Updated: Apr 25, 2019
This is not a story about my prom dress.
I was 16 years old and had been bugging my ma to bring me shopping for a prom dress. At her repeated refusal, I finally burst into tears and stormed off. My heart ached and my disappointment turned to anger. Puzzled, my ma asked me, “Why is this so important to you? Why are you so angry over a dress?” I surprised myself with my answer, “I guess I was really looking forward to you bringing me out and looking for a dress together. I felt hurt that you didn’t want to.” My ma wasted no time – she found a second-hand store and we had a wonderful time going through heaps of things together, finally settling on a black pantsuit that fit perfectly. Afterwards, we had dessert together as I shared my feelings about graduating. I felt accepted and loved. It's one of my fondest memories.
We grow up desiring shared moments in our lives, moments where we are seen, heard, and understood. I made space for this by spending quality time building relationships with my family, friends, and God. Things are not so straightforward today. Social media has given us a convenient way to connect but not relate. All the double-taps, thumbs-ups, and FLFCs we give provide that illusive sense of “I see you”, “I hear you”, “I accept you”. We can get away with simply responding/reacting from our own perspectives without first trying to understand what the other person is really thinking and feeling. I wonder if I can change the way I use social media to be a springboard for better face-to-face conversations?
Relating to people in real life is risky. There's so much uncertainty/anxiety involved. We have no way of anticipating how the other person might react, or what he/she might say. There's no backspace button. What if we're misunderstood? What if we run out of things to say and it gets boring? We can’t go offline and switch apps. But if we're always running away by turning to our phones, we'll never learn how to sit with our thoughts and feelings and have a proper conversation.
The incident with my prom dress started off with a painful miscommunication. My desire to connect with my ma was not understood and led to disappointment. My ma had to try and understand me by unpacking my reaction, and I had to pause and reflect on my own feelings. I had to swallow my embarrassment and admit, “ma, I felt rejected”. But I think that our moment of connection began there. Now years later, having been through many more moments of rejection, awkwardness, and shame, I’m not so sure I have the same courage.
Maybe the question to ask myself is this: what do I have to lose? What if, in attempting to connect with someone, we go through a few awkward pauses, boring bits, a couple of brain farts, even misunderstandings? I wonder if ultimately, it's the fear of not being enough - not funny enough, not engaging enough, not intelligent enough - that's paralysing. But if we all have these same fears, shouldn’t that give us common ground to empathise with each other?