The Merits of Real Talk

Senior year. Nine months of drinking, nostalgia, and thesis-induced anxiety. Otherwise known as the longest amount of time we will probably ever spend focusing entirely on ourselves. I’ve been told that this is the time in which the ego thrives, the only period of our lives where it’s perfectly acceptable to be self-interested without any repercussions. Now what I’m about to say is not meant to depress you, nor is it designed to get you to agree with me. It’s just something maybe worth pondering for a moment.

We interact with dozens of people on a daily basis. Valentine, Keefe, Frost, the quad, the bathroom, dorms, parking lots, porches, stairways. Hell, even in our own bedrooms. I can’t help but wonder if any of it is real. Psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan defines the Real as “that which is authentic, the unchangeable truth in reference both to being/the Self and the external dimension of experience, also referred to as the infinite and absolute – as opposed to a reality based on sense perception and the material order.”

Are the connections we maintain with our fellow human beings authentic? How do we define the concept of a genuine interaction? We’ve been socialized to be polite, to ask “how are you?” out of habit when two times out of three, we aren’t actually interested in how the other person’s day is going. Friendship, communication, and interaction is something we by default take for granted because of its abundance. Humans are social creatures. We cast our nets far and wide in the hopes of obtaining something worth remembering. We also happen to be masters at under-appreciation, be it of material, physical, or emotional origins, and there’s no reason to assume that the same tendency doesn’t also apply to human beings. It’s a pattern, though, that happens to have the most catastrophic consequences for all involved parties.

In a spatial friendship, or perhaps what could be considered “the material order,” there is a powerful illusion of the real. The consistency of ritual greeting, routine embrace, the regular outings. The trickery of a spatial friendship has a particularly devastating effect on the soul because when it’s over we’re left feeling absolutely nothing. And that’s why we do it. There’s comfort, safety in feeling nothing. We’ve already accustomed ourselves to this type of friendship and have invested little to no substance in its maintenance. How many friendships have I, for example, believed to be real that ended up being the total opposite? Perhaps the issue here is one of communication. Should we assume that our connection with another means nothing if its significance is left unarticulated?

Deep friendships or romances, it seems to me, are significant in relation to their negative space. We realize that a relationship of any kind is significant in its absence. When life begins to ache, we know it’s real. A real existence is by nature defined as much by pain as it is pleasure. The obvious problem here is one of time. Do we wait until each meaningful individual leaves before we realize their value in our lives? Should we gun for instant or delayed recognition?

Why are we afraid of saying how we feel? What is to be gained by leaving things unsaid? I attended a memorial service for a recently deceased Amherst College staff member this afternoon, and a disturbingly predominant theme in each eulogy was regret. Why should we wait for days, months, years, even decades, before we tell someone how much they mean to us? And on the flip side why should we construct an illusion of value when we know it doesn’t really exist?

The answer, I think, resides with fear. As human beings we are defined by it. And I’m not talking about “oh shit, a bear!” fear. I’m referring to the type of fear that consumes us, that shakes us to our very core, that threatens our peace of mind, our safety. It is, as modern society would have us believe, a perpetually raw emotional abrasion that never heals.

At the risk of sounding completely cheesy I, for one, seek to challenge that interpretation. Fear isn’t an open wound, but it is a pinch. A pinch which awakens us and reminds us that we’re alive; gestures to and shapes our eventual happiness. And it’s the implications of the pinch that make the pinch itself worth the momentary spasm of pain.