Imagine human relationships as a spider web made of strands of mutual importance. Family, friends, anyone you love, anyone you need, anyone you know. You are important to some degree to someone. They are important in some way to you. That sense of importance is an abstract quality with concrete ramifications. Will they invite you to a party? Will they help you move? Will they recommend you for a job? Will they marry you? The strands of the web reflect the strength and quality of all your connections to your community. The web itself is a safety net that helps you weather hardships in life. It's a web that has room for everyone, tucked into a warm corner of reality suspended above the darkness that represents disconnection. We can survive without connections to the web but evolution made us social animals. That means it hurts when we are disconnected. We evolved to crave the light and to fight to stay out of darkness. It's true even for those of us who lack the natural talent of making numerous and diverse connections.
I can't tolerate many of the things that others take for granted. The sounds that the world makes are too harsh to bear sometimes. I am sensitive and critical and easily overwhelmed. Sometimes I can't bear the bonds that keep me safe. Sometimes I thrash in the web uncontrollably and shed connections like animal fur. But I don't want to be in the dark. I've spent time there and I have never found a way to make peace with the loneliness. Even though the light of the web can be raucous and scary and confining, it is preferable to the dark. Time and again I have climbed up, sometimes with considerable sacrifice of all the things that I need that are not people, to make myself a place in that web. My best strategy has been to focus on forming a few tight bonds with others who were strongly bonded with a much larger network. All of their connections flowed to me and I didn't have to take responsibility for keeping more bonds than I had the skill or desire to handle.
But the downside of that relationship model is that when you lose a strand, you can lose everything. The severing of an important connection through disagreements or death or geographical movement, is always traumatic for anyone, but the ramifications vary. That's when you really see how much it matters how many other connections you have, what kind, and what quality. When your tethers to the web are few and weak, the loss of a single friend or lover or family member can level you, break you. All of those satellite threads, that made you feel as if you had a place, disappear. And then you fall.
But there is something worse, I think, than falling. When you bond with someone who allows his most important threads to bypass you from the start and you sit in an island of hole-ridden, distorted web. You're still technically as safe as you ever could be. After all, any part of the web can vanish with breathtaking ease. Who is safe? No one. And unless there is open hostility, the holes don't affect your real world experiences much. But even when those satellite threads are kind enough to simply bypass you, you feel the loss of all that potential support. By comparison, your position seems so much more precarious. Even though you are tightly held by that one special strand, the yawning gaps all around break the comforting illusion that you won't fall. It puts a shadow, shaped just like you on the web. Neither sun nor darkness, but both, together. And of course, because of the way our brains work, when there is safety and danger together, danger wins. Danger becomes a relationship -- a node off the web -- and it drags on you.
It's like dangling from a cliff-side, clinging to a root. No matter how well-secured that root is, no matter how strong and stubborn you are, your grip is always halfway between success and failure. Halfway between life and death. Schroedinger's cat and the cat is you. You might never hit the ground, but you are always falling. The root is a gift of time, but it is hard time to do, maybe as hard as the darkness. And if your scrabbling to find a more secure connection loosens the root? If your fear and anger turn to bitter disappointment and it steals your strength? What then?