A friend and I have been trying to figure out this new world order. You know, the one where we enter into interactions, relationships even, and suddenly we find ourselves wondering how we got so far down a path without really knowing the other person. It sort of feels like walking on snow that has frozen into a crusty shell; it’s solid enough that you can walk on top of it for a while, but now and then, the lack of substance underneath makes you fall through.
I have a few friendships that feel like that: solid on top, powdery underneath.
My (real) friend tells me she has some, too. We both think we’ve gotten there by a process she calls skipping steps. That is, with our snow friends, we somehow jump past the usual milestones of friendship and just start going on vacation together, metaphorically speaking. We haven’t played the getting-to-know-you game that should take weeks and months, not hours and days, or worse yet, a spin around the internet. We become besties before we really “get” each other.
I recently came across another term that describes it even better: unearned intimacy.
Unearned intimacy can come about in lots of different ways, I think, but here are three I’ve identified in my life. The first is far and away the biggest culprit.
- Social media. I love, love, love the interwebs. I’m a serious Twitter junkie and I interact with Facebook friends I haven’t seen in real life since 1987. But a 140-character peek into someone’s life–posted for public consumption nonetheless–does not qualify me as a real friend. I’m not knocking the medium, but seriously, how often have I (or you) assumed I “know” someone by what s/he posts? If we met up in real life, would we be able to take a long car ride together? Would the silences be awkward? Would I be able to doze off without guilt? Could I order for her at a drive through while she takes a potty break? That’s intimacy, not knowing which song lyrics she quotes regularly or that she loves her dog and hates school drop-offs.
- Past lives. I may have known someone a long time ago, but even if she was my BFF in high school, I probably don’t know much about the years and events that have shaped her life between then and when we reconnected. It’s hard to pick up where you left off; you’ve got a lot of ground to cover before you both fall into the Circle of Trust again.
- Friends of friends. You may feel as if you know someone because you’ve vicariously experienced her life through your current bestie, but that doesn’t really qualify you when you actually meet. Even if you experience a mutual affinity, you still have to build your own foundation.
Sometimes we jump into an intimacy we haven’t earned, and when we do, it’s hard to back up. But if we really want a friendship to work, we have to. Go out for a cup of coffee. Chat about life. Check for chemistry. Ask questions. Don’t assume. Retrace the steps you’ve skipped.
Retracing is like buying snowshoes; it’ll keep you from falling through the crusty part.