When You Want to Be Closer Than They Do | Part Seven

A User’s Guide to Managing Social Distance

This is Part Seven of a seven-part series published over seven consecutive weeks. 

“What if another kid is being mean?” Alex continued.  

“Then avoid them,” I answered. “You don’t have time to be around people who are mean to you. There are too many people who love you, like your Mommy and Chloe and I. Actually, we can be mean sometimes too. Everybody can. When we are mean, you should avoid us, too.” 

“You see, people who have empathy—which means they listen to other people and try to understand how they feel—have a lot of friends,” I continued. “When you see one of your friends, if you ask them how they are doing with questions like, ‘How is your life going?’ then they will want to spend time with you because most people don’t care how their life is going. If you show that you care, they will want to be your friend.” 

Alex looked at me and then off into the distance. Just as my instincts instructed me to share this lesson, they now guided me to stop. He would continue to learn his own lessons about managing social distance without a bulldozing parent that futilely attempts to clear all the thorns and brambles from his path

Taking It Home 

At this point, you may be carefully considering how you can manage social distance and create more reciprocal CMSRs given the unique family members, friends and coworkers in your life. Here are five strategies you may find helpful on your path. 

Read the writing on the wall. Acknowledge that friends are as friends do. Each time you interact with a good friend, acknowledge the level of closeness they seem to desire in your friendship. Then become aware of how close to them you wish to be. Based on the social distance both they and you desire, determine how you will act toward them. 

Meet people where they are. Acknowledge that each person in your life, at times, needs to be closer to you and at other times needs to be more distant—for reasons that often have nothing to do with you and everything to do with their own needs. Which needs? Possible candidates are competence, inclusion, autonomy and a whole host of other human motives that are difficult to comprehend unless you are walking in their shoes. Based on your intuitive understanding of (some) of these needs, adjust how you approach them. 

Attune to the social needs of others. Make a commitment to do two things: First, to appreciate your friends, family members or intimate partner when they demonstrate their wish to be close to you; second, to grant them the social distance they need when it is more than you desire. You will be pleasantly surprised at how your empathetic understanding and acceptance of their needs results in others wanting to be by your side more often and enables you to fill your life with the CMSRs you desire. 

Choose where you make an effort well. You can make the life-transforming decision to free yourself from the relentless longing of unreciprocated desire and only appreciate and make an effort with those few people who both share your desire for closeness and have the capacity to co-create a healthy and meaningful relationship with you. Remember that you always have a choice to make: to wish for a friend and wait around for someone to show up at your door or to be a friend and start making the necessary social overtures to develop the CMSRs with which you desire to fill your life. 

Treasure those who reciprocate. Make a pact with yourself to dedicate more time and energy to the people you have been taking for granted and less to those who have not been reciprocating your efforts. Once you begin to see not what you wish others would offer you, but what they can and do actually give, you will be able to equilibrate their energy with how you feel toward them. The result? Your relationships and life will become more in harmony. 

Do you think you put sufficient effort into your relationships? Do you notice a difference when you don’t?