By: Jessica Bodily-Miller, CSW
To all of us fifteen to thirty year olds who are trying to figure out life:
This is our game face. We adolescents and young adults, we are apathetic. And we believe it is our greatest strength. We praise it in other people, “She doesn’t care what people think of her.” Or in ourselves, “I don’t need other people to be happy.” We treat this as that person’s greatest strength-their ability to “rise above” the feelings of other people. We believe that if we don’t care we are stronger than the rest. And if we don’t care nobody can reject us or devalue us, or hurt us.
This need to be apart from others, this desire to resist being vulnerable with someone else—this apathy is torturing us even while we seek it and try and emulate it.
This is why: relationships run this world. I believe that. No human can live an isolated life, simply because it is impossible. And those who are as isolated as any person can be—whether through choice or circumstance—well, do we really expect these people to be able to fit into a normal life? We can’t expect success from them and for the most part, we don’t. If someone has autism or has a history of trauma-we expect them to struggle to attach. We know that problems arise in those that (either by their choice, the actions of others or their biology) cut themselves off from others. And when this happens, attachment becomes a focus of therapy.
People will struggle with relationships throughout their lives and sometimes they will require a little extra help. And from where I am standing, that is just what we need. This struggle with relationships is the best thing about life. Our connections to others are always changing and we are always changing.
If relationships are this important (as I really do believe they are-and research shows they are) how can we expect good things out of people if they are unable to connect to others and learn from and be loved by others?
Attachment is what I believe in. And with that belief, it makes it so hard to be in a world where apathy, independence, and isolation are lauded as our ultimate goals. In this world, an inability to commit is held close to your heart; as if it is the product of 20 years of hard work-when it is really it is the product 20 years of pushing others away. It comes in so many disguises and it has so many catch phrases.
“I’m a commitment-phobe”
“It is so hard for me to settle down”
“I can never make decisions”
“I’ve got so much going on, I don’t have time for that.”
“I don’t care what anyone thinks.”
+ the age-old, “I have trust issues.”
And these excuses, these words can save us because the rest of us have been trained to nod and say, “Yeah, I’ve been there.” And maybe we haven’t, but we’ve seen it on TV and we’ve read about it in books and we’ve listened to a million songs about it. So we nod our heads and accept this excuse for ending a relationship, for ignoring someone else’s pain and for pushing away anyone that gets close. Because we have learned apathy and now we encourage it.
And then, with those words—those words that should be empathic and encouraging (“I’ve been there” and “You’re right” and “I understand what you mean”) you are really just helping someone to justify avoiding a relationship. We are all hurting each other by accepting these excuses for drifting away from relationships. A relationship that could be good. And yes, you’re right, not every relationship is going to change you and we don’t belong in every relationship. But then again, how often are those catch phrases actually legitimate excuses? Aren’t we largely the product of our interactions with others? And if we are, don’t we want to meet as many people as possible? Every person we meet knows something (and really, a lot of somethings) that we don’t know. People have something to offer us and we should stop being afraid and just let ourselves be affected by others. Because, surprisingly, the majority of people will be there for us and they won’t let us down. And if they do disappoint, we can learn to brush ourselves off and try again with someone who is better suited to resist that apathy and instead desires to connect with us.
So, I suggest that we stop tolerating these excuses from ourselves and the people that we love. Because if we don’t care, nobody can reject us or devalue us, or hurt us. But they also can’t love or care or support us either. There is no reason for any of us to cling to our apathy and trust issues thinking that it will make our lives easier. Be open to relationships with people who are so flawed and imperfect that you don’t think you could ever connect with them. Be open to relationships with people that you think are better than you because there will be something to learn from them. Don’t be afraid to be securely attached to another individual-it’s the best thing that we can do in this life. And that is why I reject apathy and believe we must connect with others.