The Connection Conundrum

I’ve been thinking a lot about connection. As an introvert, connection usually drains me, but I enjoy occasional meaningful interactions. Since I prefer solitude, this creates conflict. Imagine a cat. Cats can be deceptively lovable, allowing petting and rubbing; then, a sudden and invisible over-stimulation switch flips, and they scratch or bite the fuck out of you. I am the cat in this scenario. I rarely scratch or bite, though. I vanish. If I feel someone either wants too much from me or doesn’t value me, I withdraw or push them away. Sometimes this is temporary. Sometimes it’s permanent. My close friends and family know this behavior. We call it “being in my shell.” My friends will text asking, “You okay? In your shell?”

It’s a conundrum. I pull people close and shove them away.

In the past year, I worked on building boundaries instead of walls, but I’m not great at it, and I have a hard time working on things when I don’t see greatness in my future. While I admire people who embark on learning new games and improving at sports, that is so not me. Take darts, for example. My husband encourages me, “Just practice. You’ll get better.” (He enjoys pushing himself to get better at random sports and games.) I don’t see greatness in my future so I struggle to focus any energy there. I am excellent at puzzles and will spend hours being great at them while he putts and throws darts. I am 100 percent comfortable with this.

This connection conundrum sheds some light on the draw to social media. It is an artificial connection. Don’t get me wrong, I have real and treasured friendships that exist almost solely on social media platforms. But sometimes, when I crave connection, instead of actually reaching out, I’ll simply tap an app, scroll, and get a quick boost. Post something to engage people. Laugh at a few memes. Tap some hearts. Move on. While it isn’t exactly artificial, it’s arguably not as fulfilling as an actual personal connection. I mean I could…gulp…call someone on the phone…oh never mind. That feels absurd and I’ll never do it.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were in a rut. My love tank was dangerously low, and we decided that to climb back out we would not look at our phones in the evening. Then he upped the ante with, “We should get rid of social media too.” I have done social media cleanses before and found them gratifying. I often tell myself that I keep my social media accounts active because of the “platform” aspect of being a writer. Wanna know a secret? I haven’t written much of anything in the past few months, but I have done a lot of scrolling. I hit a wall in my current project and now when I open another document on my laptop, my inner asshole — as Jen Pastiloff calls it — clears her throat in that scary library monitor way that means you’re about to get kicked out for being too loud. I hate that so I’ve mostly been avoiding my laptop and the shame that comes along with not writing.

But also politics. I’m mostly incapable of compartmentalizing. Some of my friends and family don’t share my political beliefs. And yet, I want to have a relationship with them in real life. I’ve blocked and unfriended lots of people on social media. Then I thought: If I were at a party where people continued to make me angry, would I leave the party or stay and get pissed off to the point of throwing drinks in people’s faces? I wouldn’t label myself as confrontational, but I have the capacity when I believe strongly about something. Is that how I want to spend my one wild and precious life? Serving as a social media missionary? Arguing with people who seem to have swallowed some drugged elixir and who think the same of me? No thank you. I’d rather leave the party before throwing any more metaphorical drinks.

So I deleted social media from my phone. I didn’t close my accounts, but I don’t plan to look at them for a while. I have a couple “influencer” things I have to do, but nothing else.

Here’s the thing: I want to have an EXCEPTIONAL marriage. That might sound disingenuous after Rachel Hollis preached, taught, and coached that before divorcing her husband 35 seconds after a podcast about their hot quarantine make-out seshes aired. Jokes aside, we are 30+ years into this relationship, and the only way one of us is getting out is in an urn. I want my husband to be the first person I tell important things. I want his reaction to give me the shot of serotonin not a bunch of hearts and thumbs ups. I also want to write this book. And according to the judge-y timekeeping bean counter Siri and her screen time reports, I’d have roughly 3 more hours a day to write, connect with my husband, do yoga, walk the dogs, read, etc. without all these other apps. So much more time for activities!

I have high hopes for everything that I’m going to accomplish. It’s already started. I’m writing this at 4:41 p.m. when I usually never write past 1 or 2. Magic.

In the past few days, we put our phones up and had undistracted conversations. We watched — really watched — a new series. I started making a scrapbook. We played darts and got a new puzzle. And I missed some funny memes, but my girlfriends screenshot the important stuff and send it to me. Is it forever? Doubtful. I will probably integrate some level of social media back into my life at some point, but for the last five days I spend zero minutes scrolling, comparing anyone’s life, kids, body, or home to mine. That also meant zero minutes feeling inadequate or pissed off or wanting to throw a drink in anyone’s face. When I quit smoking I downloaded a little counter that told me how much money I’d saved and how many cigarettes I hadn’t smoked. It feels good to look at my screentime report and see my most used app was for meditation. At this rate, I imagine I’ll be reaching enlightenment by next Tuesday.

dreamer•mystic•seeker• author, Post-Its and Polaroids•

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