“Hi, I’m John.”
“Hi, I’m Alex. Did you guys just buy that house?”
“No, we are just renting.”
“Yeah, we are here for a few months while our house is renovated.”
Then come a couple questions and details about the renovation, how long have you lived here, a couple pointers about the neighborhood, etc.
“Well, welcome to the neighborhood!”
“Yeah – thanks, um, Alex. Right? See you around!”
It’s all friendly and not pretentious but there is tonal deflation as the conversation unfolds. First they realize we rent and this may not be a permanent thing. Then my admission that we are here less than half-a-year confirms it. And it’s during that second pause that I imagine each of us performing the same calculation: is this someone I really feel like making a commitment to get to know? Become friends only to leave?
There is a practical aspect to this. We modern Americans with our busy lives contain a fixed quantity of time and whatever our social circles are, big or small, are what they are. Adding to the circle will necessarily push against the walls of our time containers.
But maybe there is something else. When we join together as friends, or neighbors, or more – as lovers and partners – we tend to operate on an assumption of permanence. Intellectually we know all things have beginnings and endings, but moving that intellectual knowledge to emotional awareness creates hesitations. I hesitate to take the energy to make the new friend when I know, with certainty, that it will end. And the impermanence of a temporary rental calls the question. There can really be no doubt, no emotional doubt, that we will say goodbye. Even to just move less than a mile a way.
I imagine for many of us this sensation (fear?) creeps into other relationships, or prevents others. Looking back, I recognize this in myself early on. Those first awkward, tentative, steps towards dating in high school were hampered by this internal fear.
“I want to ask her out, but we are already really good friends. What if she says ‘no’?”
A lens of 30 or so years brings this whole dynamic into a different focus and my unconscious reasoning of the risks is very different. That is, risking a current friendship for something more intimate vs. keeping that friendship, as is, and risking not having intimacy.
And though I calculate those risk outcomes differently now, those core fears still linger, (must not they?) as most fears do, rattling around somewhere inside. And what is that fear exactly? Loneliness? Losing someone? The expected pain of grief? What if she does say ‘yes’ but then we break up later? That pain is to great to face, better not get too close, and so on.
Having experienced the true searing, white hot agony of grief, (not just imagining it) dragged along a better appreciation of grief’s inevitability. And I like to think of myself as someone, now, with little to loose and it is better to risk intimacy than not. Far better. And yet, even in small ways, like the potential to make a new, though temporary, friend, I hesitate.
Still more miles to walk.