This post is relevant for anyone else who also struggles with awkwardness as I do. In terms of stages it is most relevant to people who might be single and looking
This post in many ways represents a real triumph for me because I feel that I now understand how to overcome one of my biggest fears/issues regarding relationships: fear of awkwardness. I think I’ve finally understood why I start feeling awkward so easily, and how I could overcome it.
To be honest it is shockingly simple, although it has eluded me for so long. To my surprise, it is not the fact of letting someone know that you might be romantically interested in them – that is not what the actual awkwardness is!
As a person I deeply crave emotional intimacy. That is one of the things I am most looking forward to sharing with my husband in my eventual marriage. Linked to that I have got a very bad habit, but it was only on reflecting on it that I realised what a bad habit it is, how dangerous it is, and why it is the root of my feelings of awkwardness! So this then is the bad habit: Craving emotional intimacy as much as I do, as soon as someone who could be emotionally compatible with me (not necessarily in a romantic sense), shows up, I immediately start trying to build emotional intimacy with them, without even realising what I am doing. This is essentially what I spoke about in my “Friendzone” post. One particular example of this sticks out in my mind , and it can only be that one incident in my life that so clearly illustrates this point, where I did the emotional equivalent of throwing myself into a near-stranger’s arms, then ran away in embarrassment.
This is what causes the awkwardness: that on one hand I instinctively move to build this deep emotional intimacy with them, but on the other hand I don’t know them yet! I don’t know whether I can trust them; they obviously don’t know whether they can trust me either; neither of us knows the other person’s character. And yet you’ve already made yourself so vulnerable to them and told them all these deep things about yourself. And then moving forward in interacting with them, there is so much tension in not knowing how to relate to them: to talk to them with that level of intimacy that you have prematurely shared, or rather to interact with them as someone you don’t know yet!
So yeah, it finally occurred to me that this is really not a great way to build friendships with male people, and I am so fortunate that it has only resulted in one super-awkward interaction in my life. Because of the issues of vulnerability, and needing to know someone’s character, it occurred to me that this kind of intimacy should be reserved for when you really do know someone well – like two years! But here is the thing though: having realised that this is what I do, I honestly don’t know how not to do it! I don’t know how not to start sharing my heart with suitable-looking people. This is what makes me feel close to people, as if we are on the same wavelength, as if we are friends! I honestly cannot even envisage what it would look like to keep a conversation with anyone remotely deep on a non-intimate footing. To be honest, it is not even necessarily the questions asked or the information you offer about yourself, rather it is the way you ask, the way you volunteer information; the tone of voice, the way you might look into their eyes. Everything communicates the message “I hope you’re someone I can share deep thoughts with!” which on reflection is really not a wise message to communicate to a near-stranger. However that is what I always do, and usually it is absolutely fine. I and the man in question will then happily go ahead to build a good strong safe friendship which I hope is mutually beneficial and nurturing (although the Friendzone post acknowledges that this might not be the case).
On that fateful day, however, unfortunately my loneliness simply exploded and my behaviour definitely crossed the line between being friendly and interested and metaphorically throwing myself at him. Thankfully it was not actually flirtatious for which I am so grateful, (phew!) but it was still overly intimate. (I know it might be hard to imagine how this might be possible…) For his part…well, it seems we both ended up being embarrassed!
Emotional Intimacy is so close to Physical Intimacy!
This is one very good reason to reserve that level of emotional intimacy not just for close friendship, but actually for marriage. The kind of closeness that it generates just seems to so easily and subtly flow into light touches, hugging, holding. This is dangerous territory to navigate with male friends. As I say though, it has never before occurred to me how dangerous this is and that it is simply playing with fire.
So now the question is how to meet someone who appears to be on that same wavelength as me, and yet keep the conversation on a very non-intimate footing. Perhaps one key would be to keep conversations as short and light as possible, to focus on being friendly but not saying or asking anything that would make either of us feel vulnerable. Bearing in mind that I don’t know how to do this, I really need big practice.
If then, I met a suitable romantic prospect then the challenge would be to establish that we would be emotionally compatible, without going ahead to prematurely build that emotional intimacy. If he is truly like me, then for him physical intimacy probably lies just beneath the surface of emotional intimacy. I’m thinking that we should try our hardest to keep the interaction between us as light and non-deep as possible before marriage, doing whatever we can do to make sure we would be right for one another, while avoiding all those deep conversations for which I have been yearning for so long! Once we finally get married though by God’s grace we will be able to release ourselves to these conversations and to building that intimacy, as we will also be able to release ourselves to other things!
Since first writing this post, I’ve had a few additional thoughts:
Need to be so careful!
It’s funny that I have been so careful with men regarding physical proximity, but have simultaneously gone out almost chasing emotional intimacy. I’ve unwittingly been undermining my own efforts to be very careful because the emotional intimacy I’ve been seeking can so easily lead on to other kinds of intimacy! At this thought I can’t help shuddering and I almost want to throw up. Dear Lord, I am so grateful that I have somehow managed to bumble my way through these dangerous territories without even realising the danger I’ve been in! It’s like I’ve been unwittingly dancing on the edge of a precipice, casually laughing and joking without even realising that there is a very steep drop below, and a single false step could send me tumbling. Once again I am so grateful that the emotional over-intimacy has been limited to just this one guy and that God has opened my eyes to these things before anything truly “cryable” has happened.
Question: how do you rescue a friendship that has not even been born yet from a prematurely intimate place without having to go back into that same inappropriate intimate place to offer adequate and convincing explanations about why my behaviour has been prematurely intimate? How can I do this without dragging said person even deeper into those secret inner workings of my psyche (that I now realise that only God and my husband should see)?! Ah, complex!
Fulfilling my emotional needs in God?
I’m sure it is possible to do this, and I even used to do this! In fact, I’m sure I may even have written a blog post about this on my other blog! So what could possibly have changed?! I’m thinking that it requires a different kind of prayer, just luxuriating in God’s presence and pouring my heart out to Him. And it takes time. At the moment I feel so busy. And yet I know that ultimately it is probably so futile to look to another human being to fulfil my emotional needs. Part of me just knows that only God would be able to do this.
Question: Why are my emotional needs so great in the first place?! Why do I constantly need to be pouring out my heart?! Even my blogs are an expression of that need to always be sharing what is on my mind. I know I definitely overshare on these blogs but – shrug! What can you do?! I sometimes think that even if I was married, I would just wear out my husband with my endless ideas and thought exercises! I was wondering about this to myself earlier, and I came up with this answer: whenever a challenge or an idea is presented to me, (for instance on marriage) I can almost not prevent myself from going off to think about it. And then I have to express my views. Additionally, with everything that I take on in my life, my emotions travel to different places and I guess it would be lovely to have someone else’s voice other than my own offering encouragement; and someone else who is right there with you, someone who can see into your heart, and who truly grasps how big these issues are…y’know?!
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Photo of Allia flowers by Peter Kraayvanger on Pixabay