I’ve lived long enough to have learned
The closer you get to the fire,
the more you get burned.
But that won’t happen to us…
Billy Joel, “A Matter of Trust”
I went to a friend’s house this weekend for some much-needed downtime. We hung around their small fire pit in the backyard and told stories of reminiscence late into the evening. “Remember when…?” one would ask, and we laughed as we remembered when. Three of us had been friends for nearly ten years, and as one was fairly recently married, an easy friendship formed between his wife and I.
We joked and we talked and we roasted marshmallows and hot peppers and whatever else we could find in their cupboards. It felt good, it felt natural, it felt comfortable. And I realized that I don’t always feel that way with people, even with close friends.
At one point in our conversations, we began talking about relationships, and I mentioned that it takes me a very long time to feel completely at ease with situations, with people.
“Sometimes I feel like I walk around with an energy that says ‘stand back, keep your distance,’ I admitted.
“Yeah,” said Jersey friend, completely serious. “You even do that with me.”
I paused, and I looked at him. And then I looked at my other friends, the couple, who kind of nodded in agreement.
And I knew, as much as I hated to admit even that, that it was true.
I don’t mean to. Pushing people away is the very last thing I want, but I know that this happens and I know that I’m at least partly to blame. Because I can feel that there’s a side of myself that’s hesitant, wary, reserved.
I know, am so aware of the fact, that I give off this vibe that says ‘give me space’ and ‘don’t get too close,’ when all I really want to say is ignore that, come close, get to know me.
Help me let down my guard…
Because as much as I hate to admit it, as trusting and open and friendly as I like to think I am, as much as I’m really trying to break down those walls, they’re still up, still standing.
Still holding strong.
Why do I create such an inner defense? Why, even with my closest friends, do I feel the need to keep my distance?
What is it about myself that I’m trying to protect?
“Leap before looking” isn’t a phrase I live by, but it’s one I desperately want to adapt. I hate the hesitant side of myself, the one that tests the waters, the one that feels so closed off, even among the people I care about most. I know that they’re some of my closest friends, they’re not going anywhere, so what am I so afraid of?
But maybe that’s just it. Maybe that’s why this wall has been created, why I keep my distance, why I hesitate. Because if you don’t get too close, you can’t lose someone, you can’t get hurt.
But if you don’t get close enough, you could lose everything anyway.
I wonder if maybe I once considered myself so independent that people tended to think I didn’t need them, despite needing them.
I wonder if maybe that didn’t help to create this vibe, this space, this distance, despite wanting to be more open, be closer.
I wondered, once, if maybe I just needed to embrace that and learn to leap for myself.
But these friends have shown me in recent weeks that they’re still here, still willing to stand by me despite feeling so closed off, despite this distance that I’ve subconsciously maintained. And, ironically, I feel closer to them than I have in the ten years of our friendship, and it feels good, it feels safe, it feels right.
They’ve taught me that friendship is really two-sided, that there are people who care enough about you, too, to push back, to help you realize that you don’t need to do everything yourself. They’ve shown me that you don’t have to create that distance, that they’ll be there no matter what.
And they’ll reach out to you when you need it but can’t express it.
And they’ll take your hand and smile in reassurance and let you know that they’re right beside you.
And then…they’ll take that leap with you.