So a few weeks ago I was talking to my therapist about friendships and what it takes for me to call a person a friend, and a few times the energy it takes to maintain a connection with a person was mentioned. My therapist always took that in terms of the energy cost of socializing, and that it’s important to get something out of my contact with people since unlike most of the general population, just seeing a person is not rewarding in and of itself.
Now, all that is true, but it is really not the whole story. There is another cost to maintaining connections with people, and that is the cost of keeping my internal sense of connection alive. This is something that I gather I am very unusual about. This starts with something that is, as far as I know, completely normal – people take up space in my head. I’ve heard some people call it “renting space.” My metaphor seems to be bubbles. Every person gets a bubble in my head. The closer I am to a person, the larger the bubble is. However, those bubbles don’t just stick around on their own. I have to put energy into keeping them there, or else they are inclined to wither up and die, and my internal sense of connection goes with it.
Part of my ability to feel close to a person is about how much energy I need to use to maintain the bubble. I have yet to figure out exactly what it is about people that can make this easy or difficult, but one thing that is true is that on rare occasions I can feel a connection to a person very easily. This is so rare that it always feels kind of special when it happens (and it tends to be disappointing, though not surprising, when the person in question doesn’t really see it as being that special). Interestingly, this is something where spending time in person can be beneficial. Yes, there is an energy cost to socialization (that’s what I get for being an introvert), but the right people also wind up reinforcing their bubbles with direct interaction, so my energy maintenance costs decrease or even temporarily go away for a while.
If I don’t maintain the bubbles, they have a habit of going away, and I have yet to figure out how to make them come back once they’re gone. On the plus side, this means that I can never, ever wind up in an on-again-off-again relationship of any kind. On the down side, once a friendship is over, it’s really over. In any case, my real point is that this changes the way I think about the cost of friendship. This seems like a relevant thing, so it seems like something worth sharing.