well.
Neil Bomar MD
Milestones at Onsite