My biggest problem right now is that I am constantly fighting a growing cynicism and the temptation to just not care.
That isn’t me. I care so deeply and overthink everything. When I’m angry, it burns. When I’m sad, I feel like I’m drowning. When I’m happy, I can’t imagine being underwater ever again.
And yet, when it comes to people and relationships – friendship, romantic, or otherwise – it’s like I’m one speaker short of surround sound.
“Being cheated on is a wound, and it’s going to be a while before you’re back to normal,” Terri said, but this is older than that. It goes back to middle school, when I befriended the new girl on the mission trip only to feel abandoned when two days later, she was spending all her time with the “cool kids” and I was alone again. It goes back to my best friend in college, the one I spent practically every day with, who I never heard from once she graduated. It goes as far back as I’ve been alive, as I’ve always felt just a little bit off and like I don’t quite click into place with most groups. At some point, I stopped trying and just let myself be an outsider.
That’s fine. No one needs to fit everywhere.
The problem is holding myself back when I do fit. Spending an outting only half-present, or keeping conversation shallow despite someone already proving they Get It and are there for me. When I assume relationships are temporary, I refuse to fully invest so I won’t be hurt when it ends. I choose to actually not care instead of pretending I don’t, since it feels like everyone else is playing this game of “Who can show they care less?”
I hate that game. I always lose and I’m tired of playing. But caring deeply is exhausting and leaves you vulnerable. Not caring seems so much easier, and I am consistently tempted to just stop.
And not just about people, but about everything: my job, the future, the state of the country and the world at large. If you care, you could be disappointed. Worse: if you really care, you’ll probably have to put in some hard work.
I had a friend tell me his second break-up was worse than his first and it about gave me a heart attack. My first almost destroyed me and I had imagined it would get easier every time. If it was actually going to be harder, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to risk it.
I expect the same thing of tragedies – each mass shooting, each natural disaster, every human rights violation. I think they’ll keep getting easier to handle.
What’s awful is how true that often is.
Thinking about it, I had to consider why it might be easier. The obvious answer is because I care less, because I’m less connected. It seems harmless. But in relationships, if I’m less connected, I’m also not experiencing the same magic or hopefulness for the future that makes a relationship worthwhile to me in the first place.
What do I lose if I’m not connected to the world enough to let its tragedies pain me?
I lose my anger, without which I’m not motivated to take action and make a difference. I lose my ability to see the joy in the world, the beauty of its people and cultures. I lose the chance to be part of something bigger than myself.
Letting yourself be open to hurting is scary, but the reward is so much greater when you allow yourself to be touched. And this is something I have to remind myself of every day so I don’t give into temptation and let myself stop caring.