“I need you.”
That’s a scary thing to say to someone, especially when it’s true.
For many of us humans in modern, western civilization — realizing that we need to intimately involve other people in our imperfect, un-photoshopped lives is a frightening thing.
So we avoid it.
We live alone, we eat alone, we sleep alone, we entertain ourselves alone, we travel alone, we don’t ask for rides to the airport — we do just about anything and everything we can to avoid the vulnerable act of letting another human being into our life.
Oh, and if we do let someone in — especially for the emotional stuff — we hire them, because that’s easier, and we can control them.
But here’s the saddest part — it’s only getting worse. In fact, if we continue in the direction we’re headed, we might look back at our lives and wish for even the meager dose of connection we get now. We might long for the days before we collectively adjusted our concept of what’s “normal” to something so paltry and robotic that things like depression, constant anxiety and lack of fulfillment are things we just assume are part of the human condition.
What a fucking mess we are.
We’re so afraid to need each other, that when outside influences compel us to isolate ourselves, we hardly resist. People banding together isn’t good for commerce. How are companies supposed to sell you a new lawnmower if you share one with all your neighbors? Why would we long to connect with thousands of virtual “friends” if our cup is already full from the small group of actual friends that we see on a regular basis?
We shun dependency by putting “independence” and “self-reliance” on a pedestal, but whether we like it or not, we are hopelessly dependent on each other. We need a tribe, and we need community. It’s not something we can opt out of unless we’re willing to settle for a low, measly amount mental health.
While some forms of dependency are absolutely unhealthy — so is the fear of dependency. If we structure our lives to not need anyone, that actually becomes it’s own kind of dependency. Allow me to explain.
When we quit depending on people, we become dependent on the means that allow us to avoid people, which almost always involves a need to earn a surplus of money. We work extra hard at jobs that make us anxious so we can pay for the luxury of avoiding uncomfortable conversations with other humans.
For example, consider the return on investment of this simple question.
Hey neighbor, could I borrow ________?
Over the course of your life, that will save you thousands of dollars, and the only price is feeling uncomfortable. Just imagine all the trouble we go through because we’re afraid of that simple request.
When left to our own devices, humans in western culture trend toward independence, isolation and privacy.
Consider what it would be like today, in 2019, to visit a friend at their home, completely unannounced. Weird, right? But was it weird twenty years ago?
Why did that change?
Thanks to technology-enabled communication, we’ve been given the opportunity to have more privacy so we impulsively snatched it up. It’s not technology’s fault, it’s ours. We hoard privacy then pass it off as empowerment, but it’s not. It’s our fear of intimacy, especially the messy kind. You know — the kind of intimacy you can’t control. The kind that has you feel exposed, seen, witnessed, and alive.
How much more privacy do we need? Or maybe a better question is, how much more would we take, if it were available? As the world becomes more and more digitalized, we will have more opportunities to not need people, and will we take them? You’re damn right we will. Because we’re idiots, and we have no clue what’s best for us.
We’re convinced that “dependence” is for suckers — that we don’t need anyone, or that we can somehow live a life that’s free from the burden of other people’s messiness, but that’s a complete delusion.
We fucking need each other.
Sure, if you lower the standard of living to “good enough” or “functional” than you could make the case that we could live our lives alone, but if we hope to overcome things like constant anxiety, addiction, manic behavior, depression and constantly jonesing for the next social media validation fix, then we need to consider that our only hope is to bow at the altar of other people.
We need to get our fucking knees.
We need to cry out in desperation, and let other people know that without them, we’re fucked. We literally can’t do it without them. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are effectively dependent on other people if we want a happy life.
We need our families too, and I’m not talking about “chosen” families, although they are absolutely important — I’m talking about our actual families, the people that raised us. We need our moms, our dads, our grandparents and we need our siblings. Yes, there are exceptions to this — some families are abusive and distance and space is what they need, but most of us don’t fall into that category.
Open Bars and Alcoholics
If you’re an alcoholic, it’s hard to say no to booze.
Now imagine that instead of needing to go to the store and spend your money, you live with a mobile bar that follows you around everywhere you go, offering you free drinks. Not only that, but the bartender is incredibly attractive, makes great conversation and always offers you exactly the kind of drink you like.
You’re completely fucked.
That’s our life today with the kinds of technology companies are using to give us “what we want”, but that’s the problem. An alcoholic wants to get drunk, but it’s also the thing that will kill her.
We’re addicted to isolation, and every marketer knows it, so they gladly feed us what we want in return for our business.
We need a radical shift in thinking if we hope to survive. This isn’t some nuisance we can brush off, this is the fight of our lives. This is Thanos with the infinity gauntlet, about to snap his fingers and turn everything we love into coffee grounds.
And the truth is, it would be easier if there was a Thanos, because then we’d have a collective enemy in the form of a villain that we could blame and subsequently vanquish. But we don’t.
Nope, not even Donald Fucking Trump gets that honor. Our villain is not a person, or an organization, or anything we could kill or outlaw. It’s culture. It’s everything we’ve been told. It’s the un-investigated beliefs we’ve been sold by living in a modern, western society, and ultimately the enemy must be overcome from within, through the simple choices we make every day.
It’s overcome every time we pick up the phone and have a difficult conversation instead of send a passive aggressive text.
It’s overcome every time we engage in meaningful conversations with strangers.
It’s overcome every time we get the courage to admit we like someone, versus playing “cool” and pretending like we don’t care.
It’s overcome every time we let ourselves fall apart in front of our friends, because that honor isn’t just reserved for our therapist.
It’s overcome every time we get in touch with our deep longing for human connection — because it lives in all of us, no matter what the latest personality tests say.
We’re humans, not tigers.
We belong in a tribe — and we fucking need each other.
The sentiment behind this essay is exactly why I started IntimacyFest.