Sitting here in California, having moved thousands of miles away from my home in the UK, I find myself grappling with a deep longing. Not for the place so much as the relationships I’ve left behind, the connections that have grown through life with me. It’s these key people who remember things about us that we have forgotten, forgive us and even love us for our quirks in a way that someone new simply doesn’t understand and make up part of our life narrative. And when they’re not there, we feel it – well I do. I’m friendsick!
Tiny Interactions Matter
Moving to a different location, let alone a different time zone, has brought into sharp focus the daily interactions with friends and family, or lack there of. I often reach for my phone to share only to realise that ‘they’, my closest connections, are asleep on another continent. The people who would get my crappy joke (or at least pretend to find it vaguely amusing) or silly concerns are simply not available. It stirs up a sense of emptiness, reminiscent of when my Dad died. For months after I was struck by a daily reminder that he’d gone every time I went to call.
As a psychologist, these experiences underscore the profound human need to be seen, heard, and believed in by the people who know us. Often it isn’t the big gestures of support that are foundational so much as the tiny everyday occurrences. When this connection is lacking, it becomes glaringly apparent.
Navigating Life Through Relationships
Having moved beyond the first few weeks of the ‘novelty of life in LA’ I’ve also become increasingly aware of feeling very lost socially, unable to navigate the nuances of the collective environment. It reminds me of a recurring dream I have where I’m driving but I can’t see. It’s pitch black and there are no lights on the car. I’m terrified of what I might hit but I can’t slow the car down.
Until now I had not fully realised how much I depended on the unwritten and unspoken information in my environment. When people trust us with their thoughts, feelings and confidences, it helps us to create a more comprehensive understanding of the world. For me the absence of this continuous stream of information, the undercurrent that arises from intuitively piecing together fragments of conversation with familiar acquaintances, is suddenly also very palpable.
The Myth of Independence
I grew up as someone fiercely independent. Partly by nature – I’m feisty and headstrong, partly as a protective shell brought about by life events. But for any of us in the West, regardless of our own personal tendencies the media and society consistently feeds us with messages that celebrates independence over interdependence. This I am realising more and more is not a healthy way to live.
Our interconnectedness impacts us far more directly and profoundly than we often realise. From nourishing our souls to helping us navigate complex social environments to living as part of a global community. During the pandemic, many of us experienced at least a partial loss of these vital connections which has woken the world up to how much social ties really mean. We are inherently designed to depend on one another, to learn from one another, to glean insights from unspoken knowledge, and to support each other’s endeavours. But despite copious headlines stating ‘Loneliness is a more potent killer than smoking’ cultural norms still prevail suppressing this natural way of being.
It is however a reality that we all really need to embrace and to appreciate. We need to abandon the notion that we can go it alone because, simply put, we cannot. This doesn’t negate our uniqueness; rather, it emphasizes the potential for our uniqueness to contribute to a greater whole when shared and combined. But how, how can we turn this knowledge into a daily reality?
Mentoring and allyship provide a natural means of fostering these connections in a meaningful way. Do I personally need a mentor, yes I believe everyone does. It’s a hole that I’ve been trying to fill following the death of my amazing mentor Brenda Trenowden. Mentors not only provide meaningful connection but also tap other fundamental human needs —the desire to grow, evolve, share, and help. Being part of a mentoring community that is backed by psychological guidance is even better – for meaningful connection and for:
- how much we grow,
- how quickly we evolve,
- how much we learn from sharing and
- how much we can help and be helped.
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