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Are Your Relationships Based on Reality or Fiction?

  • 5 min read

You often don’t realize it but the way you relate to the people in your life is constantly changing.

• One week you’re best friends, the next she stabs you in the back and you hate her (or you’re dead, depending on how literally she stabbed you).

• One day you’re strangers, the next you’re dreaming about your next date together.

• One week he’s your sexy co-worker, the next he’s in the news because his illegal meth lab blew up (this one’s probably not so likely, but I feel like having 3 examples always reads better 😉 )

In a very subtle way, every time you interact with somebody, the way you relate to each other changes a little. This is normal, because every interaction adds a little bit more information about each other to both of your brains. So your relationship can never stay 100% the same.

Now… unless you’re living together, when you spend more time without most people than with them, right?  But you do spend time thinking things about them. So then where does most of your relationship exist?

That’s right, it only exists in your head.

While the core “seeds” of your relationships are planted when you hang out with someone, your mind fills in the blanks whenever they are away. And these are filled in with your thoughts about them. Not what they are actually doing.

I imagine that before efficient communication technologies existed, we would fill in these gaps wondering what they were doing, missing them, etc. Maybe even fantasizing about how it would be the next time we’d be together. We still do that to some extent now.

But the advent of cellphones and social media in recent times has completely changed this.  Because now the “wondering” part is gone.  They might be physically away, but you always have some external cues (text messages, social media profiles) that continues to influences your thoughts and ideas about them. So in between to real-life interactions, there are actually a whole lot of interactions with them that only happened inside your brain.

This is great because now you have the possibility to stay in touch with everyone you ever met, but there’s also a downside to it:

As much as 93% of our communication happens nonverbally.  If so much of what we say is communicated through our body language, eye contact and vocal tonality/pacing, that leaves only 7% to be accounted for by words. (Truth be told, I don’t think anyone could get those percentages accurate, but you get the idea 😉 )

Now think about this for a minute:

Every time you get a text, you interpret the message, causing you to feel a certain emotion towards that person. Which in turn slightly changes the way you relate with them.  But you are only basing that emotion on 7% of what they are actually communicating.  Regardless of the exact percentage, we’re not talking about some subtleties getting lost in transmission here. In fact, it’s practically the whole message getting lost.

This means it’s safe to say that your opinion about a lot of people are slightly inaccurate… and your feelings towards them even more.

For example: someone texts you something while you’re in a bad mood; you interpret it negatively and your emotions change.

The next time they text you something you’re already looking at them from a slightly more negative perspective. So if there is any room for interpretation (and there is 93% room, that’s a lot), you’ll probably inclined to interpret it negatively.

The next time, your perspective has changed even more, causing a snowball effect in that particular direction. In fact, if you think about it,the whole thing is a bit like basing your opinion of someone on false rumors.

Most of our relationships at the moment are largely based on all kinds of unreliable pieces of information, and thoughts piled upon thoughts. All this information is like a thick layer of illusion on top of the way you felt the last time you were actually with them.

To compare, I have two friends in I consider very important but haven’t seen in 5 years.

The first has Facebook. We sometimes hear from each other and can see what the other person’s up to. This is great and I still hold a very positive opinion about him.  It is not rooted in reality though.  My feelings are based on my personal interpretations of everything I see and read. So chances are that when we meet again it turns out to be totally different from what I expected. For better or worse.

The second one has no Facebook.  In fact it’s pretty hard to keep in touch. The only feelings I have towards him are entirely based on the last day we spent together.  After 5 years I’m pretty sure that he’ll be a totally different person. But I simply have no idea what he’ll be like . So I’ll only be able to relate to him based on what it feels like the moment we meet again.  Which not only is much more exciting, it will be a 100% more real. Also for better or worse.

So every time you catch yourself feeling noticeably different about someone than before, make sure you check where those feelings come from:

Are they a reaction to something you heard, saw or read about them? Are they based on a conversation they had online with you (or even someone else)?

If so, take a moment and ask yourself this:

What did it feel like the last time you spent some time with that person in real life?

That should be the only thing that counts, unless they were recently caught red-handed while running their illegal meth lab ?

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