Confession: I don’t tend to answer my phone when it rings. Even if the name that pops up is someone that I love. In fact, my phone lives (purposefully) on the mute/vibrate setting so that, for the most part, I’m not even aware of it ringing.
Sometimes I do the same for text messages; choosing only to look at the preview of the text and respond much later when it is convenient for me.
“Oh yes, we should definitely reconnect” is the lie that I’ve told many people since I’ve moved back to the south. “I’ll call you sometime,” I say (see point A above).
It’s not that I’m socially awkward or introverted. I’m not even kind of occupied with other things. I literally make my own schedule each day, and yet, I’m hesitant to connect with other people.
Which is weird.
I have been an outgoing extrovert for most of my adult life, but about four years ago, I turned inward. Those were stressful times: I spent an inordinate amount of time in abusive work situations where I had few friends, very little trust in my colleagues and even less like for them, and no real free time away from it all, so I turtled. I tucked my feelings and my thoughts into my soft body and I basically withdrew from the outside world.
I’ve been coming out of that shell incrementally in the last year and a half, but I still spend the majority of my waking hours alone. Even when I go to coffee shops to write, I am very much on my own. I’ve gotten so used to my own company, my own schedule, my own life, that anything outside of my own particular limited desires feels like encroachment. It feels like loss.
Other people, with their phone calls and texts and brunch invites, represent commitment. They represent forfeiture of some of my excessive free time, a drain on mental energy that could be spent writing or reading two books a day –maybe even a loss of resources. Which is an oddly self-centered way to talk about relationships.
And therein lies the problem: I’m rather (maybe abundantly) self-centered which is why I don’t pick up the phone even when I see it light up as I lay on the floor watching a telenovela. Somewhere in the last couple of years, I decided that I am, in fact, an island. A single, solitary, risk-adverse planet unto myself. And that maybe expanding my network and developing community wasn’t really worth it.
Because what is love if not a risk? The risk of rejection. The risk of misunderstanding, the risk of being unfriended and undone. The risk of an awkward brunch filled with silence. The risk that comes with meeting strangers — whether they will like you or not. The risk of a broken heart, or worse — the ultimate risk where you lose everything.
And so for the past three years I’ve hedged my bets and played it safe. I didn’t get entangled with other people (at least not in ways where I couldn’t extricate myself quickly). But something radical has been taking place in my life recently. I don’t know that there is even a word to describe this thing where one becomes less risk-adverse. Profligate maybe? Less self-centered? Maybe it’s just old age.
I turned 36 this past Friday (I am officially middle-aged) and took myself to Atlanta for salsa dancing. I surprised myself by sending a HS friend a note to get together for brunch and we ended up spending the whole day together. It turned out to be rather awesome.
I’ve continued this hazardous business of forming relationships into the week: actually answering my phone when it rings and ending up tonight in a meeting with 15 strangers who I hope at year’s end to make into friends.
So while love may be a risk, and might mean navigating through awkward silences and getting-to-know-yous, it also has the best odds for a rather large payout. And I am finding that it might be a risk worth taking.