Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Distance Problem

Brace yourselves, kids, this one is probably going to get emotional, intimate, and uncomfortable for everyone. Have you ever found yourself fighting with someone you love? If you can honestly answer no to this I need you to email me right now, cantrellwrites@gmail.com, and give me the method by which you live your life. Seriously, write the email. Share your zen knowledge. I won't publish it on here or anything.
Anywho, I have been in several different types of loving relationships that involve conflict. Each different one has its own problems. They all share one type of problem in common. That problem is distance. It can be as small as the air between the two people sitting next to each other on the couch or a gulf of space that feels like the distance between Uranus and the Sun. The distance can be literal or metaphorical. It is always a problem.
Having reached the ripe of age of 38, I have seen this problem from several different sides. When I was a child and I found myself disagreeing with my parents, the distance was created in my behavior being corrected. Even the smallest child doesn't like to be told no. They don't like it even if what they are being told no about is crawling face first into a 450-degree oven.
I remember clearly burning my hands badly on a camp lantern. I had been told not to touch it, that it was hot. The darn thing was just so pretty. It had a candy apple red body just like my favorite firetrucks. It was pleasantly warm in the cool night air. It gave off this brilliant glow that was comforting and inviting. Of course, I couldn't be stopped, even by two very vigilant parents from grabbing ahold of the lantern. Speaking of distance, boy did I try to put some distance between myself and that lantern once I had my tiny little hands around that flaming hot glass!
I cried. My parents comforted. I got medical attention for my burns. I was alright. I got lectured about how they had told me not to touch the lantern for that very reason. Then I got comforted. That is when the distance closed. I had spent all night, from the time the lantern was lit and they first told me not to touch it, until I was hurt putting distance between me and my parents. I knew I was doing something wrong by not listening. My young mind thought it knew better and I wasn't going to be discouraged until I got my way. My way hurt.
If we dig into my young psychology and biology for a minute we will probably find some irrational resentment of my parents for being right. I was mad at them while I was hurting for not thwarting my will and keeping me safe even though I was the idiot that wanted to grab a flame hot lantern glass. I resented them being smarter and more experienced than me. It wasn't until they took away the hurt of the burn that I calmed down and let the distance between us dissolve. Kids are often irrational this way because their prefrontal cortex isn't fully functional. You cannot hold these feelings against them. It takes some people much longer in life than others to get this part of the brain fully formed and working. They will need to be forgiven for being hateful and irrational much later in life than others.
Adolescent and preadolescent friendships are another place where distance manifests itself. Sometimes this distance is physical. I changed schools and so I wasn't really friends with Brandon anymore even though we had been "best friends" since 5th grade. It was really an out of sight, out of mind sort of situation. This carries over into coworkers later in life. People come to dread promotion or shift change because they have the comfort of their cofriends. If they don't see these people as often the relationships will suffer from the distance and probably dissolve.
I think of these relationships with a sort of practical detachment. They can be interesting, intense, and important while they last, but they are not meant to survive and evolve into more important connections. These relationships are very common. Treat them practically and don't spend more energy than you have to on them. Distance is a good thing. Avoid people who put too much emphasis on these interactions. They are likely desperate for connection and have elevated the importance of, "you are in my 6th period Math class," or," we are on the same team at work, "into, "You complete me and will be in my life forever."  Find me the 6th grader who understands this and I will show you a kid that will go far in life. Find me the adult who doesn't and I will show you an unhappy individual.
I am not saying that work friends or childhood relationships cannot evolve into something more meaningful. I have a few friends I have met through work that mean the absolute world to me. I would maintain these friendships, to the best of my ability, through a career change or even me moving off somewhere. Part of the purpose of the job was to put these people in my path. We stopped being cofriends, evolved into real friends, and now have an established connection that transcends distance. This is a source of great pleasure in my life. I just know that most of the rank and file aren't going to undergo this metamorphosis.
Romantic relationships bring a new type of distance. I struggle with this one. Some distance comes with disagreement. Some distance is natural. I tend to be extremely comfortable with distance as long as it is not conflict based. I like being able to go about my life doing the things I need to get done. Then, when I have time for the romantic to focus on it. This DOES NOT work for most of the people I have ever been involved with.
Because of this, I have to constantly watch my own behavior and make sure I do not let the distance become too great. I need a little distance to self-care. It is my process. I cannot allow that to push my person into thinking I don't care about them. This becomes amazingly difficult if I am struggling with something in life. I tend to withdraw and increase distance so that I can think clearly. This breeds insecurity and makes my person feel as if they are unneeded and unwanted. The ironic part is that the opposite is true. It really means a lot to me when the distance between me and a loved one is totally understood and it is even appreciated when it ends. I very much believe in absence making the heart grow fonder.
To me, the worst distance is between a parent and their child. I remember causing the distance as a kid. As an adult though, bridging that distance gap sometimes becomes impossible. Young kids lack the ability to understand things. For that matter, adult children sometimes just don't have the knowledge or experience to understand the issues that create distance. Worse still, I admit that there are times when I allow my own feelings to create distance even when I shouldn't.
Solving the problem of distance often involves swallowing pride and admitting you are wrong. Standing on principle is often not worth losing the relationship to growing distance. When enough distance has built up the relationship is often too strained for an easy fix. I tend to cope with this in less than ideal ways like posting my feelings to Facebook or writing a long blog post. There are a few places where I am 100% right about a situation but the resulting distance isn't worth the cost of standing up for what is right.
I am on the horns of that dilemma in multiple places in my life. Do I stick to what I know to be right or do I give in for the sake of not growing the distance? Do I maintain the right course and refuse to compromise and assume that when the other person realizes their mistake we will be able to overcome the distance?
Distance is the problem. I do not always have a solution. That is ok too. The first step is just figuring out the problem.

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