Have you ever stopped and wondered about the expression “let’s keep in touch”? We say it all the time, but it rarely involves any actual touch. Usually, it’s an expression that initiates a period of zero physical contact. “Let’s keep in touch,” you say to a close friend who’s about to move, or to a new acquaintance you’ve just met. This used to mean, “Let’s contact one another via telephone or handwritten letter.” Nowadays, it entails following or friending someone on social media.
During my decade of perpetual summer living, which roughly corresponded to my mid-20s through my mid-30s, I kept in touch with a lot of people. I relished all my spring- and summer-style friendships, using text message and social media to receive data about my “friends’” lives. Then I started reading Brené Brown, a leading authority on courage, authenticity, and vulnerability. “Owning our story can be hard,” says Brown, “but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. . . . Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
For all my friends and acquaintances, I came to realize that no one really knew me, as I’d been running and avoiding my own messy darkness for so long. I didn’t have a particularly close relationship with my parents. I had friends, and some wonderful, amazing people in my life. But, I had carefully constructed the narrative about myself that I wanted everyone to see — leaving out the uglier and messier parts.
Following this gradual realization, I took some small risks and gradually began to peel away some of the emotional armor protecting me. This happened via a return to personal, social rhythmicity, as I began a fall-like process of contraction and distillation, selecting which friendships I wanted to maintain, and which ones I could gently let go of. I then visited those most important people face-to-face or brought them to visit me. And, in the presence of people I trusted, I began revealing more intimate parts of myself.
During my mid-30s, I contemplated a career change and talked openly with a few select friends about my fears of failure. It was terrifying at first, because like everyone who decides to bare their tender, deeper selves, I feared abandonment and rejection. These conversations also felt awkward and contrived initially — like the feeling you get when you’ve not been to the gym for a long time. “This is…