vulnerability + relationships aren't optimization problems
& reading recommendations !
The other day I ate sukiyaki and bentos with two of my friends and got to play with a fluffy dog. When I came home I messaged my friends individually to tell them I enjoyed spending time with them, with many heart emojis. I don’t usually do this. I’m highly idealistic but I’ve absorbed much from the people closest to me, who are more pragmatic. They prefer to talk about the facts of their life over the way things made them feel. I’ve always felt friction towards giving friends verbal affection that expresses an emotional state. What I mean is, I might tell you I missed you! because it’s brief, but it’s harder for me to tell you how you make me feel — but only if we’re close! Because if we’re close that means you know me well and we have a stronger emotional attachment I guess and that makes sharing feelings higher-stakes in my head. As if I’m laying it all out. At least if we’re acquaintances you know me less.
Over the past two years I think I’ve become generally more open to expressing gratitude and appreciation though? Even if I don’t always elaborate. Last month I wished a former classmate happy birthday — we aren’t very close but we’ve hung out in groups before and I think she’s sweet and high-integrity. I also believe that if good feelings rise in you when you think of someone you should probably express them, at an appropriate time, instead of withholding them forever. Years ago I would overthink like what if it’s weird or intrusive for me to dm them this?? I used to “play it cool”, but openness often feels more honest.
I used to be less reserved. Last year I was obsessed with what I’ll call radical intimacy. If you know the game We’re Not Really Strangers you’ll know what I mean. Radical intimacy is the idea that getting to know new people is becoming stale because everyone is having superficial conversations we they first meet, but we can truly connect with people if we ask them deeper questions. Questions like: Are you content? What’s your family like? How do you assign self-worth? It’s the opposite of being emotionally guarded — it’s lending yourself vulnerable to just about anyone in the hopes of connecting more deeply. I’m particularly interested in how this idea appears in tech-ish circles, in a different language: phrases like “engineering authentic conversations” or “increasing your cold-dm-to-friend conversion rate”, as if human relationships are an optimization problem.
I think when people talk about relationships in terms of optimization they forget that relationships exist in reciprocity. They claim you can figure out if you’d be good friends with someone by mining them for their “interestingness” and “deep thoughts.” But I don’t think people connect this way — relationships aren’t built by asking each other progressively deeper questions. Intimacy can’t be accelerated. This is a way to look for someone who inspires you to be more ambitious by proximity, probably. I think connecting with people requires you to like, yknow, spend time with them and pay attention to how you feel around them. I really like this tweet about compatibility:
What I mean is, someone might be “interesting” and vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have a more authentic connection. Plus why assume that they’re giving a faithful self-assessment (especially when you first meet lol)? I think you’ll understand someone thoroughly after observing them in several contexts.
You won’t feel satisfied by your relationships if you demand unearned intimacy. Before I graduated high school I had to relearn that friendship forms when you listen to your gut feelings and engage with people on their terms + your own. I used to expect people to behave the way I wanted them to (my expectations were highly derivative anyways). But then I came off as unapproachable. Human connection is a space where acceptance, curiosity, and patience are precious.
Nowadays, friendship to me is purely intuition: are they good for me? Do I feel aligned with them? Do I enjoy being with them and do I feel at ease? Can we trust and rely on each other? As for closeness, I think about: can we meet like once or twice a year and pick up from where we left off? I don’t believe deeper conversations offer me more authentic human connection than spending time with people I love. When someone is good for you, you’ll know. It will just feel right.
reading recommendations :3
Bliss Montage by Ling Ma is one of my favourite books I read this year! It’s a short story collection about women and loneliness and magical realism
I also loved Ghost Lover by Lisa Taddeo. It was an acquired taste at first but I loveeee her brutally honest prose
this essay about how femininity is about failing to live up to an unattainable standard of purity
Thanks for reading heart ethic! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.