Are you just floating along in life, never getting to know others beneath the surface?
Do you really know your partner? Your friends? How about the colleague at work that you say hello to every morning but never actually bother to find out how they really are doing? Even when you do ask someone how they are, will they give you an honest answer?
You may think casual pleasantries and digital connections are enough to constitute relationships – that’s not true.
According to a Harvard University study on happiness, researchers found that our relationships – especially their quality – are one of the keys to unlocking joy in life. So how do we establish, cultivate and sustain meaningful relations over time – and why is that such a challenge in the first place?
The metaphor I like to use is we live in an iceberg society. Our relationships often stay at the surface, and we never really know the depth and breadth of the person existing below our line of sight. Because it can be awkward or uncomfortable to ask questions, many of us keep our heads above the water where it’s safe – but not exactly meaningful or fulfilling.
Now, you may say, “But I engage with people. I talk to them, buy them gifts. I want to be liked, so I do everything to be likable.” Here’s a quick test: Do you buy the gifts they want, or is it what you would want? Are you empathizing with people in your life or projecting your own experiences, interests and wants onto them?
Simply establishing a relationship doesn’t guarantee that it will be sustained and nurtured. Becoming two ships passing in the night may work for a while – but that won’t lead to the quality of relationships that will bring long-lasting connection and fulfillment.
In order to unlock that door, getting to know someone – really know them – means that we have to open up to another person and create space for that to be reciprocated. The more we share, the more we learn about one another and the deeper and stronger the connection becomes. Interpersonal communication scholars have studied this through Social Penetration Theory, which links relationship development to reciprocal sharing. When that ceases, relationships stay stagnant or even dissolve. What often time stops people, though, from sharing is fear. What happens if I’m rejected, misunderstood, thought less of or the other person doesn’t reciprocate the sharing? For many of us who have discovered this path, it was often born from fire. Transformational thinking often springs forth from personal pain. We are so busy “doing” and leave so little time for “being” that it can become a chore to even look below the surface in our own spirit, let alone those around us.
When we don’t experience validation or an authentic connection from the person we have opened up to, it stays with us, thereby preventing us from sharing in the future. Oftentimes, it leaves you exposed to be hurt, embarrassed or unreciprocated in your feelings or thoughts.
But rejection doesn’t have to be viewed as a bad thing. Instead, consider it to be a filter for separating fake friends from those who value you and want to build a true, genuine relationship. This is the key to true contentment.
When we do meet someone willing to share their heart – oh what a liberating moment that is! Suddenly, the world opens up, and we can begin to recognize the strength in being vulnerable. Let’s bust our assumptions and beliefs around vulnerability and what we were told and conditioned to believe growing up. Let’s challenge these spaces by looking toward research that can validate our experiences.
When we open ourselves up to the possibility of how authentic, positive relationships can impact our lives, it is amazing what we can achieve.
This article was originally published on https://medium.com/mindful-choices/our-iceberg-society-fa0b61117307