I am an introvert who mimics an extrovert–quite effectively, actually. I do this mostly because extroverts are privileged in our society, but also because I do actually have a fairly strong need for frequent, low-key social contact. My life is contrived in such a way that I am often surrounded by people with whom I interact little, but I am close to relatively few people. In fact, I could count on two hands the number of people with whom I have close, lifelong friendships, people I would call chosen family.
I’ve been told I’m not easy to get close to, not even easy to get to know, and that’s true, generally. Sex tends to hotwire connections for me, as does an intense shared experience (see also sex). But generally speaking, those chosen-family relationships I mentioned have developed over years or even decades. I was thinking this morning about what it does take to get close to me–what kinds of things help me form a connection and, beyond that, a close bond? I’ve come up with a few things that help a lot:
Play with me. I love games: board games, party games, role-playing games. I also love other kinds of play, both grown-up and kid play, from dancing to dressing up for a costume party to playing on a swingset. Anything that involves joy and fun and laughter in each other’s space. This tends to be how most of my close friendships start, but is an element that carries through them. If I lose play in a friendship, I am likely to lose interest.
Explore with me. I love discovering new things with people. This can be going to museums, wandering unexplored areas of my city (or the outdoors), travelling, trying new wine or beer or food, exploring altered states of consciousness… anything that involves a new, shared experience of discovery together. It can even include a movie or play, or reading a book together.
Create with me. This includes creating things, but can also include creating intangibles: I have also become close to people through working to create social or political change, for example. The key is that we have a shared vision and work together to bring it to life. Things I have created with people I love (or come to love people while creating) include meals (from simple to elaborate), parties, a book, a museum, a political campaign, a local grassroots social movement, a home, a gardens, a play, costumes, and art. That’s just off the top of my head.
Teach me. I am intensely attracted to knowledge. Knowledge combined with expert skill and the passion of someone who absolutely loves what they know is nearly irresistible to me. I love, love, love watching people do what they do best. It doesn’t even matter what kind of knowledge, so long as it is yours and deep and you want to share it with me. I have forged or deepened connections through learning science (all the science!) and math, carpentry (well a little), writing, Tantric philosophy, cooking, dancing, costuming, games, soldering, electronic circuitry, drawing, gardening, rope bondage, and teaching (yes, learning to teach)–among other things.
Accept me. I need to learn to feel safe with you, and that means not judging or labelling me, even if you don’t understand me. We’re different; that’s what makes our connection worthwhile (see also teaching). And chances are you will never fully understand me–after all, if I don’t, how can you? And that’s kind of awesome, too. (What fun would it be if you knew everything about me?) Call me on my shit, yes, and help me be a better person. But also embrace the person I am now, imperfections and all. Make it safe for me to be me with you.
Challenge me. To be able to trust you, I need to know that you will (compassionately) tell me the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. For me to come to deeply value you, I need you to hold me accountable, challenge my ideas, make me a little uncomfortable, at least some of the time. Not only does this make you more interesting, but it shows me you’re committed to helping me become my best version of myself.
Change me. I don’t think you should set out with an agenda to change me, of course (see “accept me”). But the best relationships for me are the ones where I can look back and see how the relationship has transformed some part of who I am. The change can come through a shared experience or discussion, or a challenge we surmounted together, or a conflict we worked through, or simply by you showing me an alternate way of being.