I love it when dinner with a friend feeds your soul as much as your belly. Lazy evenings with a friend – or few friends – in which we get to talk aimlessly are pretty much my favorite thing in the world. Which made it hard for me to understand why I was not looking forward to just such an evening last week.
So I had to ask myself, “Alyssa, what the hell are you afraid of?” And it became clear. This dinner was with someone who I really like, but who is also very close to the person I had just broken up with. Additionally, it was someone who had always seemed very reserved to me, and may expect that same reserved demeanor in return. What if he expected me to be as reserved as him? What if I couldn’t keep my happy game-face on about the break up? What if what if what if? What if, by simply being me, we had an awful time and I was rejected…. And…..
So I sent him an email, prior, and laid it on the line: I’ve always liked you, I’m afraid that I’m too much of a wild-child for you. I also really don’t want to lie about anything going in my life, and don’t want that to be uncomfortable for you. So, I’d love to spend time with you, but I’m not in a place where I can be anything other than who and where I am, so if that’s okay with you, then I’m looking forward to it.
And what a wonderful evening.
Needless to say, the sheer act of admitting fear and vulnerability, and being accepted anyway was great food for the soul. But the conversation, not surprisingly, allowed us to play with concepts of fear and acceptance in a way that helped me make sense of some notions I’ve been playing with.
Fear is such a powerful force. I think that it is as instinctually elemental as lust and hunger. It is everywhere, which means it is something that we need to develop a healthy relationship with.
I feel like I keep hearing the word “fearless” tossed about as if it is a great attribute. That’s ridiculous. No one is without fear, and those who claim to be are either deceiving themselves, or you. Oddly, people keep referring to me as “fearless,” which is so very wrong. I am filled with fear. Tons of it. But I have a very good relationship with it, and that may be why people confuse me for fearless, which I am not.
Back in the days of Woolly Mammoths and huddling in caves, our fear instinct was probably the most important human instinct. It is what allowed us to not get eaten by lions and tigers and bears . Once we were “safe” from those predators, we could get on with the other two primary instincts needed to keep the species alive – fucking and feeding. That, seems to me, is the instinctual trifecta necessary to keep us humans around for a little while longer.
As modern as we may be now, I think those same three instincts still drive most of what we do. Fucking, feeding and fear are driving forces for most of us, and that’s okay.
We like to think that we’ve evolved. Our fucking, for instance, is now – generally – more than just some grunts and thrusts against a rock. We talk about achieving multiple orgasms, g-spots, tantric love and other things that are the luxury of getting to fuck for recreation more than procreation. Same with food – we satay, sautee, import ingredients, refine and pair with wine. We’ve gotten way beyond the need for raw calories.
But, we still need fucking and food. We seek it out, and we do it. However differently, we all do it.
But fear? Not much evolution there. I think we’re still huddled up in caves of our own creation when it comes to the reactionary way we deal with fear. Sure, it’s not lions and tigers and bears anymore, but we still cling to and feed our fucking fear as if it is as elemental as blood itself. We cling to our fears in a way that elevates them above much more worthy pursuits. And we don’t question our fear any more than we question our need to fuck and feed.
I think that’s a shame.
But I also think it’s interesting that most of us don’t get mired in fear about real things that might actually harm us. We get mired in fear about things like rejection, failure, judgement, and other more luxurious emotions. Ironically, from observing my friends and self, the more secure our external worlds are, the more twisted and debilitating our internal fears seem to become. Maybe because they are more rooted in things that are intensely personal. Fear of rejection is about not being loved and accepted for who you are. That hurts, personally, far more than any hungry bear or unexpected ice storm.
When we focus on those things, feed them, they become bigger than everything else. Bigger than any bear that might eat us. And it is a much slower and more painful death. I guess, my question, is “why do we bother?” Do we need fear so badly that we manufacture it about things that really are not worthy of our time and energy at all? “Well, since I don’t have to worry about being eaten by a bear, I guess I’ll worry about being disliked by a colleague.” Seriously? Is that really worth it?
Now, the thing about fear is that in enables us to shut out everything around us in order to take heed of the fear. Indeed, if a hungry bear is about to eat you, then being distracted by the beautiful flowers in the field is a dangerous thing. But in this day and age, that tunnel vision, focused on fear, isn’t as useful. Fear, on the other hand, can be.
I look at my fears – and there are plenty of them – as an opportunity to find out what really matters, and get over it. Take this dinner as an overly simple example. I was afraid of rejection and of spending an evening being “fake” because of that fear. So, rather than canceling, I told him what I was afraid of. His response not only alleviated that fear, but allowed me to divest myself of the faulty impressions that I had of him. Both good! More than that, if he had “rejected” me, all that would really have happened is that I would no longer reserve any time and space for him, and that would free up that time and space for things and people that accept me for who I really am. That’s also good. Losing something that is not healthy and honest is not a loss.
But the more complex examples are the interesting ones. Generalizing a lot of relationships that I’ve seen fall apart lately, it’s easy for me to see how fear was at the root of the destruction. It has to do, a lot, with how people shut down communications or possibilities for fear of how other people will react to them. What if my partner rejects me because I am honest with them? What if my friends judge me for having this relationship? Or ending that relationship? Or having a hobby, or kink or need that they don’t understand?
I see this all the time, and slowly we become dishonest (internally and externally) and begin to hide the things that are elemental to us, so that we won’t alienate or offend anyone else. In essence, we feed the fear, and starve our souls. Once we become so focused on that fear, we stop noticing the flowers in the field around us – the things in our life and our relationship that are wonderful and worth protecting.
It has been said that your life is the sum total of what you choose to focus on. If you choose to focus on the fear and the “bad” things that could happen, that is all that you will see. This is true, as individuals, when we focus on the things that we think we are doing badly, or wrong, or the way that we may not live up to the expectations of others. We begin to see ourselves as failures, and forget the things that make us wonderful.
But it is just as true – perhaps exponentially more – in relationships. “I didn’t tell you because I was afraid you would….” So, your fear was more important than the situation itself or your partner, or the relationship. When you pull back because of fear, you literally give your energy to the fear, rather than to the potential or the relationship.
That’s just plain foolish.
Oversimplifying again, imagine it as a zero-sum game. Imagine that you have a finite amount of energy to give to things. The energy is necessary to keep these things alive. The more energy you give to one, the less you can give to the other. In order to successfully feed either one, you have to focus on it to the exclusion of the other – you have to prepare the food, deliver it, make sure it gets eaten. Now divide everything into two categories: 1) My fears 2) My fantasies.
Which would you rather feed? Given that your life is the sum total of what you choose to focus on, wouldn’t you rather feed the fantasies than the fears? If you focus on – and feed – your fears, giving them your energy, they will grow huge. They will, as fear does, block out your ability to see anything good around you.
Suddenly, you’re in a mine field of your own creating, side stepping around deceptions, denials and half truths – however well intentioned at the start – that you have to pay attention to rather than paying attention to the deep needs and desires and joys that were once present in the relationship. It manifests as guilt, shame, disappointment – but it’s all rooted in fear. Fear of judgment, rejection and loss.
Been there, done that. Willing to bet you have too.
And so, by the time the second bottle of wine was drained, I was feeling pretty secure in my relationship with this friend (who, without my fear blinders on, is even more wonderful than I would have guessed,) and my fears.
I am still terribly afraid of rejection. I am afraid that I will not find a partner who likes food, sex, travel, costumes, business and adventure as much as I do. And although I don’t NEED a partner in order to protect myself from bears, I do want one. I’m a coupler. I love being part of a couple. BUT, I am even more afraid of giving my energy to someone who doesn’t value those things in me, and therefore asks me to give them up. Or even worse, that I voluntarily give them up in order to not lose something that doesn’t fully feed my soul in the first place.
But the thing I fear most is getting in a relationship with someone who is more driven by fear than fantasy. And I don’t just mean romantic relationships, but all of them. I want to surround myself with people who put more energy into the things that might be wonderful than the things that might be scary. After all, being wrong is nothing to fear. But missing the chance to discover wonderful things? That’s terrifying.
It’s okay to have fear. But fear is nothing more than a big flashing light telling you to go slowly and pay attention. It doesn’t mean something bad is about to happen, it means you need to think about something. What really happens if this person rejects you? What really happens if you disappoint that person?
In most cases, nothing. It’s just a way for you to learn where it’s worth putting your energy and where it’s not.
That seems really simple to me. Feed your fantasies – give them your energy and they will give you energy in return. Starve your fears – don’t give them your energy, they will slowly wither until they’re nothing more than a stuffed animal on your mantle. You make take them with you wherever you go, but they don’t weigh much and they sure as hell don’t block the view of the amazing things outside the window of your soul. (And they’re not big enough to eat you.)