Sometimes I fall in love with people I drive past on the interstate.
As my dirty black Saturn surges past them at a speed I’m not proud to admit, something catches my eye. Maybe it’s a peeling Peace Corps bumper sticker. Maybe it’s the obscure tune I’m sure only they and I know that I hear pouring out of a cracked window. Maybe it’s a head of well-kept dreadlocks bobbing to said tune.
Regardless, I latch onto to one fleeting moment of attraction and impose an entire life story onto my rolling neighbor. I imagine that if only they would look over at me and see all of the camping gear piled in my backseat, the streak of bright red hair I sport, or hear my equally obscure song choice, we’d share a knowing nod and a lifetime of friendship would surely begin.
If I’m honest with myself, I do this a lot more often than just while driving. I am constantly giving people a once-over and making all kinds of assumptions about their background, beliefs, and interests. Generally, I’m a positive thinker, an idealizer. I see someone with one interesting trait and assume that they have their whole life together. Surely someone with that unique of pants or reading such an interesting book knows exactly who they are and who they are is awesome. Way awesome-r than my unorganized emotionally-distraught identity-seeking self.
I know I’m not the only one who does this.
But something strange tends to happen between the idealized “friend crushes” of mine and myself. I have a class with, say, unique pants girl and we start to talk. At first, this can be a bit of a letdown. Unique pants girl isn’t living up to the unrealistic expectations I had set for her without her even knowing. Wait, let me say that again. Unique pants girl isn’t living up to the unrealistic expectations I had set for her without her even knowing. So, she isn’t the perfect shining human being I had created in my mind. At first, this can be a bit of a letdown, but I soon come to realize that if she had been that person, I could never have been her friend. My broken, confused self would have been entirely unrelatable to this perfect being, and surely would have driven her away.
And the worst part is, I believe that all of us try so hard at times to potray ourselves as unique pants girl or cool book boy. Especially in the age of social media, it’s so easy to Tweet about how incredible our significant others are, Facebook a picture of our family in their Sunday’s best after church, or Instagram every perfectly organic naturally-lit salad we make for lunch. But what about that time our significant other forgot a birthday, our families’ not-so-pleasant looks or demeanor first thing in the morning, or the burnt Easy Mac we stomached for dinner last night? Those moments rarely make it to the internet.
In addition to setting up those around us unrealistically in our minds, we’re not portraying ourselvesin a realistic light. And while we might think that by making ourselves seem “cooler” to those around us we’ll have more friends or success or whatever we’re aiming for, I have tended to find that the opposite is true. We are making ourselves inaccessible, and it’s time to usher in a renewed sense of vulnerability. Our broken humanity is the one thing we have in common with every single person we encounter, and yet it’s the one thing we often try so hard to bury.
When we allow ourselves to enter into honest, vulnerable relationships with those around us and find our self-worth in something much greater than the impressions of those we drive past on the interstate, truly bountiful relationships are sure to flourish.