Modern Relations

I feel my life shrinking. The space that used to overlap with my friends and family is no longer there. All this space encloses are myself and my thoughts and my writing and my books. This is my private life. I am mostly alone here.

I am changing, and so are the people around me. We’re changing in different ways, at different rates. The shape of our internal and external worlds are contorting to find new geometries.

Some of those geometries overlap. But most of them do not.

I moved to a major city. I was told there are connections all around me, and I need to develop sensitivity to it. I was sold on the promise that with enough effort, I will find a community.

But maybe something is wrong with me. Or maybe something is wrong with everything.

Most people (myself included) have this vast array of options to choose from. There are too many ways to spend your time, and too many people to spend time with. I feel myself doing calculations to figure out how I should spend my time. And although I don’t know if most people are conscious about it, aren’t they doing it too? On a subconscious level, aren’t we all assigning points and opportunity costs to how we should spend our time?

If you live in a rich nation and are relatively healthy, you don’t actually have to work that much to meet your minimum needs. That is, if you are only working for yourself. When you have a family, or other people you’re responsible for, then you have to work more to provide for them too.

I’ve noticed that most knowledge workers live for themselves. Being young (18-27) puts you at an age where you don’t have to care for your parents (yet), you don’t have to care for children (yet?), and you probably don’t have extended family or partners or friends that depend on you either. We are free.

For the most part, I think people are happy with this deal. I am (mostly) happy with this deal. But it’s dawning on me that this freedom also means a freedom from connection.

The strongest connections in my life have been ones of co-dependence. To be in a situation where we needed to depend on each other to make it through. Where I anchored myself to another, and they anchored themselves to me.

But co-dependence at my age, for my demographic is looked down upon. I’m told that I have few obligations to anyone or anything, so I should go “live my life and travel” or something. But I tire of living only for myself.

It seems like one of the more respectable ways to live nowadays is to be mostly selfish, with a little bit of charity thrown in here and there. Focus on your priorities, your feelings, your goals. Everyone else can come after. The only people you really have obligations to are the people you care about – feel free to cut out everyone else, whoever they are. No one will judge, as long as you say something about it negatively affecting your mental health.

When I read the previous paragraph, part of me finds it somewhat reasonable. And part of me finds it absolutely terrifying. I think this is how a majority of young American knowledge workers live their life.

I know this is an awfully cynical and pessimistic analysis of modern day relationships. But I’ve been milling over it for months and most day-to-day interaction confirms it. Here’s an anecdote that’s on the more extreme end:

A woman was passed out on the bus stop and an (unrelated) man was holding her up asking for help from people near by. Several people ignored him and walked by, and me and my roommate were also about to walk by and ignore him too. But he looked me in the eye and asked, “Please, can you help me and call 911.”

“Of course”, I replied. So I stood there, called 911, and waited with the man until we confirmed an ambulance was coming. While waiting the man said, “You wouldn’t believe how many people ignored me and this woman. Thank you again for stopping and helping.” Once we saw the ambulance down the street we went on our way.

On a bad day I would’ve ignored the man. I wouldn’t care about the stranger passed out on the sidewalk.

One day that passed out stranger could be me. And I know people will ignore me too.

My inner child is a fragile, scared, crying version of whoever you think I am. I rarely let this child take the wheel — if he had his way with my life I’d never get out of bed, never meet anyone.

But he is the person that wants to be seen. He is the person I want to show others. I want him to be understood.

Sometimes he comes out; or better to say I become the fragile child I really am. He is not scared or crying, but still delicate. And people cannot tell whether they are talking to the child or the man. How would anyone know if I don’t tell them?

Sometimes people treat this child roughly, by ignorance or mistake. I rarely think it’s malice or spite. I can excuse the fault, but the child is still hurt and is throwing a tantrum. Another scar gets tallied on his skin, and I grow more weary of showing him to others.

This part of me recedes deeper and deeper into somewhere private. There is shame and embarrassment and tender spots that I cannot bear to let people poke. Others find this child’s outburst strange or alienating. I imagine them thinking, “better to avoid this man in the future, we don’t need this in our life.”

Perhaps the social norms of this era weren’t meant for someone like me. Maybe I will never find the space and time and people to help me heal. Maybe this is who I am and who I will be until I die. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. But still, I’m terribly lonely.