Ever since I was a child I have longed for connection. I don’t think it’s crazy to say that that is a universal human trait, but I never realized how much its lack plagued my life until the other day when I woke up at four in the morning and spent several hours thinking and writing about it.
Earlier this summer I picked up a book by Doreen Dodgen-Macgee called Restart: Designing a Healthy Post-Pandemic Life. One of the first notes that I made while reading was her suggestion of the mantra “I can be creative about getting my needs met.” At the time, obsessed with how I was going to make money to take care of myself, I saw needs in this sense as monetary needs. While certainly those are important, it’s clear now that in order to meet those monetary needs something I need to focus on is making sure my emotional needs are met, and it’s very clear that they are not and have not been met for many years.
The youngest of three, I was an energetic, curious kid, wide-eyed to the wonder of the world. However, it soon became clear that not everyone wanted to be my friend, not everyone was interested in knowing me, that rejection was commonplace, and that rejection hurt – bad. Raised in a safe suburb, I was sheltered in many ways, and never learned the coping skills I should have had in order to deal with life. My parents and grandparents were very loving, but I never really learned how to make friends, never had kids in the neighborhood, spending most of my time with older adults. My social and emotional needs were definitely not met and so I attempted to meet them all myself, watching endless hours of TV for the resemblance of connection, and taking on solitary hobbies – where no one could reject or hurt me – such as writing.
It’s no wonder writing became so important in my life – in a story I had complete control of what happened to everything single character, and had power over them. Naturally, I inserted myself as the main character and in essence created imaginary friends, something I’m still doing through my writing today.
How do we get our emotional needs met in 2022? Nearly everyone I know has a strong support structure of family and friends and can’t understand what it’s like to be so desperately disconnected. And at the age I’m at nearly all of those friends have kids and careers and little time for me. I used to go to punk rock shows by myself and talk to people between bands, but then as soon as a band ended everyone pulled out their cell phones and put their head down. I walk around my apartment complex and try to say hi to everyone I pass, but nearly all of them have headphones on, or are looking at a phone, or both. Yesterday I took my mother to the hospital, and as I sat in the waiting room a television blared over everything, while every other person, with the exception of a very old woman in a wheelchair, stared at their phone. While we may be technologically connected more than ever, we are more disconnected as a species than ever before in the history of humanity.
So what can those of us without strong support structures do? We all need a sense of belonging, a place to feel safe and accepted. That’s something I haven’t had for years, and actually for most of my life. And so the main way that I kept trying to find it was through writing, often taking incidents from my own life and writing a better ending. Isolation and loneliness is one of the easiest ways to predict early mortality. If we all put our phones down while in public and look at the strangers around us, look in their eyes, see our shared humanity, we could truly connect and have all of our needs met. People rush and try to grab at more, more, more because they’re trying to fill a need, but there’s no way that that need can ever be filled unless you slow down and look at what’s missing, and what’s missing is never a bigger TV or a fancier car or a bigger house, what’s missing is connection and community and love, something we can provide for each other but don’t because we think what will make us happy are more possessions. Much easier to work hard and buy more and more shit than look at yourself in the mirror, with all of your flaws and foibles, than address what you really need. May we all begin to have this clarity and to help each other forward.
Anyone want to hang out tonight? Right, of course you’re busy…no, of course I understand…