by Ron Vitale
There's a scene toward the end of the 2013 Best Picture Oscar nominated movie Her in which Theodore, played wonderfully by Joaquin Phoenix, sits on the stairs leading down to a subway. He's distraught and his eye is drawn to people coming up the stairs toward him. There are men and women, but they are all talking to the computers in their ears. These people are oblivious to those around them and are in their own little worlds. Separate and craving for love and companionship, the citizens who populate Spike Jonze's Her are unable to truly connect to people. Instead they gravitate toward artificial intelligence and begin to fall in love and form strong bonds with these bodiless virtual beings.
I won't delve into reviewing Her here, but I will say that I loved the movie and would strongly recommend it to others. (Go see it post haste!) But after I saw the film, the events stayed with me and I started to think about people, relationships, love, my own life and where I fit into the grand scheme of things. That's a lot to take in after seeing a movie but because of that I believe it's worth the cost of a ticket to see the film as it sparked lots of debate within me. I'm an early adopter of technology and have been for as long as I can remember. What struck me as so melancholic in the movie are the connections (or lack thereof) among the people in the film. There is a great desire for people to connect. To have sex, to share fantasies and find emotional connections. A connection of two beings coming together and just "getting it." Knowing that you can speak your mind and express yourself, no matter how crazy and insane the thought, and another person will not judge you. I can identify with that need for emotional connection. True such friendship that evolved into a deep and lasting bond has only happened to me very infrequently in my life.
In today's fast-paced world, we are all rushing from one place to the next (at least those of us on the east coast of America). We rush to work, to get home from work, to take care of our kids, work some more and get up and start it all over again without a breath. I've noticed over the years that I'll stare in my book while on the train, tune out others listening to music or stare down at my iPhone, tweeting or reading tweets of others. But I and many around me, have shielded ourselves from others using technology. And that got me thinking: About loneliness and love.
Many years ago I started writing books about the same themes because I wanted to connect with people. If you look at my books and strip away all of their fantasy and magic, the themes are pretty simple. Someone is lonely and lost and they are looking to grow, find connection and true love. No matter how corny that might seem, I believe it's a common theme in much of our literature. Boy looks girl, finds her and they overcome great challenges to fall in love. But thankfully, in today's world, we also see variations: Boy finds boy or girl finds girl and a whole myriad of such choices. Yet when stripped down to its bare essence, the theme is the same: We're looking for connection, for love.
I often write about abstract themes: Loss of connection because of the technology we use, overcoming personal challenges, but I wanted to zero in on a basic human need: We want to belong. It's that simple. I and everyone around me (yes, there's always outliers) want to feel loved. We want to have connections and to belong. No matter if you're young, middle aged or older, the need is the same. Our perceptions of life lock us into our own little bubbles and we desperately bounce around trying to find connection. It might sound sad and depressing if I ended my post here. But I'm not. I'm going to suggest some things that might open doors for you as they've done for me.
A theme that goes through my Cinderella's Secret Diaries series is one that I hold dear to me: You cannot find true love until you truly love yourself. Self love is first. I can speak with lots of authority on this. I often wish I could go back in time and apologize to my past girlfriends because I had things all wrong. Because of the challenges I had in growing up, I misunderstood what it meant to find love. I fell in love with someone thinking that I could fix them and they could fix me. Two incomplete people coming together to make one whole. But I was wrong. Instead what two incomplete make are more dysfunction. I can't complete someone. They can't complete me. We can complement each other, but not complete. I believe we must first be whole people before we find true connection. The nature of how I looked for a partner started off entirely on the wrong foot. I found myself attracted to the wrong type of person. Now that I am older, I'm more aware of the red flags that flap in the wind when I meet people. Time has taught me a few things. But how have I learned to discover myself and start on the path toward self-actualization? It's been a difficult path and the true secret is: I know what I know but what's most important is that I know nothing. I do not claim to have the mysteries of life all figured out. You only need to spend 5 minutes with my wife and she'll give you a long list of my faults. I want to be clear here so that no one thinks I'm claiming to have the secret of pure happiness and personal contentment. That wouldn't be true, but I will share with you the paths I have taken:
Know Who You Are
I found taking the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator personality test to be extremely helpful. Self-realization is key. If you know who you are, then you can come to better terms to what makes you tick and why. I'll give you an example: The Myers-Brigg Type system is based off of four dichotomies:
- Introversion (I) - Extraversion (E)
- Sensing (S) - Intuition (N)
- Thinking (T) - Feeling (F)
- Judging (J) - Perception (J)
I lean heavily toward Introversion. For me, I can go to work, speak in front of people, interact with groups and thoroughly enjoy all of that. Introversion does not mean that I am shy. However, my source of energy is different from someone who falls into the Extraversion camp. After I have a busy day at work speaking in front of a lot of people, I go home and want to read a book or put music on and relax, taking time to think and recharge my batteries. A person who falls on the Extraversion side goes home, changes and wants to go out and be around more people. That person recharges by interacting with others.
The other three dichotomies fall into the same type of distinctions: For sensing and intuition, are you drawn more to specific data or intuit things? Thinking and Feeling are based around how you make decisions. How do you make rational decisions: From a detached standpoint or through empathy and compassion? And with Judging and Perception, these are your lifestyle: Do you make lists to complete tasks or are you more free flowing?
Once you take the MBTI test, you'll then have a sense of who you are and the scale for which you fall: Are you in the middle between Introversion and Extraversion or lean heavily toward one side? You can then take this information and learn more about yourself and how you interact with the world around you. Even simply understanding how I need to recharge my batteries is extremely helpful and allows me to know how to take care of myself when under stress. And for me, as an INFJ, I now know that's there only 2-3% of this type throughout the United States. No wonder I'm always looking around for like minded people and can't seem to connect. I've since learned that Nelson Mandela was an INFJ and Lady Gaga. Interesting.
Talk to Someone
In my 20s and at other times in my life, I have gone to counseling. When I first went back in the '90s, I feared admitting to that because there was a stigma to it. But as seeing a counselor has become more acceptable in society, such a resource can help you overcome problems or assist you on your road toward finding happiness. Again, this might sound all warm and fuzzy, but for me, talking with a counselor helped give me life skills that I lacked. I grew up in a dysfunctional family. Many of us have. But I lacked the role modeling to understand how to develop skills to best put me on the path toward adulthood. There are many things to learn about oneself in counseling, but I remember in my 20s that my counselor taught me something that clicked. He told me that it is important for people to develop their adult inner voice. He explained to me that we have inside is a child, a parent and an adult inner voice. Here's an example:
- Child inner voice: I want what I want and I want it now.
- Parental inner voice: You can't always get what you want.
- Adult inner voice that needs to be developed: Is what you want healthy you?
Once you ask the question "Is it healthy" for you, then you can have the inner dialogue and make the decision. Maybe you might compromise and have some of what you want, maybe you won't. Over time, as my counselor helped me with this, I learned that I can apply this skill to many situations as a means to help me understand what would be healthy and good for me (and not what others told me).
Write and Read
I have written diaries, journals, slips of papers and emails to myself over the decades. I've tried to take the time to check in with myself. Now I write these blog posts. They're my journal passages to the world. If you've never written before, try it, you might enjoy it. When I was younger, my favorite type of writing was free flowing: I'd stay up late at night, turn my computer on, close my eyes and just type. It didn't matter if I made mistakes, I just let my thoughts flow. As a person who leans toward introversion, writing that way helped me recharge and process my thoughts and feelings.
I have also enjoyed reading. I cannot stress this enough: Read. Turn off the TV, put down the iPhone and make time to read (unless you're reading on your iPhone, then you're good!) Seriously, there are millions of books to read to help you learn about the lives of others and more about yourself. Here are a few I would recommend:
- A Life Worth Breathing by Max Strom
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell
- Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by Carl Jung
Overwhelmed? It's okay. We have lives to lead and the work that I know and the work that we all do stretches out all along the journey ahead of us. To me, that's the beauty of it all. We're on a journey. The journey is the destination as the popular phrase goes. I often think about that and it makes me smile. The path of understand our inner selves will take a lifetime. Finding love and true connection comes when we understand ourselves. It takes time, but it will come. Be patient.
I've gone on longer than I had expected, but now we're at the pay off. We're looking for connectedness in our world, desperately trying to meet people, find someone and to make life matter. I want to take a moment to stop and share with you something I learned just yesterday. It's funny but I had started this post a few days ago and I wasn't certain how I would end it. But yesterday I learned about the Platinum Plus rule and something clicked. Many of us know the Golden Rule:
- Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Then there's the Platinum Rule:
- Treat others as they want to be treated.
But yesterday I learned about Diane Windingland's Platinum Plus Rule:
It took me a few reads to get it. Then it clicked. Might sound like a simple platitude but I look back at the Golden Rule and that's helped me many times over the years. I've not been a fan of the Platinum Rule because sometimes how a person wants to be treated goes against my own morals. Yet Diane Windingland's modified Platinum Rule gels nicely with me. If we treat others the way their best selves would want our best selves to treat them, we're achieving a good balance and are being respectful of boundaries. Again, we're in our bubbles and through life our personality bubbles intersect with others. How will we do that in a healthy way? Will be too demanding, needy, authoritative, codependent or find that healthy balance?
And if I take a step back, to truly look at others, listen to them and talk with them, I'm going to learn more about myself and who they are. No matter if it's your family, a coworker, friend, spouse, or boyfriend/girlfriend, there's a lot to be gained by using the Platinum Plus rule. Again, might sound corny, but I think it's a good start.
If you have the opportunity in the work place, knowing the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator of your coworkers can be extremely helpful. I said helpful, but not the only such way to get to know them. Your MBTI isn't a bible to understanding you or another. It's simply one of many tools out there. Knowing it can be useful, but I would not advise labeling people as that is all they are. Depending on a situation, people change/grow and adapt (though I've been told that under normal conditions your type does not change over time).
If we take a moment to learn about others and to rediscover who we think the people around us are by looking at them through a different lens, not only will we form better friendships, but it'll help us know more about ourselves and the way we connect with others.
Finding Ourselves and Love
All of this is simple. With all the paths I've shared here to help me in my life, it's only taken me four decades of work. That's not that bad, right? I joke, but my point is: I make stupid mistakes at 43. I still am on a quest to find connection with people and on how to grow. Let me share a secret with you: I have lived in the same house with my wife for nearly 15 years and we still work hard to keep our emotional connection. We are people and there is the ebb and flow of time. There are our jobs, our families, children, stresses, chores, bills and a whole damned list of obstacles that fly around us in our solar system of life. Our love, the sun at the center, and the worlds around us that we orbit and all the comets and the vast emptiness of space. A relationship is like an entire micro cosmic universe and there are times when we're close to the sun (our love) and farther away. I've found that to be normal. The challenge I've found is for me to be aware of myself, to be aware of my wife's and children's needs and to balance them all in the celestial system in my heart. We have a choice. We can choose to be like the people in Theodore's world that populate the movie Her and never find that connection with another. Or, we can take the risk to go on life's journey and screw up (like I have Cinderella do in my books) and find our way. It's messy, it can be a long road but I have found that I have arrived at places along the way that I could never have dreamed or imagined. It's my life. My beautiful and wild and awe inspiring life that I love and can look back and see how far I have come and how far I have yet to go. For inside, I'm still the little boy who is afraid of the angry father who abandoned him, but now I'm the adult who can pull my younger self close and hold him and with confidence tell him that it's going to be okay. "Do you love me?" that little boy asks of me and I smile at him and hold him close in my arms so tightly because I do. I truly do. And that is the best and most sacred secret about love that I can share: Love your self. From there, all else has come to me. It has, it does, it will. Trust me.
Please leave your comments below about this post. Are you a fellow INFJ? Let me know! Have another book that you would recommend that I read? Share it with me and other readers. Simply scroll all the way down to the bottom of this post and leave your comment. I would appreciate that. Thank you.
Images in the post: Warner Bros.
"Do You Love me? How to Find Emotional Connections and Companionship with Others" copyright © 2014 by Ron Vitale.