Navigating the Vulnerabilities of Relationships, Change & Identity
A number of years ago, during a dinner conversation with some close coworkers, I was deeply struck by the revelation of a vulnerability of mine. I tried to ignore the feeling at first, but it kept resurfacing. I got so sick of it nagging away at me that I finally chose to come to terms with its existence.
I realized I had a complete and utter fear of people leaving. If it sounds irrational, it kind of was, but there was this track titled, “People Always Leave” that played on repeat in my head for years.
I knew it was a major soft spot for me because every time someone left, moved on, or something changed, I’d pretend I was much less affected by it than I really was.
Vulnerability can be a survival instinct like that; a fight or flight response, where flight wins out almost every time. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we tend to avoid situations that make us feel vulnerable at all costs.
To be clear, I’m not necessarily referring to romantic relationships or “break-ups”. In a way, it had just become a pretty accurate description for a large number of experiences in my life. And to be honest, I was probably the one doing the leaving a fair bit of the time, too.
Either way, my coping mechanisms became: avoidance, distance, justification, apathy, resistance; and what I assumed to be a healthy sense of “independence”.
I’d think: If I avoid (said) relationships, if I keep myself just distant enough, if I disregard the nature of any feelings, if I never get too close in the first place… I’m safe, right?
Within my 20-something years, I’ve lived in 12 houses. In three different cities. I went to two elementary schools, separate from my middle school, then a high school in a different district. I chose the college my hometown friends weren’t going to, and then randomly moved to a new city after graduation. Then moved back home.
No, I don’t think I’m special or unique in this. There are plenty of military families (or what have you), millennial nomads, and avid explorers that have picked up and moved around far more than me. The point is, I was always jealous of the people around me that were fully grown, yet still hanging out with their best friend(s) from next door when they were 5 years old. I’d always wished I had some sort of “Now and Then” posse that had been with me since the beginning.
Throughout college, I had friends transfer, graduate, get kicked out, and even die within my four short years. My family went through one of its most emotionally and spiritually trying seasons. Some of the strongest relationships I’d formed, were suddenly not physically there anymore.
Burying the pain and confusion of each loss, I started steadily withdrawing. In a way, it’s as if I figured I might as well leave, too. After all, what was the point in engaging?
Needless to say, I became fast friends with isolation.
Post-grad, I chose to start with a clean slate and a fresh outlook by moving to a new city. Problems solved, right?
It seemed I’d chosen a job where weekly attrition was the name of the game. We used to joke around and say,“another one bites the dust” every time someone else put in their two-weeks’ notice. Eventually, I was the next one to leave that job, and move on to another, and then another.
In those three jobs, I’d seen plenty of people come and go, and many move on to something different, or better suited for them. Few of the situations were for negative reasons. So maybe it’s not so much that people always ‘leave’, but they do move around. A lot. I now also know that leaving doesn’t have to be synonymous with ending.
Seasons change. Transition comes. Shift happens. But we’re human beings capable of adapting to change, and change is often the very thing that catapults our growth and development. At times, fortunately or unfortunately, it’s with or without the same people by our side.
I’m still learning that relationships will always be what we make of them. They’re never about giving 50/50, but giving 100% – not some of the time, not when its convenient, but all the time. It’s also about being intentional with the relationships that have been put in our midst, setting boundaries, striving for mutual health, and choosing to invest in the ones that matter the most to you.
Bearing in mind: “You cannot be all the things to all the people” (Hannah Brencher).
What we can do is have faith that the connections, friendships, and relationships that are meant to be, will persist. The right ones will transcend the boundaries of time and space, and they might not look like our idea of the perfect #squad post on Instagram. They don’t have to.
At the end of the day, mobility is a blessing, and one I’m constantly exploring and coming to terms with. I’ve also fully experienced the bravery in staying, and the power in getting planted.
Regardless of what the situation calls for, we can learn to make relationships a priority, even when they make us feel vulnerable. We can honor and encourage people even when they go through transition, change, celebration, or hardship. Relationships can and should evolve over time. They ebb and flow through give and take – but mostly give.
The more we focus on the One person in our lives who is perfectly unchanging (Jesus Christ), and who gave everything of His life, the more our identity can become rooted and anchored in the right places.
(See Hebrews 13:18, Isaiah 40:8, Numbers 23:19, etc.)
We will become immoved by an imperfect world that will often leave us feeling shaken and abandoned.
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.” (Psalm 125:1, ESV)
So maybe people don’t always leave. Maybe they do. Or maybe we just take a little bit of each other, and a whole lot of Jesus, everywhere we go. Rain or shine. Whether here or there.
“We don’t need to save up love like we’re going to need it later. We’re rivers, not reservoirs.” (Bob Goff)
Fear less. Love more. We can do that.
Also published on Odyssey Media.
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