Intimacy and Performance Don’t Mix
[DISCLAIMER: this post is not about that kind of intimacy or performance. If you want to read about sex and performance, click here.]
What happens when my desire for unconditional acceptance is thwarted? Specifically by the people to whom I’m closest? What if they won’t accept me just the way I am, because in spite of (or rather because of) their love for me they want me to change in different ways?
That’s when I’m tempted to make one of two terrible choices:
- Keep trying to earn the acceptance of the important people in my life (family, friends, pastors, teachers, coaches)
- Give up on that and seek out other “friends” who will accept me just the way I am.
Let’s consider those two options more closely.
Option 1: Try Harder
If you’re in the wrong kind of romantic relationship you might experience pressure to engage in sexual activity with the words, “If you loved me, you would…”
But what if we learned to interact in relationships this way from our parents?
Sure, your Mom never said, “If you loved me, you would clean your room,” but you intuitively discerned that a clean room would score far more acceptance from the parental units than a floor littered with dirty socks, leftover pizza and late homework.
And so, to gain the acceptance you wanted, you learned to try harder. You learned to perform.
The problem with performing? It’s hard to grow in healthy intimacy with someone for whom you feel you must perform. Even if you get the acceptance you want, it’s not the “real you” they’re accepting. It’s the actor. They accept the performer who cleans their room in exchange for free rent, or who gives into sexual advances in exchange for… for… for what I’m not quite sure… Love? Companionship? Facebook relationship status?
To be sure, serving the people you love is a great idea, but serving someone is not the same thing as pleasing them. (That’s a conversation for another post.) True service simply can’t be a performance.
Option 2: Give Up
The other route is to respond to your rejection from the people you love, by rejecting them in return. Despite how bad an idea this is, many people do it.
Some kick it “prodigal son” style, flipping the bird and flying the coop, but many more never openly reject their loved ones in return. They simply embark on a desperate journey to find new “loved ones” who will accept them just the way they are: friends, a boyfriend/girlfriend, or virtual community. And as they pursue this acceptance from others, they distance themselves from the people who love (and accept) them the most. (Sound familiar at all?)
Though not as dramatic as open rebellion, this growing passive-aggressive distance, fueled by pride and insecurity, can wind up being just as deadly to the soul.
However, the fact remains that many a person has felt they finally found the unconditional acceptance they sought in the community of other like-minded friends, so what’s wrong with that?
What’s wrong with it is this: in the end they will discover that unconditional acceptance was only an illusion.
The initial reasons you can feel like you’ve finally found a friend/lover/virtual community to love you “better” than your loved ones are pretty simple.
They Don’t Know You
New friends obviously don’t know you as well as those who have watched you grow up, so you appear almost as perfect for them as they appear perfect for you.
However, as they get to know your junk, you’ll find that if they value you and your friendship, they’ll want to help you change, the same way the loved ones you left behind did. And if they don’t, you’ll need to find newer friends, because they won’t stick around.
You’re Performing Again
Truth is, you’re more apt to perform for new folks. Since they don’t know you as well, it takes less effort to fool them.
However, again, when you’re performing, it’s not you they’re accepting. It’s your performance. And when you grow tired of the show you’ll find your approval ratings will plummet.
It’s All About the Now
When you meet someone, does this thought pop into your mind: “I wonder what they’ll be like twenty years from now?”
Of course not. You only just met them.
Even when you meet new roommates or co-workers, your predominant motivation is to merely coexist in the present. Same is true for them in regards to you, because they’re not necessarily invested in your future. That said, people you just meet are more likely to promote your immediate gratification than what’s actually in your long-term best interest. No wonder new friends can be so wonderful to make.
Do You Want to be Accepted or Known?
Now what’s the thread running through all of these realities?
You feel like you’re being accepted just the way you are, because they don’t truly know who you are. You do not share an intimate relationship with them.
Dear friend, I know the significant people in your life likely have some significant issues that make them hard to get along with. (You may even need counseling to work through them.) But you have your issues too. And that’s why it’s not really fair (nor realistic) to ask them to accept you just the way you are.
Your soul yearns for intimacy, to truly know and be known. Please don’t let an unrealistic pursuit of unconditional acceptance get in the way. Learn to thrive in the reality of being accepted in spite of the way you are, understanding that even the God who loves you most, wants you to change, for your own good and His glory.
We’ll close out our discussion on the intimacy impostor of acceptance with one final post next week where we will identify two groups of people you’ll seek out or settle for if you’re dead set on being accepted just the way you are, and how that will continue to keep you from growing in intimacy.
[This is post is part of a series called Relation^ology (it begins with this post) where we identify the greatest relational need of our heart and then ID the counterfeits we seek out or settle for instead. Relation^ology started out as a discussion series and can be booked for your college, youth or young adults group (or singles group, life group, cell group, community group or whatever they’re calling Bible study these days).]
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The LoveEd study guide series, Beyond Sex & Salvation, will empower you to prepare for relational success when it counts: BEFORE YOU FALL IN LOVE! It’s NOT for couples, but for any wise individual who thinks they might want to get married sometime before they die. Check out the first two 8-lesson study guides in our store. You can walk through it on your own, but it’s more fun with friends, so consider putting together an FMU LoveEd small group study. Even better? And ask a married couple you respect to lead it!