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Building Relationships

This is an excerpt from The Masculinist #16

Living in this world, especially in a big city, you constantly hear about how lonely people are.  I am by nature an introverted person. I’m not shy. But I am someone whose batteries recharge when I’m alone and get drained by engaging with people in many settings.  I’ve always had acquaintances and friends, but never really had much skill at creating and building relationships. I wouldn’t say I was lonely, but I was pretty much always one of the most peripherally attached members of any social group I was part of.

I first started learning how to intentionally create relationships when I briefly lived in Rhode Island. This was a pretty bleak time of my life personally for me. I was also pretty detached from the people around me because I was a newcomer to the state. I joined a church and even went to a community group, but I was not particularly engaged or connected. A guy named Josh observed this and took it upon himself to make a commitment to come to hang out with me once per week. That conscious decision to come see me on a regular schedule rather quickly created a relationship.

Now Josh was much more interpersonally talented than me, but this one simple idea was like a light bulb that went off in my head. Josh showed me how you actually go about intentionally creating a relationship with someone who may be tough to reach.

I later put this to good use. There was a guy who came to church who had severe epilepsy. It was a church of mostly very young people, but he was in his 50s. It was a mostly conservative church, but he was militantly and intolerantly liberal. Possibly because of epilepsy-related problems he had a violent temper and sometimes had outbursts where you weren’t sure he wasn’t going to attack people. He couldn’t drive and so needed people to take him everywhere. He was a tough customer.

He had a tendency to boomerang in and out of the church. One time when he was not attending I reached out to him to get together for pizza, probably out of guilt honestly. He ended up coming back to church. Naturally, I got nominated to be his chauffeur and all-around buddy.

I’ll admit I initially wasn’t super interested but did it anyway. I repeated what Josh had done for me: I decided to just go hang out with him once a week. This guy was far outside of my experience. I honestly didn’t have any clue about how to really deal with him.

It was an incredibly humbling experience, and valuable for that. It was like being told, “You think you’re so smart, eh? Do you think you know what policies the President of the United States ought to be following? Do you think you can fix what’s wrong with our cities? You want ‘to change the world’? How about first see if you can change this one person’s life.”

To be honest, I’m not sure that I did.  One thing I can say though. It was rewarding. Although I was surprised by it myself, that guy turned out to be my best friend in Rhode Island. I really enjoyed our friendship and hanging out with him. And I think it meant a lot to him that there was one guy, a Christian, who would not abandon a relationship with him after one of his outbursts or with all his problems.

I’ve applied that “just go see somebody once a week” technique more times since then. And it works great. Maybe for typical extroverted people, it’s not necessary to set up some specific cadence like that. But it helped an introvert like me to have the rule to follow.

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