Last week, while sitting in church, I had one of those realizations of an obvious truth that I hadn't found an internal framework for. I've been thinking more than usual about relationships and community, and this is what dawned on me:
People want to be…
seen for who they are
known for who they are
and loved for, and sometimes despite, who they are.
I believe that this is an organic process, and each step is important.
When someone sees you, they perceive something about your real self. It's an acknowledgement of a talent or trait you have, or your personality, or the way you express yourself. In my experience, what is seen is often something you weren't fully aware of yourself. Whether it's in passing or over a period of time, communicated to you or not, the seeing person recognizes your unique awesomeness.
Seeing isn't always mutual, but when it is, it naturally leads to knowing. To know someone is to move beyond surface admiration and really become friends. In this phase, you grow in awareness of each other's faults as well as your positive traits. You learn about each other's lives and beliefs and favorite things. You start walking together through life.
Only when you truly know each other can you really love each other. To be loved is to have assurance that you're accepted as your whole, messy self. Real love, in itself, is a commitment. (I'm talking about personal love here, not the general Christlike love that we're supposed to extend to everyone.) Also, as we love people, we gain the eyes to see new things about them, and the cycle starts again.
I think we all need people at each of these levels in our lives. We don't have the capacity to intensely love everyone we know. At the same time, having a lot of shallow relationships can leave us feeling empty and alone. It's totally possible to socialize with a group of people for years and never even connect on a seeing level. I've been dealing with this in my own life. I've felt very alone for a while and couldn't figure out why. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances and lead an active, social life. But in reality, there are very few friends I can call if I'm sad or struggling or generally not okay, and not worry that I'm burdening them or they'll think badly of me (and I'm even hesitant to call those people). My love level is a little sparse. I know many people can relate.
Sometimes you really connect with someone and move quickly through these phases. As an INFJ, I can usually sense right away whether someone is kindredly or not, but I also don't try to be BFF immediately. I think a lot of awkwardness in relationships is due to one or both parties trying to skip one of these natural stages. I also think this pattern applies to ALL types of relationships, but it's especially noticeable in romantic relationships. From what I've observed and experienced, a lot of single people are eager to skip straight from seeing to loving, and it just feels icky and uncomfortable. If you don't know, what are you loving exactly? To whom are you giving yourself? Love based on friendship has always been a big deal to me, and now I can finally articulate why.
I may revisit this concept in the future, because I'm discovering more and more applications for it. Hopefully it helps others understand some things too.
PS: the more I worked on this post, the more I felt like this: