Just recently I was chatting on messenger with a good friend of mine. Funnily enough, we were talk about just that – being good friends. We decided we were on the verge of considering each other ‘old friends’ because we’ve known each other close to two years.
I am beginning to think that Facebook and other social media should be measured in a special kind of time frame not unlike the measuring of ‘dog years’. This friend and I have never met, though we have spoken on the phone from time to time, yet she has blessed my life almost every day for what feels like forever (even though it isn’t). I truly think of her as a very special and important person in my life. She has outlasted almost all the friends I made from the group where I first met her online. So many have ‘passed away’.
I’ve been blessed with knowing and loving hundreds, if not thousands, of people in my decades of adult life. At least 50% of those have come into my life since joining Facebook back around 2007 – especially once I left to live in Bangladesh in October 2008 and it became my lifeline to all those I’d loved previously in my life in the UK. It also opened the world to me.
But just as many wonderful people have come into my life, so many have left it too. Sometimes that’s simply ‘natural wastage’ just like in the real world. Someone comes then they leave again quietly. More often than not though, they come in with a bang and then leave again with an even greater one – leaving damage and ruin in their wake.
For a tormented soul artist type like myself, such experiences are hard on the heart, scar you for life and, in the end, are just wearying. I have reached the stage where I think “here we go again” and sigh to myself when it happens now. After thousands of conversations over many years, I find I’m not alone in thinking this.
But being privy to the secrets and private lives of many, I have come to two very different conclusions about the lies people tell to others and tell to themselves. I will share these with you now.
When someone says “friends forever” to you, they don’t mean it
That sounds harsh, I know. But from what I see, it takes months and years of hard work, dedication and effort to build a relationship with someone which is special, deep and important to you.
It takes just seconds to tear it apart.
As someone with ADHD and, to make it worse, being a male, I find it impossible to see when or where the trigger will come, But sure enough, at some point, I’ll say something which will cause outrageous offence.
Last year, with three separate individuals, I made a light joke about something. In each case it was an obvious joke and was not out of character for me or even not the kind of thing the other person might have quipped about. But it lit the blue touch-paper as my father used to say and led to arguments which proved terminal. In two cases, some kind of reconciliation came to pass – weeks or many months later. But in one, the vindictive nature of what was said to me was so intense that I lost all respect and interest in that friend. I walked away and would never walk back. It’s not hatred, it’s simply not having the time and energy for someone who can go from loving nature and “oh we’re friends forever” to “you are the spawn of Satan” in a matter of minutes.
And it’s not me. This story is repeated over and over again with everyone. Introverts sometimes escape this a little. If you stay pretty much to yourself for most of the time then it’s harder for someone to get close to you and break through the superficial barrier we all keep for strangers. But even so, I know a lot of introverts and I still get the same stories – it just happens to them with less people, that’s all.
The fact is: Most people who matter to you right now will not be there when you die.
That’s not meant to be depressing. Honestly. It’s actually quite liberating. Enjoy those who are important to you today. Enjoy them now. Tell them they matter. Love them for who they are. Tomorrow, if they’re still there, love them again. But if they leave, let them go. Love them for who they were and the memories they’ve given you. Try to forgive those hurts that came in the final few minutes. And if, when you die, you still have people around you who really did make it to the end with you, then you will (I hope, God willing) have had many years or decades of appreciating them to look back on in your own final minutes.
Is this too much pain to bear? Should we just keep to ourselves and keep our defences up and not let anyone in?
The myth of “I am all that I need to be happy”
Facebook brings many joys and memes can be part of that. I have nearly as many memes saved on my phone from looking on Facebook as I do actual photos. On my laptop I’ve collected hundreds, I’m sure.
Many of these memes online take the line that you should never rely on another, never give your heart wholly, never let someone destroy you, never ‘need’ someone in your life.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s not often you’ll get me judging how others choose to live their lives – your life is not my life and I can’t tell you what to do. But I draw the line when I see advice I know is actually dangerous. What’s worse, it’s having a cumulative effect on society which is going to ruin lives. Allow me to explain.
Whether you take a theological view (from any of our major religions) or spiritual view or even a psychological evolutionary point of view, we were made to share our lives together. As I prefer the rational approach (mostly), I’ll describe it in this form but this article could be written spiritually or theologically and still reach the same conclusions.
It is true, deep in our genes is the solitary hunter figure, the person who needs to be alone to hunt, to watch only for themselves to stay safe and survive. But somewhere along the line we discovered the safety of making communities. It was easier to guard against predators, resources could be shared, babies survived longer.
When we are hurt, when we are attacked, we withdraw back into that hunter “I don’t need anyone” instinct. But we have long since lost how to survive like that for long. Everything in our make-up has geared us towards needing others.
There are some who have more of the hunter instinct and, sure enough, they do fine on their own. Such people are solitary and will die without a spouse or children and be happy with that. But they are rare. There are some who have destructive needs for others. These are the ones who find themselves abused by those who realise they can control them. Here, the hunter instinct is too little. Our urge to survive should kick in and it doesn’t. Again, such people are rare (though nowhere near rare enough) and they are not models for healthy living any more than the solitary types.
The overwhelming majority of us need others and it is healthy. We need at least one person in our lives who makes us safe, who accepts us, who cares for us, who won’t judge us or attack us unjustly in any way. Some, like me, look for that communally. I enjoy having a number of people to whom I turn for help, comfort and encouragement in times of sorrow and pain. For others, it is just one single person they need in their life to give that relief.
The advice that you are enough in life and you need no other is given either by those solitary types who don’t understand what it feels like to truly connect with another, or by those who are hurting and are writing or speaking in pride and haughtiness. It is a selfish piece of advice because it is flawed – if everyone followed that advice the human race would die out.
The fact is, I’ve seen people try to live like this after hurt. They can’t do it for long. Sooner or later, the loneliness and isolation comes to them. It is one of the key purposes of the punishment of prison that isolation brings repentance. Those who lose their freedom because of crime, in theory, choose not to commit crime again rather than be kept apart from their loved ones in future. There is a greater punishment – solitary confinement – so that even their communal relationships in prison are taken from them. It does not take a man long to break when they are completely isolated from others.
There’s nothing we can do about it: We need others.
Open wounds bleed
I would love to tell you that it’s all worth it, giving yourself to others, making bonds. But honestly, every single bond I’ve lost still hurts – even those from when I was a teenager. I don’t think I’ve ever completely gotten over the loss of a single person who meant something to me. Perhaps I’m just WAYYY to sensitive – that’s probably fair, actually – but most people I’ve spoken to about this say something similar. I wish I could tell you that there is a purpose to all this. But there isn’t. It’s just the way we are. We have to suck it up and accept it. To hide away is to wither away and die slowly inside.
But I will say this, or more accurately, my friend I mentioned at the beginning will say it. She loves sending out memes of her own (almost every day – she’s a bit obsessed ha ha, but beautiful). This one I wrote down and keep on my desktop:
Closure is overrated. Reopened wounds bleed.
For me, this is a ‘wow’ moment. We talk in terms of healing, of covering up the scars and so on. But actually, while there is a wound there is blood, and while there is blood there is life.
And perhaps that’s all we can ask for in this world: to be alive. So bring me pain – from that I can better appreciate love; bring me anguish – from that I can better appreciate joy; bring me the ends of friendships – from those I can better appreciate the beginnings of others. Bring me life – because death, quite frankly, can wait.
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Writer and journalist D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out over summer – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org