Being available is like having a sense of humor: no one wants to admit they don’t. We believe we are available to the people we care about, but there are ways of blocking connection which we may not see. For example, having a limited expectation of the other person can limit our involvement and by extension, our availability to that person. Or we might analyze the other person’s motivations and actions and in that way retain some distance–viewing them as an object, and a two-dimensional one at that. We may expect the other person to be uninterested in us or distancing. Then we might hold back, protect ourselves, and create the very loss we fear.
When our relationships are disconnected or unsatisfying in some way, we can so easily see the flaws in the other person’s behavior and motivations. Their conflicts are dysfunctional and simplistic. Our understanding of ourselves is different. We see ourselves as complex, making an effort, and benignly motivated. But the truth is, we are both yearning for connection and terrified of it at the same time. We need the depth but we fear the vulnerability.
When it comes to relationships, it is hard to know if it is the wrong person at the wrong time or if we are somehow just missing the mark and therefore missing a chance at a genuine, satisfying intimacy. We don’t want to blame ourselves for dysfunctions that are not our doing, but we cannot always see clearly the complicated structures we use to connect with other people. There are times to keep trying and there are times to move away from a non-constructive relationship. That particular judgement call is a difficult one at best.
But, not that. I’m not talking here about relationships that we ought to exit. I’m talking about the relationships we need. The ones we nurture. The ones we want to commit to and stick with. Then we have to figure out how we are defending ourselves and withholding ourselves from a real involvement with that other person. What do we bring into the relationship and why? How do we make ourselves truly available in the ways that will feed the connection between us while maintaining our autonomy and separate selves?
We have to recognize when we hold back because we feel we are inadequate and when we hold back because we are afraid to trust the other person with our soft center. We have to learn to recognize our own disappointment when the other person is not perfect and not perfectly available. And we have to see how we interpret those imperfections as betrayals and evidence that we are right not to trust them. We have to work at understanding how we hold onto our lists of the other person’s failures as a way to justify our fear and our distance.
Mostly we keep trying to connect, to be more available, and to find those deep connections. Sometimes the most intractable obstacles are the ones inside of us that we don’t quite see. There are subtle ways we undermine our own reaching out, and we limit our willingness to embrace the complexity and humanity of the other person. Our patterns of relating, our assumptions about people and how they connect, and our uncertainties about our own appeal can interfere with a straightforward approach to someone with whom we wish to connect. It is a simultaneous movement toward intimacy with ourselves and a more genuine intimacy with the people closest to us that gives us the satisfaction of deeper experience.