After 2.5 years of living with family, I write this from a hotel bed in a new country. My family is loving, and living with them meant that our lives intertwined. From the moment you wake up to a warm tea, to sharing dinner over “what happened at work today” and "how is the mood". Sometimes, I would fluster and get annoyed at our co-dependency. But now that I am all alone, all of a sudden, I realise the amount of time, our little rituals would occupy in our lives, that it feels like a void without them. A void, that takes me active mental effort to keep my mind engaged to avoid spiralling.
My family bonds majorly over meals. A 15-minute dinner can easily stretch to 45 minutes over the ramblings of the day. The weekend means deeper conversations, drinks with the fam and long meals. A Sunday breakfast of paranthas, and a 3-hour dinner lovingly and labouriously prepared by my brother, from sourcing the meat to slow cooking sessions, followed by my occasional desserts. The many small rituals of care that followed. Eggs made to individual tastes or the way we would all bring something to the kitchen and shared it together. I ordered the coffee, and my brother connocted it, and served it in my dad's cute china mugs. A guilty pleasure didn't feel like a biggie as we all enjoyed it together in small portions — a pizza, a buttery butter chicken, or icecreams or the souvenir alcohol we had curated from all parts of the world.
Our lives are shared with these small acts of care in both physical effort and the emotional labour of listening actively and empathetically. And now that I sit a 1000 miles away from them, I am starting to wonder, why did I give it all away?!
2020 was a year of emotional growth. A particular lesson in therapy made me realise that I too, in fact, enjoy caregiving. Something which I always imagined myself to be averse to. When the puppy came into our lives, I noticed how much I loved caring for my little Pablo, or buying random gifts for parents because they wouldn't or just being there to make their day better. Now that I return frequently to an empty house, I yearn for being asked to share little details of my day. I had never ever noticed this yearning before - the little joys of sharing my life and how much it added to my life till the world hit rock bottom with the abject hopelessness of 2020. To do something for someone I care about, to be there for them in whatever capacity they need me in — words feel immensely belittling to explain what one gets in return. It's not something material, it's not something petty like a social pedestal, it's not something chemical like dopamine, it has to be something more wholesome.
2021 was another pivotal year. My idea of being self-centred took a little shake. At a strange cusp of being burnt out and feeling dejected with the job I loved, I realised that once career successes get normalised in your life, the peaks can only add so much as a dent to your happiness curve that it feels underwhelming. And sure, you can add things outside of work. You can add hobbies, side projects and self-goals, EVERYTHING. But all of it is so much better when there is someone around you. Mirroring your happiness and making sure you know that things are not so bad. Life is more vivid when shared with people you love, each emotion more persistent. It just is.
In this year 30, I sit in this new country, learning to make friends again. I went on a walk with someone I recently met, and I thought to myself that "this is nice", thank God that they accommodated some time to spend with me.
We don't teach that enough. The Instagram wisdom markets non-accommodating selfishness as the new, cool 'introvert' and prompt everyone to be their own self-sustainable islands. But we forget that we are not islands. A rich emotional life is more like a jungle where beings interact with its surroundings and there are dynamics to foster. Self-awareness would tell you that all dynamics are bidirectional. We give and then we receive (most of the times).
It is Work for sure, to give, to have an actual conversation where we unwrap why I'm not feeling too well today, to make the emotional labour of planning not just the birthdays, but small emotional milestones and rituals. It is the little things that add up. Time only makes sense with the rituals. Because the rituals give the meaning.
When I'm vulnerable with you, please don't take the higher ground by providing me with a solution instead. One little speck of judgement makes me want to bottle up again. Just tell me instead, that I'm not alone and you have felt the same way. I often regret to think of my wasted time over coffee conversations which never became anything deeper because they all had very ‘by-the-way’ content and not enough nuance of emotion. // Oh, the friends we could have been. Sigh
If we don't tell the people around us where to be tender with us, then how can have any surface area for any trust or intimacy? If we don't let others help us or be observant enough to know when to return it, it's a missed opportunity.
The self and the world around us are not mutually exclusive, we merge with the world through the people around us. We experience the world and its perception of us.
Scientifically speaking, our minds are less stressed, not in survivalist mode but when we're in a community. Life is meant for sharing.
P.S Another nuance on the same topic here