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Communication Level 2: Tactical
Surprise! Another Note on Identity
Developing Your Authentic Identity
Building Meaningful Connections
Human connection is fucking epic.
It is at the centre of the best experiences we have in life. Even introverts have a deep desire for genuine human connection, it just looks a little different than it does for extroverts.
Why, then, do so many people get it wrong?
The world has never been so connected, but people have never been so disconnected. Everywhere you look, people are staring into screens and away from each other. People are together, but all alone.
Let’s see what the fuck is going on.
This step is very personal to me. I’ve experienced the beauty and bliss of deep and meaningful connections, and I’ve also been both perpetrator and victim in the most toxic of relationships.
Until you heal yourself from toxic behaviours, forming deep connections can result in unhealthy interdependencies and validation-seeking, or worse, can lead to serious emotional damage being done to yourself and others.
I could have avoided being the cause of much pain for myself and others if I’d just taken the time to work on myself first. Unhealthy relationships can escalate quickly if you don’t understand your own issues as well as those around dependency, validation, approval and boundaries that are laid out here.
So, sort your own shit out first. If you’re fucked up about something in particular, that’s where your work is, not in plugging the hole in your life with someone else’s soul.
If you have taken the time to sort your shit out, and you’re ready to mingle, then let’s crack on.
Context is important. To truly understand the human situation, and our need for connection, we need to look at our roots and how we became who we are.
We have lived in tribes or communities for as long as we have existed. (1)
There is added security in groups, we could hunt more efficiently, and we could work together on tasks such as gathering firewood or scouting for water. (2)
A number of scientists today believe that a special type of neuron in the human brain means that social interaction could be responsible for the cognitive revolution. These mirror neurons help us understand the intentions, emotions and experiences of other humans based on facial expression, hand gestures and body language. This is what allowed us to work together on increasingly complex tasks. (3)
My point is this: for 2 million years we lived in tribes and worked together to become the dominant species on the planet. But times change.
Modern society has evolved beyond the tribe. Now, whether we agree with it or not, we have a global community. The local community, upon which we used to depend until very recently, doesn’t really exist in any meaningful sense.
This lack of community can lead to feelings that we don’t belong. And without the regular social interactions that humans have evolved with, we can very quickly fall into feelings of loneliness, isolation and even depression. And loneliness can be as much of a health risk as smoking and obesity. (4)
There are other communities, from your family unit up to the nation, that you belong to; tribalism still pervades modern life. But the essence of the true tribal community is all but lost, and with it we’ve lost much of its benefits.
Having a place in the tribe that made you feel a deep sense of belonging, competing and collaborating with other members to develop skills, interacting will the tribe on different levels and contributing to the shared success and failure of the tribe are all examples of missing components of today’s modern societies.
What’s more, depression, anxiety and general purposelessness are all direct results of a society without a strong sense of community or belonging.
Yes, there are substitutes. Sports teams, businesses, community projects, etc., all plug gaps that our tribal roots have left behind. But the connections made in these organisations are often superficial, dysfunctional or even more damaging due to concerns such as exclusionism, bullying, or the lack of adequate structure within the organisation.
So instead, we look to technology for connection.
Digital communities plug the gaps in our souls. As we long for deeper connection, social media giants provide packaged substitutes on tap just a few clicks away.
But still, that’s not enough. It’s not enough because a screen doesn’t capture a human connection verbatim and deliver it to the recipient, and it never will.
People will damage their health and make themselves miserable to get likes on Instagram because they’ve let social media become a poor substitute for deep human connection. And they want more, more and more, because it just can’t fill a hole that it’s not meant for.
This need for belonging and the need to connect is what drives social media use, and last time I checked their business models were looking pretty healthy.
Digital connection fills the space in our life that true connection would take, but it can leave us more disconnected than ever. That’s partly because social media is designed to be addictive, and addiction and connection are polar opposites. (5)
(There are organisations that tackle social media addiction. A great place to start is the Centre for Humane Tech.)
Technology isn’t to blame, though. Technology is just a tool, and tools aren’t innately good or bad. Technology, including social media, is responsible for good in the world too.
The key is in understanding your innate desire to connect and consciously working to connect with others before Facebook uses that need against you. To do this, you’ll need to use another tool, and one that is much better for you than social media: communication.
The superpower for step 5 is without a doubt communication.
Our society is littered with people who can’t communicate well at all. The impact of this is a colossal fuckstorm of angry people whose needs and desires aren’t being met and whose boundaries are being crossed because they haven’t taken the time to properly communicate.
I believe communication has three levels: closed, tactical and open, and we’ll explore each one as this article unfolds.
Thoughts and emotions exist within us all and sharing these is central to the human experience. Often, people bottle these up, too afraid to share their honest thoughts and feelings. This is closed communication.
Closed communication isn’t the same as being quiet or withdrawn. Often, the loudest and most talkative people are closed communicators. The topic of the conversation doesn’t matter either, you can have deep conversations about eating mangoes and shallow conversations about the universe and life itself.
The closedness refers to whether someone is willing to open themselves up, express their true thoughts, and allow themselves to be vulnerable.
Closed communication prevents deeper connection because you are holding your cards close to your chest, fearful of judgement or rejection, but unaware that without opening yourself up, you guarantee what you’re trying to prevent. By remaining closed you make sure you never connect with others.
Until we express our true selves, we can never connect with others the way we were born to.
In his massively influential book, Games People Play, psychologist Eric Berne defined how the human ego works in what became known as transactional analysis.
The premise of transactional analysis is that society is full of people playing games with each other. These games aren’t conscious most of the time, and they often stem from who we were as a child and what we’ve learned from our parents.
Berne explains the ego splits into three states: child, parent and adult.
The child is the spontaneous part of you that you’re born with. When you create something or play games, you become your inner child.
The parent is the built by observing your parents or carers growing up and seeing them in charge in different situations. When you give your partner a bollocking for spilling the wine, you become your inner parent.
The adult is your rational thinking self who has reflected on your childhood and who is able to deal with problems in the here and now. When you solve puzzles at work, you’re the adult.
Each of these states manifests in different ways – but this isn’t the issue.
The issue is that throughout your whole life, you’ll pretend to act from one state when you’re acting from another. This is what Berne describes as playing a game, and it’s the cause of much misery throughout your life, including being one of the most significant obstacles in true connection.
One classical example I’m sure you’ll recognise is what Berne calls: Why Don’t You – Yes But (WDYYB).
In WDYYB, someone will ask another person or group for advice on something. In return, the person or group will offer sound and rational advice, but the person with the problem will keep thinking of excuses to dismiss the suggestions.
On the surface, it appears everyone is being an adult – but what is happening is the person with the problem has defaulted to their child state and the group are playing adult roles. This allows the child to pretend their problem is unsolvable and they are in fact a victim, feeding their feelings of helplessness that comforts them.
There are a fuckload more games, and we’ve all played them. But by not being truly honest with ourselves and others in difficult situations, we only guarantee that the difficult situations continue.
You can’t fix a problem until you recognise its existence.
Tactical communication is the most common form of communication I see.
When you open up a little bit and express your thoughts and emotions just enough to get what you want – this is tactical communication. It’s not necessarily dishonest, though it can be. It’s more likely to be selective, where you only communicate to serve your own agenda and achieve your own goals/needs/desires.
At a personal relationship level this is typically withholding information that makes you appear better to others. More subtle forms involve projecting beliefs or ideals that you know are flawed or you don’t even believe in just to fit in or to look a certain way. This creates discord in your life that costs far more than it benefits you as the connection becomes built on bullshit.
Tactical communication is built on half-truths and manipulation, but it forgets a simple fact: building relationships on shitty foundations means the relationship (a part of your life) is inevitably fucked.
Tactical communication builds selfish relationships that often lead to pain and suffering for both parties. The ultimate goal of connection isn’t to hide a part of yourself, it’s to open yourself up so you can build honest connections with others.
The people you surround yourself with matters.
You may have heard that you’re the average of the 5 people you spend your time with. This is obviously a nice quotable – but it demonstrates an undeniable truth. Your circle defines how far you can go in life and what sort of shit you can achieve.
Being surrounded by people who don’t have your best interests at heart, who are tactical communicators only out for what they can get, or who have conflicting values from yours, is destined to limit your potential in life.
The benefits of a strong circle show up all over the place.
Psychologically, connecting with others can lead to improved social skills, increased confidence and a generally healthy psychological state. It can reduce anxiety and depression, help with stress and restore levels of happiness after difficult times.
Physically, strong connections can lead to increased fitness levels and healthy weight levels, for a few reasons. First, by eliminating the psychological issues above, you can find the space to take care of your own health. Second, meaningful connections with others involves looking out for each other, and encouraging healthy habits and behaviours. Third, a solid way to connect with others is through physical activities, like hiking, walking, exercise and sports.
Meaningful connections improve self-awareness, make us more present, give us perspective in life, support us through difficult times and enrich our lives. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point.
Now you know the importance of your connections, let’s take a look at a difficult truth. The people you naturally fall into friendships with on your journey aren’t necessarily people that share your values. Often, your default connections are just a by-product of the journey you’ve been on.
To showcase this, consider the people you meet now as an adult on the path of personal growth. How many of them just ‘click’ from the start? I’d argue a relatively small number, compared with the number of friends you’ve fallen in with over the years. That’s because we’re each different and have different values and personalities.
Often, your friendship group is simply defined by the people in your age group and location. This is what I call default connections.
There’s nothing wrong with default connections. I’m not here to convince you to cut ties with your lifelong friends and go move into a hippie commune. It’s just important to realise which of these connections are meaningful, and which aren’t–which of them are defined by open communication and shared values and which are just war buddies, people you’ve been in the trenches with as you both fought your respective battles, who you share war stories and scars with, but nothing much else.
Considering this is important, as it will give you an idea on which connections to double down on, and which to limit. This doesn’t mean cutting ties with anyone, it just means prioritising yourself over keeping up appearances.
A lot of people use the word love for shit that isn’t love. People romanticise possessiveness, manipulation, dependency and validation like they’re meaningful and healthy.
So, let me explain why each of those things are absolute bullshit. And I know, having completed PhD’s in them all.
While the language here will focus on romantic relationships as this is where this fuckery is most common – this shit applies to friendships and family relationships too.
At the centre of love is acceptance. It’s impossible to accept something as it is and then impose restrictions upon it. By claiming to love someone then trying to control their actions, you run counter to the nature of love.
(Monogamous relationships are an example of an agreement being made not to engage with other partners. This isn’t possessiveness, but mutual agreement.)
Possessiveness is, of course, based on insecurity. We touched on this in step 4 when we looked at reverse fuckery. You can’t make someone love you more by force. By trying to control others, you inevitably push them away.
Manipulation also runs counter to acceptance and as such is contradictory to love. Too many people get into a relationship for fucked up reasons and expect to be able to change their partners in different ways to suit their agendas.
This isn’t love, this is ego. The belief that the relationship you’ll build is there to serve you and fit your narrative is pure ego-driven bullshit. Thinking back to transactional analysis – this is another example where spoiled children pretend to be adults to engage in a relationship then use all manner of bullshit to get what they want.
Dependency is another little gremlin masquerading as love.
Depending on others isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At times, we all depend on others. In fact, helping each other in life is a huge part of human connection. But there are two reasons to be cautious when it comes to dependency.
First, dependency gets mistaken for love. By helping others, we become seen in a positive light and this can lead to attachment for what we can give, and not who we are. This results in relationships based on something other than those in it–what one person can provide to the other. This can lead to bitterness, insecurities and general friction between people, and is vulnerable to outside forces that limit what can be provided.
Second, dependency can easily lead to co-dependency, where neither partner is able to act independently. This gives the relationship ultimate power over both parties and distorts their perspective of reality. It also makes it difficult to see when things become unhealthy, which they tend to in these kinds of relationships.
Validation isn’t an inherently bad thing. Connecting with like-minded humans gives us validation about who we are, what we’re experiencing, and our thoughts and emotions.
Like dependency though, when validation becomes central to the relationship and serves as the reason for the relationship, it’s a clear sign that things have crossed the line of what is healthy and what is not.
As a rule of thumb, the reason to have any form of relationship with another person shouldn’t be based on what you can control, what you can achieve or what the relationship gives you. These are all subtractive – taking from another person, losing independence and being controlled.
Forming relationships should be additive. The relationship should create more for both parties, not less for either party. Two independent people who are with each other because they want to be, because the connection itself makes life mutually better. That’s the goal here.
You have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends, and your family. The third face, you never show anyone.
This supposed proverb highlights what the father of modern psychology Carl Jung defined as personas.
We all have multiple personas that we use in different situations and with different people, and we generally have more than three. Think about whether you’d speak and act exactly the same with your grandma, a stranger or the police. Probably not, and these three groups are only a small part of your life. (Unless you and your grandma smuggle hopeful migrants into the country.)
Being aware of these personas, or masks, is important. They help you understand the different parts of your psyche and recognise yourself as a multifaceted being.
Having so much going on can cause problems, though. Inner conflict between different personas can make you indecisive and hypocritical. Ignoring parts of yourself that you have a deep need to express can result in inner turmoil and all manner of fuckery. And acting a certain way to appease others that doesn’t align with your authentic self is the quickest way to feel out of touch in your own life.
Preventing these types of inner fuckery relies on developing your authentic identity.
Don’t fuck with other people until you’ve sorted your own shit out.
We’re social animals living in an unsociable world.
We all play games. Recognising and eliminating these games is essential for deeper connection.
Who is in your life matters as much as anything.
Life is too short to fuck around with people who aren’t your people.
In earlier steps we looked at stripping back your identity. This is an important process that removes the shit that pulls you in different directions so that you can get in touch with who you really are.
Deeper and more meaningful connections come after doing the inner work for this very reason. Without understanding yourself, who you are and what you want, you’re going to develop all sorts of weird relationships based on shit that isn’t important to you.
By first stripping back your identity so all that remains is real and genuine, you can then get to work on expanding areas of your real self that matter most to you. This is what I call developing your authentic identity.
There’s a reason this is step 5. When you understand yourself, your values, the limitations of your beliefs, your good and bad habits and what you want from life – these things will ultimately define the kinds of people that you would want in your life.
This doesn’t mean only spending time with people who can help you reach your goals. Much to the contrary, proper human connection isn’t based on what you get from another person but from what you share with them, such as values, experiences, hobbies, habits and goals.
Here are some funky Venn diagrams that explain shit.
Before doing the work to remove parts of your identity that aren’t really you, such as your limiting beliefs, unconscious values, unhealthy habit or uncontrolled emotions, you’ll cling to connections that are incompatible with your true self.
This can fuck you right up, because you’ll defend the parts of yourself that are damaging and unhealthy so you can justify the connection, and likewise you’ll defend the connection to justify the unhealthy parts that you’re too afraid to change.
It’s your life. If you want to carry trauma bonds, addiction acquaintances and fuckery-fuelling friendships that prevent you from healing, overcoming bad habits and conquering your mind, that’s on you. Nobody is coming to save you. You’re in charge.
But, if you don’t want to, and decide to follow the steps I’ve laid, I’m confident you can and will live an exceptional life.
Let’s see how that looks.
This image shows a smaller, truer, more authentic you. Here, many circles still overlap, but some just don’t. And that’s cool. You’re not for everyone, and everyone isn’t for you. By identifying and understanding this, you help you and them. Being different people isn’t a one-way street. They’ll be better off spending their time with their tribe too.
Inevitably, there will be parts of you that have no overlap with others. These are sometimes the parts you’re too scared to fully embrace because of the fear of judgement of certain groups. By removing the groups who don’t overlap with your true self, you should solve this problem for the most part.
Quick reality check: we’re all weirdos. Normality isn’t really a thing. It’s a collection of ideas that only exists in our collective minds. We’re all just a bunch of weirdos floating through space on a little wet rock.
To develop your authentic identity, you need to embrace your weirdness. You need to identify which parts of yourself are yours, fully embrace them in all their weird glory and shamelessly exhibit them.
Life’s too fucking short to squash your star-shaped self into a bland and boring square-shaped box.
Life is about being unashamedly yourself. And meaningful connection comes from showing up in relationships as your authentic self, allowing others to see you and accept you. And in turn, it’s also about accepting others in all their weirdness.
And, by accepting these strange parts of yourself, you stop them from being weaknesses that yourself and others can use against you. Have you ever seen Eminem’s rap battle in 8 mile? If so, you know exactly what I mean. If not, here it is:
Yes, he’s talking up flaws here, but he’s also accepted everything about himself and liberated himself from judgement by embracing his situation as it is.
Wear wellies to the beach. Never put pants on. Get the joker’s makeup tattooed on your face. Whatever the fuck your weird is – live that shit. It’ll pay dividends later. Trust me.
When you’ve embraced your weirdness and begin connecting with others around that shared weirdness, you become free to be your real, weird self.
Our community is the global community, so we seek approval from it as a proxy for belonging. But this community is so vast and complex, and we then compete in all arenas with the global elites trying to win at games that aren’t ours.
The game isn’t to seek approval from the world, or any faction of it; it’s to find belonging in certain tribes within the whole, where our commonalities deepen our connections with others and our differences complement and enrich the whole.
To do so, then, must be a conscious and intentional act.
Understanding and developing your authentic self allows for the ultimate form of communication: open communication. This is defined by being honest, transparent and forthcoming in your communication with others.
No matter the kind of relationship, open communication is essential for forming deep connections. In spite of this, it’s actually quite rare. So rare, that when it happens it often surprises and offends people.
That’s because open communication is uncomfortable at times. But strong relationships are defined by open communications especially when it’s uncomfortable. That discomfort is an opportunity to open up and explore a difficult area together.
If a friend, partner or family member does something to piss you off, then tell them. This is where boundaries are drawn, and as we’ll see, boundaries are your friend.
In addition, we all have wants, needs and desires in life. Without communicating what they are honestly and openly, they can never be realised. And without building an environment of openness within relationships, others are more likely to withhold their honesty too.
Open communication isn’t the norm in our society, and so to truly connect with others on a deep level you need to make it the norm in your relationships. You need to lead with honesty and allow others the space to be honest too.
Throughout this article I’ve talked about relationships loosely, but who are the others? Who am I talking about building meaningful connections with?
I believe pretty much everything here is applicable for friendships, family and romantic partners.
You probably have some deep connections in your life already, as it’s our natural human inclination to gravitate towards those who are likeminded.
But herein lies another problem: your bad decisions can also unite you with people. If the shared overlap here is around a negative force in your life, then this could become a mutually damaging relationship and one you might want to limit.
I know that’s not an easy thing to do, especially when time served is a factor. But unless you can both overcome your negative habits and re-establish your relationship on new ground, it is likely this relationship will always lead you back to the same trouble.
Once you’ve established your authentic self, you’re more able to explore areas that are aligned with what you feel you need and who you want to connect with. There is method to the madness.
To some people, the idea of build their tribe sounds daunting, I know. And for different people, different levels of daunting.
The introverts whisper: I don’t want a tribe.
The extroverts scream: everyone is my tribe.
And you’re both wrong.
First off, to my introverts: everyone needs a tribe. For the reasons I just laid out, of course.
I’d also argue that a part of introversion is not wanting to connect with certain people in your vicinity, because they’re not your kind of people. And this is totally fine, in fact I’d encourage it. But connection is too fucking good not to connect with others, and this shouldn’t be limited to your partner only, because that leads to the unhealthy dependencies we discussed earlier.
Second, to my extroverts: not everyone can be in your tribe.
For one, Robin Dunbar would be pissed. Dunbar is the anthropologist who inferred people can only really hold close relations with a maximum of 150 people. He conveniently defined close relations as someone you’d be willing to join for a drink if you saw them out without feeling awkward. (For the record, this doesn’t mean if you’d happily drink with strangers then the whole world is in your tribe, but nice try.)
That’s because your tribe is a carefully curated group of what I like to call the others.
These are the other people, like you.
The other creators, dreamers, doers, warriors, thinkers, lovers, poets, fighters, rock stars, thieves and rascals.
They’re the people whose values align with your own.
You don’t need to find people who are just like you. In fact, I’ll save you the time: nobody is just like you. We’re each unique in our experiences and preferences. That’s the beauty of this whole thing. Our differences are what define our original selves, they shouldn’t need to conform.
Values are the key to this process.
If you have followed this process properly, your values will be well-defined and be the most important part of what you believe about yourself and the world. They’re your guide through this shitstorm – they aren’t there just to pick up and put back down.
Values guide so much of your life that deeper connection with those whose values are not compatible with your own will usually lead to friction and compromise in areas that you really shouldn’t compromise on.
That doesn’t mean two people need to have the same values to connect. But they need to be compatible. By this, I mean they shouldn’t be in direct conflict with one another. If you’re an eco-warrior and your partner is an oil tycoon, there’s likely to be issues. Or if you believe in equality and your best friend is a KKK member, there’ll probably be some friction there, too.
These are obviously extreme examples, but a quick glance at Facebook will show you how common conflicting values occur.
Embrace the differences with those you decide to connect with and explore each other’s value systems. Chances are the underlying values are more aligned than you might think. But, if at the core there are incompatibilities there, this could be a limiting factor in your relationship.
Blood is blood, and no matter which way you cut it that shit matters. I know people who don’t see their family at all, and others who couldn’t go a day without seeing theirs. Both situations matter to those people, just in different ways.
Connection with your family can set the tone for your life, and you may have learnt during the process of unwinding your conditioning that much of it stems from your family home as a child and young adult.
That can make your relationships with your brothers, sisters and parents uniquely fucked up. I can’t offer a magic fix here, but what I can offer is a cheerful reminder: sooner or later we will all die.
Anything you can do to put bad blood with family members behind you is a positive step towards lasting inner peace. That doesn’t mean having them round for Christmas dinner, it just means putting the grievance to bed so that the place in your mind that it occupies can be filled with something that better serves you.
Anger is a burden, forgiveness a gift.
The ideal is a healthy connection with family who mutually love and support one another and harbour an environment for open communication.
The absolute minimum is to forgive them of their sins, recognising that they’re just fucked up humans like us all, and let go of the pain of resentment.
There are a million shades of grey in-between, so my advice would be to optimize as best you can.
Your partner obviously holds a special place in your life. Where they fit into this puzzle is something you need to figure out.
The first thing you need to ascertain, is whether they fit into it at all. Yes, this sounds extreme. But hear me out.
If you’re not in a relationship that you’re certain is right, and it’s been a while, then chances are it’s wrong. There are so many mediocre things in this world, love shouldn’t be one of them.
Now, of course, there are caveats upon caveats here. So, to avoid getting six caveats deep, let me give you one caveat that puts them all to bed. The king of caveats: there are always exceptions. Life throws curveballs and everyone goes through bad patches. I’m not talking about that shit. I’m talking about the connection that exists between you.
Love should be magnificent. In whatever way you define magnificent.
If it’s not, then ending it is the absolute best thing you can do. For both of you.
Building healthy relationships is hard work.
It’s also magical, empowering, enlightening, fulfilling, rewarding and many more positive adjectives that I can’t be arsed to list. Basically, it’s fucking brilliant.
But it’s still hard work.
A relationship is separate from the sum of its parts. Both people exist independently, and then the relationship exists as this third thing that you both create. As such, it takes effort to create, sustain and defend from inevitable bumps in the road.
Here are a few ideas that can make it easier to first connect with others, foster deeper connections, and protect things from going wrong.
By living a life that is true to who you are, you will attract people of a similar nature.
That’s because people naturally gravitate to those with similar beliefs and views of the world, and they naturally feel some resistance towards those with different beliefs. This is a dual-edged sword and something that is scary and liberating in equal measure. But it is essential in showing to the others, like you, that you are like them.
If you’re a yogi, that may mean heading to yoga dens and spiritual hangouts, where other yogis hang.
If you’re seriously into Star Wars and the whole sci-fi thing, that could mean going to comic cons, or sci-fi movie nights.
If you’re bang into cooking, reach out on social media to others who are into that shit and arrange to meet up, or collaborate on a delicious cake and send me some.
The list goes on, but you get the point.
These are obviously simple examples and most people aren’t so simple to categorise. And that’s great. If you’ve got a diverse and eclectic range of interests, then you have the choice of indulging different ones and seeing what kind of people you meet.
Put yourself out there. Go to shared interest groups, involve yourself in projects to help others, collaborate at work, join a sports team or exercise class. There is a fuckload of ways to meet people like you (post-pandemic, of course).
In 2019, I spent some time in the Peruvian Amazon, swimming in the Amazon river, and eventually hiking the Inca trail to Machu Picchu. These experiences brought me closer to people that I know I’ll have a connection with for the rest of my life.
Profound and interesting experiences, or challenges that are daunting and exciting, are excellent ways to deepen your connection with others.
They’re also a great way to potentially meet people that are of a similar inclination. If you’ve always fancied visiting the Northern Lights, swimming the Great Barrier Reef (or what’s left of it), or hiking in the Himalayas, by signing up to a group tour solo, you push yourself in to situations where you have to meet people.
Because of the nature of these kinds of experiences, there are only a subset of people with the balls to do such things, which increases your chances of meeting someone with shared values.
This is one of the times counterintuitive advice hits the spot perfectly. By having healthy boundaries, you don’t allow the relationship to drift into a place that is unhealthy, and that serves both parties.
Some boundaries can be negotiable, but you should know what your non-negotiables are and if they’re not respected, you need to address this.
Sometimes, that means walking away.
All relationships have the potential to become toxic, and when they do you need to know when to cut loose. Saying no is a powerful thing, and by walking away from a toxic relationship you are simply saying no to allowing the toxic impact of the relationship to continue.
You cannot control a relationship, and you shouldn’t try to. But you should take care around how you show up in relationships and how you handle them when they go bad.
One area that is the cause of a lot of trouble in relationships is expectations. Or specifically, unmet expectations.
As we explored in step 4, expectations aren’t your friend. In fact, expectations are the enemy when it comes to building meaningful relationships.
Using open communication and making agreements on the boundaries and behaviours that you’ll stick to are a great way to build strong and meaningful connections. But if you don’t discuss what is and isn’t acceptable at different levels of the relationship, you can’t be upset when these unspoken expectations are unmet in whatever way that is.
I call this the expectation trap, and it’s the cause of a large number of arguments just because two people won’t take the time to talk about shit upfront, but instead assume a whole bunch of shit.
In the first part of this article, we explored what love isn’t. Here, for completeness, I’ll share what I think love is.
Love is about being your most authentic self. It’s about stripping back the bullshit and bravado that you use to get by in an often-difficult world and opening yourself up entirely to another human being. And it’s about that other person choosing to do the same with you.
It’s about understanding that other people exist and that they’re different from you, but that you recognise and accept all of the differences in another person. It’s about knowing that humans are inherently flawed creatures and not only accepting those flaws but loving them as part of the whole of another human.
I believe love is acceptance without intention. It has no agenda or no need to change anything. And in turn, any need to change is stripped away by mutual acceptance and understood as simply a flaw in the human psyche.
I’m aware how fluffy this shit sounds, but I believe it to be true. There are no prerequisites for love, it’s simply a feeling of acceptance and deep connection with another human being. It can exist between any two humans at any time and is one of the gifts of the human experience.
The rest – commitment, compromise, effort, struggle, growth, pain and joy. These come later and are separate and different entities that hold both positive and negative aspects.
Step 1: the connection map
The first place to start is in doing a little audit on your connections right now.
Look at your life. Consider the people in it and your connection with them. One good way to visualise this is to draw a connection map like below.
Step 2: cut ties, limit involvement and double down
Look at your connections and decide which are the most important, those you want to strengthen.
Also, decide if there are any that you might have outgrown. Take the time to come to terms with that and how it’ll look. It’s not a comfortable topic to consider, but walking away from connections that aren’t right is good for both parties.
Step 3: identify gaps
Consider your interests, goals and identity within the connection map you’ve drawn. Consider these questions:
Look to identify where you might feel there are blind spots which will help with step 4.
Step 4: find the others
Finally, you should have an idea about parts of your authentic self that might not be truly represented in your current circle. That’s where the work is.
Using the tactics here, put yourself out there and begin being open to new connections in your life that you can truly connect with on a deep level.
The others, like you, are waiting.
Connecting with others is one of the most enriching parts of the human experience. Without making the effort, you’re destined to live a superficial life never exploring the depths of meaningful connection. With that effort, you can create a truly exceptional and rewarding life.
Don’t fuck with other people until you’ve sorted your own shit out.
We’re social animals living in an unsociable world.
We all play games. Recognising and eliminating these games is essential for deeper connection.
Who is in your life matters as much as anything.
Life is too short to fuck around with people who aren’t your people.
We’re all weirdos here. Embracing your weirdness will set you free.
Open communication is essential for deep and meaningful connections.
Connecting with people with shared values is where it’s at.
Family matters. Optimize it as best you can.
Life’s too fucking short to settle for half-arsed love.
Healthy boundaries are the backbone of strong relationships.
Unagreed expectations fuck relationships up.