One Way Street

One form of relationship that often frustrates me is a one-sided friendship. I don’t have many friends, in fact I almost don’t have any friends. I consider a lot of people as my acquaintances instead of my friends because I’m always careful of putting people in my inner circle. My past experiences have led me to believe very little of friendship, so I drew a (too) thick line marking the boundary of friend-or non friend.

However – though it’s hard to believe because this is a written note, and perhaps whoever comes to read this doesn’t even know who I am – I’m actually a friendly person. And most of the time, I offer friendly gestures to just everyone.

Since I was sick about 5 years ago, many people in my church have gotten to know me. Or at least they knew my name, as someone so often being prayed in the church. And occasionally they greet me, or send me texts.

While I’m grateful for the care and attention, I find it’s also difficult to connect to these people. Some people are more than willing to help and to show that they care for me. They have been a perfect example of the brothers and sisters in Christ by showing that they care. And for years, I know they have been praying for me.

The difficulty is I would like to connect with them, instead of only being only at the recipient end. But it’s very hard to do, because almost every time they would ask, “How are you?” and when I answered back and asked the same question, they would not let out any news about themselves and focus only about my condition etc. 

It really feels like I’m being in a sort of organisation when I have to give a regular report on something to my superintendent and don’t get any chance to explore other topics than ‘something’ we talk about.

Oh no, I’m not really interested to tell you only about my scan schedules (and  their horrible suspense on waiting for the result), no, I want to know about you as well, because I want to connect with you! I’m a person and I’d like to make a personal connection with you instead of filling a random questionnaire about the level of my pain.

Often in a series of texts I would ask “how are you” several times and never get any answer until I gave up and stopped asking. Or I would get some answers, very general and faque descriptions of things.

I guess many people think that I have been burned out too much to receive any more depressing news from others (I appreciate the sentiment!), or not happy enough to share the excitement of their happy news. Nevertheless, this little thing frustrates me whenever I have to connect with the people who don’t really want to open up about themselves.

However if I had to be truthful to myself, actually I have been acting similarly towards many people. Like I wrote above, the anticipation of not getting hurt again has (consciously or unconsciously) forced me to build a high wall between me and people. “Hi, how are you, what a nice day!” but “No, thank you, let’s not get further than this” – this kind of attitude has been made by me in many interactions with others.

I think it takes courage not only for me, but also for many people to be in the vulnerable spot when we trust people with our ‘news’. We want to be known, we want to be accepted, but we’re afraid of the level of response we might get. Or we think that we don’t want to be a bother to others, but in reality we’re posing a rejection to them (without realizing it).

Another point is we often want to fill our obligation in serving others and not burdening them, we want to spread the love, we want to give, we want to sacrifice, but again we forget that we are dealing with people, who other than having physical or spiritual needs, they also need real connection with people.

Another prediction from me is sometimes we’re afraid of the level of commitment we can offer to others. Yes we want to care, but how deep are we ready to be involved? Yes we want to be there, but how long will this call last?

At two houses next to my house lives a very old Opa. His wife passed away two years ago and since then he lives alone in his house. Luckily his son and daughter in law (who are now old themselves) live one block away and visit him daily or cook and clean for him. I rarely meet him since he rarely goes out of his house, and on several rare occasions where we met I asked him how life went and he answered me: not good. I can imagine how tough it has been to live alone when you’re very old, how lonely it must have been especially in this corona situation.

Out of the good will I went to his house one evening and offered to share my cooking for his dinner. He said no for today but perhaps another day, and I was invited to come anytime to visit and talk with him. I guess this happened almost a year ago… Sadly I only got one chance of giving him some food. I did go to his house several times with dinner in my hands but he didn’t open his door for me. Or one of us in this house had a mild cold so I prefer not to go so I wouldn’t take any chance to spread any germs. Later when I asked, his daughter in law mentioned that this poor old man has regressed into a depression. I feel very sad about this, and contemplating to do more things for him, and yet I know I won’t have enough time to be committed to his needs (and my lack of Dutch language doesn’t bring me very far in communicating, unfortunately).

I guess the reality that we’re busy with our own lives, and (being cross and honest) don’t have much spare time for a particular person makes us hesitant in building a deeper relationship other than being an acquaintance. We are also often afraid of making people disappointed in case we fail to deliver our promises, so we choose to keep distance from them.

But of course, it takes two to tango. I can never forget a quote from the movie: Wall-e I watched together with my Indonesian colleagues back in my years in Singapore.

“Define dancing.”

“DancingA series of movements involving two partners, where speed & rhythm match harmoniously with music.”

After all, it takes two to tango. It takes two to dance. It’s hard and lonely to take the one way street.

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