It has taken me quite an experience to understand this fact of life. For years I heard people say this to me and I was also fortunate to see some people act on this belief. Being a person who needs to experience things first hand to understand them ( you can read it stubborn), it was not an auto response for me to nod my head when my father said to me ‘ in trying times, it is only your family that comes to your rescue’. In my share of life experiences I had seen friends and well wishers come to your help when it was needed and when they couldn’t I just did not take it as an opportunity to fall back on my father’s words. I always believed that you meet people in your life as per your needs and friends become your extended family or sometimes even acquaintances reach out to you when you need it the most. It is also important to mention that these experiences I am referring to occurred in my life when I had the luxury of having a permanent roof on my head ( provided by my father) and some money in my bank account (courtesy my employer). What I needed the most then was more of emotional support and I sought it from my friends.
Today, I am a student in a foreign country (US of A) who does not have a permanent income or accommodation. Being a romantic optimist I chose a university where I do not have any family relatives or friends that I knew from before. Somewhere in my heart I used to feel that life was too easy for them who had relatives that they could lean on when they needed. I would see some of my roommates who would go live with their relatives over the weekends and could count on them when they needed some help in this foreign land. When I saw the relatives help my roomies I would think , it need not just be family but anyone (who is your friend) would come to help you when you need it. Fortunately in addition to a couple of Indian friends, I also made some non Indian friends here who helped me go to a grocery store (you had to have a car to move around in the uncivilized neighborhood I lived in), drop me home from school, help me shift apartments and the likes. These experiences affirmed my beliefs that there are good people out there in the world to help you out. I felt that these people who helped me until then were my friends and I thanked the guy above for having met these people. What I am going to share further is completely a personal experience and I don’t intend to generalize it. Two months ago I fell very sick and I had to be hospitalized for a serious respiratory infection. This was sudden and I had not dreamt that I am going to need hospitalization. That day in my head when I was searching for someone to come and get me stuff I needed, I could just think of one name of the many friendships I thought I had developed here. It could be my shortcoming but some of my other experiences had made me aware of some cultural differences between Americans and Indians. A small example would be that I felt the degree of cautiousness surrounding common cold/cough and the likes among the people who were brought up here was very high compared to what I have seen back home. At times it irritated me and at times I was successful in making myself see the benefits of being so cautious. When I fell sick, my head told me that I should not try and call someone who generally is overcautious about avoiding infections. I did debate with myself saying that may be the people I was thinking about may understand the complexity of my present situation however I decided against putting anyone through such a dilemma and called on the one person I had no doubts would understand.
During my stay at the hospital, I recalled the times when one of my family members fell sick and without a second thought we would do what was required. When I was here in a foreign land without anyone whom I could assume would bring me my clothes/ food and other basic stuff I remembered how members of a family perform such duties as an ‘auto’ function. As much as I am thankful for the two friends who helped me the most during this period, I did gain a far better understanding of what it means to be a family. No matter how strained your relationship, when need arises its your family that takes over the situation and understands your needs even before you verbalize them. I have been fortunate to find such support with people who are not ‘related’ to me however there is always a limit to what friends can do. Some willingly cross that limit and go out of their way to be around you when you need it but that limit always stays. Beyond that limit is when you enter the circle of your family and close relatives. Sometimes members of extended family may do it as an obligation but I guess it still counts because at the end of the day they do help. I have not personally experienced the ‘extended family’ reaching out to help part but have seen this happen with people around me when cousins and uncles traveled distances to settle their niece/ nephew in this place they would otherwise be foreigners to. Perhaps, you can say that I have learned to appreciate some relationships when I did not have them around me.
People, People, People…all around us. We want them and run away from them too. Most of our lives are spent or invested in relationships. Right form the time we are born till we claim our coffins, relationships with other human beings always surround us. Love them or hate them, you cannot do without them. There are various reasons why we have relationships with people. The relationships we seek satisfy some of our needs and desires. These needs can be broadly categorized into physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Physical needs are well known to all. Emotional needs are that of warmth, affection, appreciation, acceptance, security etc. Mental needs could be of intellectual stimulation, discerning rights and wrongs etc. Spiritual needs could be that of seeking harmony with life, a positive outlook, need for oneness etc.
Based out of these needs and may be more, we seek relationships. Subconsciously, each one of us has clearly defined criteria of accepting and rejecting prospective candidates into that mould or framework we are looking for. Just like a kitchen recipe, we all know at the bottom of our hearts that how much of which ingredient we need in our life. As per our conditioning and scripting, we attract the kind of people who will add the required spice to get the perfect flavour in our lives.
I believe that it is from the most intimate relationships that we learn the most. Many of us derive our sense of being from these relationships. In my view, an intimate relationship is one where you are not required to be someone else but your own self. Your Self, is not threatened here. It feels 100%. Unfortunately, there is a lot of homework and investment that goes into the development of this kind of intimacy. In order to feel that sense of security, you will first be challenged whether you need to share your feelings/ emotions/ fears which for many years were covered by a protected shell known as “private self”. It is only when you can learn to open up without fear that you can enjoy the relationship. This definitely works on a tacit assumption that your partner appreciates your opening up. Each one of us decides what we should and shouldn’t share with our partners. The opening up requires courage and a deep sense of security in oneself. It requires courage because you need to move out of your comfort zone and start walking inward with your partner. You take chances of being “misunderstood”. The entire process makes you vulnerable. It is for these reasons that we carefully choose the people to whom we open up with and bare ourselves.
The irony here is that we seek closeness/ intimacy in relationships and escape from them for the same reason. Every person has defined the limit till where he will tolerate another person. The feeling of Oneness which is sought through sex never goes beyond that, for, we cannot shed the clothes of mental make up that we wear. The intimacy we seek is like getting naked each time you open up to somebody. Shedding off these physical garments is much easier than taking off the layers of one’s deep rooted desires, thoughts, insecurities and needs. Taking from the analogy of a recipe, the best cuisines are those in which all the spices lose their individual flavours to make one delicious serving. The paradox in it is that they lose themselves but are always remembered, for, the final outcome wouldn’t be possible if they weren’t there. It is this losing of our self which we fear and never open up even to some beautiful angels who cross our paths. We are more concerned about the momentary vulnerability of unclothing ourselves than the gains that one finds by merging into the parts of the other. We choose to settle for less by taking minimal risks.
To quote an example here: A friend of mine lost his first love in an accident. He married an individual who did not meet him at all planes and he never grew out of his first love. A decade after his successful marriage and being blessed with a child, he felt the gap in him growing and fell for a girl who possibly met those unfulfilled needs. His passions and love which were locked till now started opening with the warmth of this new relationship. Nevertheless, having protected a part of him for so many years, he could not give himself completely to the relationship and named the growing distance as “personal space”. It was the growing intimacy that possibly threatened him and forced him to keep away to safeguard his pride and responsibilities. He knew what he was missing in life and hence was afraid to handle it when he received it.
Being yourself does not mean you never change. The “I” constantly needs to be renewed through a process of learning and unlearning. Quoting from nature, it is the mighty looking trees that are forced to break in a storm and the feeble yet agile grass survives it. The rigors of any intimate relationship provide a good basis for this constant renewal process. Human beings are known to learn more through pain than through pleasure. Intimacy has the capacity to transcend that pain into an enjoyable experience. Unless, we give ourselves completely into any activity or relationship we cannot gain the maximum.
We go on accumulating skills, degrees and qualifications but hardly ever take our learnings from the school of relationships. Not many of us know why we do what we do, likewise, even this aspect of our lives i.e. the ingredients we seek in our recipe of life, remain a victim at the hands of our awareness of ourselves.
Hence, the threads of intimacy become the threats of intimacy.