Have a phonebia? When did the phone get to be so scary? Smartphones seem to be used more for hiding than for actual human contact.
I’ve been really bad at getting back to people lately. Really bad. Calling, texting, pigeon mail. All of it. Bad. A reason could very well be that I am navigating the unknown territory of fatherhood. I think that’s just an excuse.
A Shallow Many For Depth In Few
There was a time in life when I was well connected. I had thousands of Facebook friends. I had few actual friends. Almost none, honestly. There was no friend, circle, or community with whom I lived life portraying mutual honesty and transparency. Every acquaintance knew the facade I had built better than they knew me. So I burned out from the thousands-of-friends plan and chose instead to focus on a few.
I became highly intentional with calling, hanging out, checking in, and constantly affirming, “I love you, man” to my guy friends. Out of buddies, I made friends, and eventually brothers in whom I invested heavily. I had traded in a shallow many for depth in a few and I was grateful; happy to already have received funeral invitations for when these guys were lifeless old bags of skin.
But you only get to be a bag of skin by living some life. And life is difficult. Committing to depth, meaning, and intentionality in relationships is hard because life is hard. It’s not always paintball war bachelor parties, beers, and “you aiight, bruh? Cool cool.” It’s crying with one another, being honest even when it stings, and carrying each other’s burdens. As I type this, I’m sobered by the truth in what I’m saying and the falsehoods to which I’ve been clinging.
No stranger to mental illness, I’ve done this before. Letting phone calls ring to voicemail while imagining what my excuse would be as to why I didn’t pick up. Letting text messages or emails sit for days and pile up to a daunting number. Always apologizing for being MIA and emptily saying, “Let’s definitely catch up soon!” The truth is that life is hard for me right now, and I’m afraid to be honest and transparent about it. I’m afraid to lean on brothers.
Fight Or Flight
Originally conceptualized in terms of wild animals, it’s an idea with which we are all familiar. When in the face of opposition, instinct clicks in. Typically, that instinct is one of two actions: fight or flight. Do you fight? Do you argue your way out of things, flailing your arms? Do you get angry, unable to function until you land a fist in something? Or do you flee? Do you avoid uncomfortable situations or people? Do you procrastinate, putting things off until someone else lands a fist in something?
You’re no Sherlock if you think you have solved the mystery of what my instinct is. I, almost always, flee. I avoid, avoid, avoid. I hate conflict so I avoid it. I hate awkward situations so I avoid them. I hate mowing the lawn so I let it grow and tilt my head to the gutters. I hate talking politics so I limit my Facebook time. I hate going to the dentist so I let my teeth rot in my skull. Any uncomfortable situation I run into, I stop long enough to slap a smiley-face sticker on it so I don’t piss anyone off before I bolt the other direction.
So when my life got tough and my depression and anxiety turned from a simmer to a boil and then boiled over, I turned inward. I boarded up my house, treated my phone like a disease, and made friends with silhouetted furniture in my darkened living room. Loving friends called and I let it ring. Brothers texted and emailed. I let their messages sit. I have bolted from one extreme to another where once I had a thousand connections, now I’m content to be alone with a thousand problems.
The Problem With Avoiding Notifications
My plan was to avoid uncomfortable vulnerability and potential awkwardness but I’m realizing that I’m running away from so much more. I’m not ignoring ringtones, notifications, or unread messages piling up in my inbox. I’m avoiding people. And not just people but friends, brothers. I don’t want a thousand empty friendships, shallow and meaningless. I want brotherhood. I want reality, authenticity, vulnerability. I want to carry my brother’s burden and for him to carry mine. But when push comes to shove and life gets hard, living like that takes a fearful intentionality. It takes bravery and courage, things that I have not had. At least not lately. I have been hiding. Isolating myself and allowing my investments in others and theirs in me to dissipate into ambiguity.
When I think of the situation like this, that is, when I stop avoiding and acknowledge what I am actually doing, I feel guilty. I’ve been a bad friend. Who knows? One of these brothers might be going through something incredibly difficult and upon reaching out to me, I retreated into my turtle shell for fear I’ll be forced to explain what is actually going on in my life right now. I fear sighs of disappointment or untranslatable prolonged silences but nothing in my history with these guys proves that their reactions will be negative. No, because they love and support me as a human, a friend, brother, an eventual bag of skin.
So here’s a challenge for you but even more so for me: take one step. Just pick up the phone or call a friend. Be honest and allow buddies to become friends to become brothers. Have a conversation. Make the connection. You’ll be glad you picked up the phone.