You Can’t Force A Human Connection

You Can’t Force A Human Connection
Photo by Theo Crazzolara / Unsplash

I still remember one of the first times I connected with someone, truly connected with someone.

I was talking to my fifty-year-old friend Chris during my freshman year of college in one of our weekly mentoring calls to help me improve my public speaking. The conversation started with public speaking but moved on to childhood, passion, purpose, and more.

They told me about their difficulty growing up as a woman in the Deep South, how they would play music for sometimes nine hours a day, and how they almost became an FBI agent but decided to study information science instead. I told them about my difficulty finding friends at Cornell, my uncertainty in creating content while my other Uni friends were studying, and my childhood growing up in the rural town of Hamilton, New York.

Despite them being 50 and me 19, age was no barrier. We were two tubes of meat, deeply connecting over our shared human experience. I left the interaction feeling a part of me always missing had become whole like I had found a long-lost family memento I didn't know I needed.

That night, lying in bed, I asked: "Why can't every conversation be like this?"

I began craving deep conversations like they were honey and I was Winnie The Pooh. I was starving. All throughout middle and most of high school, my conversations were as deep as a puddle. It's not that they weren't fun—it's that I didn't have the self-awareness to truly be with someone.

It's as if all my life I had been eating dirt, and then I tasted chicken nuggets--I couldn't go back.

I wanted—needed—to grow.

And boy, did I sure get deep conversations. Being vulnerable with others invited them to be vulnerable back. Other people craved them too—they just didn't know how to start. Once I got a taste, I couldn't stop. Every conversation left me wanting more, more, more.

Small talk became tantamount to doing taxes. I wanted to skip right to the juice, the meat, the mullah. Who cares about what the weather is like outside? What's your purpose on this planet?!

Unfortunately, it was on this path to connect with everyone deeply that I stopped connecting as much.

My dad described that period of being around me as "excruciating." My mom described it as "exhausting." In her words, not everyone wants to have a deep conversation, every conversation. It's tiring. They take tremendous presence and energy. Some people need foreplay. My mom doesn't want to come home from teaching teenagers in high school and immediately be asked, "so, what's the meaning of life for you?"

This isolated me from my family, some friends, and strangers.

My family felt hurt because underlying a lot of our conversations they knew I found them boring and unsatisfactory. I distanced myself from many of my old high school friends because most weren't mature enough to have the deep conversations I was craving. I distanced myself from strangers who appeared "surface level," an "assessment" riddled with biases.

What I failed to realize is human connection is like a game of frisbee—both people have to throw and catch or the game falls apart.

Like frisbee, each person throws their thoughts, feelings, and information back and forth. The problem is I took control of the frisbee. Instead of allowing the person to throw as they wanted to, I forced them to throw my way.

I was trying to force a human connection.

Slowly, I began to lessen my hold on the frisbee.

I realized deep human connection can be talking about literally nothing. It can be loving someone as they want to love in that moment. It means seeing them as they want to be seen, deeply present.

A few months ago, I was walking around with my mom at Cornell after not seeing her for a few months. It was silent. We could hear birds chirping, the sprouting of flowers for the spring to come, and the soft rustling of the wind.

Out of the silence, my mom asked, "Aidan, why haven't you asked me anything?"

I said, "Sometimes, you don't have to talk—you can just enjoy each other's presence."

She got a huge broad-granded smile like I had only seen a few times in my life. Relaxing her shoulders, we continued walking.