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In Pursuit of Connections
On one of those precious New York nights at Carnegie Hall with my late teacher Mr. Modica, I recall one of the stories he had often repeated to his captive audience—his pupils. He’d tell us how he ran into an old student of his who seemed delighted to see him. “How are you?,” the student asked. Mr. Modica put down his head to gather his thoughts, would sigh, a cigarette rolling between his fingers, and by the time he’d lift his head he noticed that the former student had already crossed the road and was waving his goodbye.
There’s something that always struck me about that very basic interaction, as it did him. It was a reflection of exchanges that can often feel so cold and fleeting and lacking in real connection.
I would often think back to a scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly is surrounded by dozens of people at a house party. It’s rowdy, it’s alive, and yet, it’s perhaps the loneliest feeling of all. You can sense how alone she is in a crowded room.
I’ve forgotten, for the most part, how to socialize in the real world since the pandemic. My only such outing in a long time now has been as a guest to Brain Bar in Budapest. But, believe it or not, prior to that, I use to attend all sorts of festivities such as private receptions, premieries, galas, VIP events, dinners, and all that jazz.
I grew up brutally shy, so I had to make quite an adjustment. But I’ve gotten better over time. To amuse myself, often I’d make up entirely fictional identities, stories, or unusual questions to ask my fellow guests. To filter out certain types of people who were more keen on my credentials than getting to know me, I was also rather fond of inventing occupations—for example, I’d tell people that I’m a wallpaper salesperson and quickly watch them lose interest.
I claim that this is for entertainment purposes—and to some extent it’s true—but if I’m really honest, deep down it is because like Holly Golightly, I can feel exceptionally lonely in a crowded room. And also because I seek to connect with people beyond the superficial layer that’s often afforded at such rendezvouses. I’ve found that knocking them out of their normal ‘programming’ goes a long way. Yes, I come from the Bill Murray school of human interaction philosophy—just a little less extreme. And no one wants a selfie with me.
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But isn’t it ultimately what we all want deep down, a connection? Intimacy? In a digital age where on the one hand we’re more connected than ever through images, words, videos, and endless updates, we’re more disconnected from each other than ever before. There’s a sense of emptiness that no amount of pixels can replace.
We’ve got hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of acquaintances, but few real relationships. We reveal to others only what we want them to see, and as result they never get to know us. And we never get to know them.
We’ve traded the coldness of likes and comments for the ability to have meaningful connections. We may have many acquaintance and surface-level connections, but true intimacy can only come from being vulnerable.
It’s not an easy thing to be. And it’s not something that one can or should be with so many people. I’ve struggled with it. Trusting others isn’t easy. Not when you grow up as I have. Not when you have the temperament that I do. But I’ve recently learned (better late than never, right?) that by risking one’s self, by being truly vulnerable to another person—sharing fears, insecurities, and experiences—that’s where a surprise may emerge. You might feel acceptance. Better yet, the other person might even return the favor by being vulnerable with you. That’s how you get closer. You create a space for each other to be your true selves.
But the risk doesn’t always pay off. Sometimes the other person may turn cold or run away. Sometimes they won’t accept you. They won’t be willing to receive your vulnerability, let alone offer emotional intimacy in return. They might not be emotionally available. You might not feel heard, seen, or understood. And it might hurt so much that you’ll wish that you can cut off all your limbs just so that you can get rid of the emotional pain. And just as you think you’ve finally healed, that scab will tear open again. Such is life.
Emotional intimacy and vulnerability, as is the fear of it, both come at a cost.
But if we are unable to forge ahead, allowing the trepidations to take over, we shut down more. We feel more isolated. More disconnected. And no matter how much we mask it, beneath it all, we feel how alone we really are, unable to form truly deep and meaningful relationships with others.
We cannot know and be known by others.
“Everything is connected,” Douglas Adams’ holistic detective Dirk Gently would say. And so, we too are all connected to each other in some way. It is part of the human experience to seek to understand each other and ourselves, and perhaps ourselves through each other.
But those connections require us to be awake.
We won’t build the same intimate relationships with everyone. But it’s worth consider with whom we want to take the risk, and have meaningful, deep, authentic connections.
Still, that leaves everyone else. There’s room to cultivate authenticity there too, merely by being present and fully engaged in the moment. When asking how someone’s day was, by taking the care to actually listen. When being asked, by taking the breath to reflect for a moment. And hopefully at the end of the conversation, the person awaiting the answer hasn’t crossed the street before getting a chance to hear it.
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Who am I? I’m a writer with an overactive imagination and a random mind. Outside of Substack, you’ll find my work in publications such as Newsweek, WIRED, Variety, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Esquire, Playboy, Mashable, CNN Travel, The Independent, and many others.