Night falls, and your journey becomes that much harder. You are out in the wilderness, so all you have are your travel companions. You need them to guide you through, to make sure you don’t veer too far from the beaten path and over the cliff’s edge. You quickly realise that connection to others is a matter of survival, it isn’t just a nice thing to have.
In his book ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’, Terence Real claims that the Male Labelled (people who have been given a Male Label at birth) are conditioned to go it alone; they are taught how to confront and assert, but not to connect with, and relate to, others.
To deprive the Male Labelled of the opportunity to connect with others seems unnecessarily cruel. Putting aside the benefit of the discovery of one’s strengths and weaknesses, connection with others allows us to feel a sense of belonging. It can be extremely isolating if we do not have the opportunity to share ideas and experiences with other people.
When I work as a psychotherapist for the Male Labelled, many of my clients admit that, because of their Male Label, they feel that they are not ‘permitted’ to speak of some of the fears they share with me. Once they finally admit to this, they quickly realise that the fears were unfounded. And finally, they don't feel so alone.
Get high on connection
Still not convinced about the benefits of connection? How about a bit of science to convince you:
Dopamine is the feel-good chemical in the brain, and more is produced when we are introduced to new experiences. This new experience can be a deeper connection with people you already know or even a surface connection with a new person. In whatever form, we should be getting more of it (The Rewarding Nature of Social Interactions, Krach et al).
Drugged up, lonely rats
Here is some more science:
Far far away, in a university in Vancouver (Simon Fraser University, to be precise), Professor Alexander built a cage for some rats to play in. He installed balls and tunnels and food, and he offered them two water bottles; one with water and the other laced with drugs. The rats often chose the plain water, and it was only when they were placed in isolation did Alexander notice that the rats started to choose the drugged water. And when the rats were returned to the cage where they could play and eat with each other, their interest in the drug disappeared. Some have argued that connection is so powerful that it can act as an antidote to addiction.
How can we get this thing called ‘connection’?
Nobody has a continuous, consistent level of connection with someone else. The quality of the connection can be easily influenced by how open the other person is to connecting with you. So don’t blame yourself if it doesn’t flow as easily as you hoped.
You may also find it hard to connect with others if you are enduring stress. If you are distracted by the prospect of losing your job or dealing with a two-year-old child who is screaming blue murder, be kind to yourself and don’t hope for too much all at once.
Our styles of connection have a lot to do with how we were raised. For example, if our caregivers (usually our parents) were emotionally distant, we might think that being emotionally distant is a desirable way of being in our adult relationships.
Always do what you’ve always done, always get what you’ve always got
But we can unlearn as much as we learn. How is that aloof, distant manner working out for you so far?; feeling a little lonely on that island? Why not try a different approach. Everything new feels a bit awkward at first, but with practice, it might feel a bit easier. And besides, if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got (Henry Ford).
Never too late
If we have never experienced a healthy connection with someone else, it is not too late to learn how. A decent therapist can show you what it is like to make a connection with someone.
To journey on without connection is to deprive yourself of the chance to confirm the edges of your personality. It is only when you see the reflection of your multi-coloured self in the eyes of another, that you can gain perspective of all of your strengths and weaknesses. A full palette of colour Beyond the Blue of your Male Label.
So what do you think?
Does any of this resonate with you? Get in touch by sending me a message privately via the Contact Page, or add a public comment below, and engage in the debate.
Chris Warren-Dickins LLB MA LPC
Therapist, writer, educator, and LGBTQ+ advocate