Connections stem from vulnerability. A friendship may be struck amidst a shared interest, cousins may coexist by the threads of familial ties, but true connection resides only in struggle- and in the sharing of it.
A familiar story: a man and a woman begin dating. They are attracted to one another, they share common interests. Months pass, and they still enjoy each other’s company. They have established a relationship.
These months pass in the shadows; the relationship is but a silhouette. There is pleasure — perhaps even joy — but there is no connection. There is no connection because these first few months are agonized over. Each spends so much time, so much energy in crafting the persona that they present to the other.
The man says: I am a PR specialist. I love baseball and, when I was a kid, trains. I am knowledgeable about wine and literature, but I have a soft spot for raucous comedy. That is all you need to know.
The woman says: I work in HR. I read a lot of Paulo Coehlo and can’t resist a good pasta alfredo. I rewatch Casablanca every year, and I want nothing more than to spend a week in Paris. That is all you need to know.
The woman’s father dies. They attend the funeral, and the woman loses control. She puts on a smiling face, but an obviously forced one, until she can’t take any more, running out of the funeral home in a frenzy.
The man follows after, finding her at the gas station across the street, smoking a cigarette.
I didn’t know you smoked.
I quit. But I still have a weakness.
She left her armor in the funeral home, and does not care to retrieve it.
I have to smile for my mother, she says. We were never allowed to show emotion. A true lady never reveals herself. That’s what my mother always said. When I was sad, Dad always knew, but he also knew that tears weren’t allowed, so he built me a treehouse in the backyard. When life overwhelmed me, he would sneak me out to the treehouse and let me sob until it was all out.
He missed all of my recitals, though. Every one. Work was always more important. He was a good man, and he was not.
She goes on to tell of her jealousy of her sister, who always outperformed her, in everything. She spent her childhood concocting ways to sabotage her sister, to deflect a little of her parents’ pride towards herself. She needed it, she fed on it, but she only ever seemed to catch the morsels her sister dropped.
This is weakness, and this is life. This is where true connection is established, because life resides in the cracks in our armor.
This is not a phenomenon restricted to dating couples. We do it everywhere, with everyone.
We put on our personas, our masks, with our boss, with our friends, with our parents, with the barista at Starbucks.
That’s okay, of course. All of these people serve different needs. I am a football and a Tolstoy fan. I adore them both, but I present them each with the part of myself that they serve. So it is with people- they see that part of us that they serve.
But they only see the surface. We hide the weakness. We. We lament the very lack of connection that we — only we — can establish by opening ourselves and saying “This is me.”
The man says: I am terrified of going bald. I make myself the hero of childhood stories when, in fact, I was often purely a spectator. I choose to eat steak when sometimes I prefer pasta because I want to convey masculinity. I have been fired for incompetence, and I was grateful for it, because I was truly terrible at that job.
The woman says: I am afraid of turning into my mother. I am envious of women who make more money than me. I work so hard to look beautiful every morning. I pretend to enjoy Henry James and George Eliot to make myself look smarter, but they both bore me to tears. I eat salad when I really want a steak.
Now, they are connected.