shared worlds

this week i realized that we built an entire world together.

everything exists on two planes: our own inner world, and in the spaces between us. there is a specific intimacy you discover when creating a whole universe with other people. it turns out that a shared world is one of the best things you can experience with another person, whether it be teammates, friends, family, or a significant other.

it happens slowly. maybe you spend everyday in close proximity, or stay up late talking to each other a lot, or work at the same tiny startup trying to accomplish the seemingly-impossible task of bringing something into existence which has never existed before. maybe you make small talk at lunch because you're stuck with each other so you might as well. maybe they mention their love of x so you start sending each other funny pictures about x between meetings, and wow, suddenly you have an inside joke to riff on when no one's listening.

we often don't know that we're building a world together until it exists; we do this without knowing. over time we pick up each other's quirks, create and extend jokes, spend each day together doing things which are insignificant when you're doing them but end up being the kinds of things you'll talk about later, like “remember when we stress-ate a whole bag of white rabbit candy together haha” with the specific fondness one will only recognize if they were there. sometimes the stories change; memory shapeshifts and becomes what we need of it. this happens a tiny bit at a time, until suddenly you have a world made up of true things and the things you made up together.

this continues on for a while. then one day something goes a little bit wrong and you want to express frustration at something in your world and realize that telling this to anyone else would require detailing six months of backstory first and explaining a whole other framework and that would be exhausting, so instead you tell each other and would you look at that, that's a feedback loop: this is how understanding is created. or maybe you wake up and realize you can't go explain your jokes to a third party; they don't make sense and aren't funny. the richer the shared world, the more incomprehensible it becomes to anyone on the outside. sometimes you accidentally catch a glimpse of the world that exists between two people, and marvel at how utterly nonsensical it is. it's impenetrable, none of it makes sense, and it won't. worlds only make sense to those who created them. hasn't that always been the case?

little by little, we give other people bits of ourselves. likewise, we adopt the very best parts of them—their written quirks, the exact way they start off a sentence, their frames, their models of experience. in doing so, we come a tiny bit closer to understanding each other—and that's where magic happens. the best worlds are always calibrating us; challenging us. if we're lucky, and we pick good people to create worlds with, we become the very best versions of ourselves together.

now, i marvel at worlds being built before my eyes, invisible threads which weave their way through interactions. look closely enough and you can see it happening everywhere, in real time—in the way a certain emoji propagates through a group chat, the same few words which three people now use to begin their stories, colloquialisms so outrageous they would never be said to a stranger, the way a turn of phrase makes its way through a friend group, things adopted ironically which become actual things you say, memes which really aren't funny but somehow become hilarious. these are the things which will become shared secrets, and everyone knows that shared secrets are the best kind of secrets.

this is the fever dream: this, the hazy in-between space where everything is just on the brink of being made real, where ideas are incubated, where castles are built without anyone ever even noticing that they're castles. it's all of us—here, together—quietly architecting something which doesn't quite exist yet, toward this shared vision which only we can see, conspiring secret plans which make no sense to anyone else.

maybe the way we fall short in all of our relationships is when we fail to create a world together—when we try but can't agree on a common language, try but never feel safe together, try but never quite manage to create that tiny, precious space between us where a world comes to life. world-building demands vulnerability on both sides—we agree to suspend disbelief together to create extraordinary things which can only exist in the space between us.

we change each other. if you're lucky enough to be surrounded by thoughtful humans, the act of existing together means constantly updating the way you understand each other—and in doing so, our own worlds expand. we become shared memory to each other, all stories and experiences and secrets which make up an invisible world. the space between two people is made up of emoji malapropisms, made-up words, photos which become shorthand for the way a moment feels, an entire language all their own. sometimes the very best things in life are unseen.

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