How can you develop and maintain deep relationships? Here's the story I share in Episode 8 of my Principled? Podcast:
When I was a teenager, I craved human connection more than anything else. I didn't experience it much, though, as I didn't feel like I belonged to any group. The other kids hung out together after school, going into the city, and socialising at house parties. In contrast, I spent most evenings playing my PlayStation - to numb my loneliness. I wasn't aware of it at the time. The irony was that hiding myself away slowed the development of the emotional intelligence I needed to develop strong relationships. Which created a vicious spiral of more numbing and loneliness.
Life got better for me when I started university. I finally became part of a group of friends that did the activities together that I missed in my younger years. But while we partied and held stimulating conversations over dinner, looking back I realise that I still missed the deep emotional connection that I unknowingly desired.
This changed, when I met Salome. In August 2014, I arrived in the canteen of City University on the first day of my exchange semester in Hong Kong. I sat down in a circle of fellow exchange students, eating lunch together and getting to know each other. Directly opposite me was this petite young woman, with dark curly hair and immaculate tanned skin. I didn't think anything special about her at the time, but after being charmed by her intellect, sexy French accent and some help from my old friend Mr Alcohol, we kissed in a club, and started dating. The only problem was that she was studying in Hong Kong for a full year, but I was only there for the autumn semester. In December, tears flooded my cheeks while going through passport control after saying goodbye to Salome, not knowing when or if I would ever see her again.
This resulted in 3 years of a long-distance relationship. We would spend weekends together in either Rotterdam or Paris every 2 to 3 weeks, but the majority of our contact was virtual. Maintaining a relationship via Skype is challenging. When you argue, you can't just hug and have sex to solve it - as most couples do. The only method possible is to talk through your feelings, exercising your emotional intelligence. The problem is, I hadn't developed it. When we started exchanging our feelings, we realised that I was subconsciously repeating phrases and cliches that I'd heard someone else say - mainly from movies. That was easier than diving into the depths of my own heart and expressing how I truly felt. But as the years passed, I opened up more and more, surrendering to my emotions and allowing feeling to overcome thinking.
Salome's patience and love created the safe space for me to develop my emotional intelligence, which now forms the foundation of one of my passions: connecting deeply with other human beings. That's all my work as a coach and speaker ultimately comes down to. I'm striving to connect with the hearts and minds of people, supporting them to live more meaningful lives.
In January 2018, Salome moved to Rotterdam and we finally had a "normal" relationship, which deepened our connection even further. While we made it work digitally, this showed me that real connection happens in person. Body language is over 50% of our communication, when it comes to feelings. I love that I can regularly skype my parents since leaving the UK, but unlike a conversation, a hug from my mum can't be replicated - at least, not with current technology. And in my climate activism with extinction rebellion, I felt a wonderful community feeling during our in-person meetings. But this evaporated when the corona virus pandemic hit and we had to move everything online.
Despite the pandemic, in 2020, I've nurtured my friendships to a depth beyond what I believed was possible. Gradually overcoming my fear of rejection is creating a virtuous cycle of behaving more authentically, being accepted for who I am and then becoming even less fearful of rejection, so behaving even more authentically.
By working for myself, I've had the flexibility to spend more time with the people I care about, mainly by taking long walks. I've prioritised human connection in how I spend my time, partially on purpose, since a 75-year study from Harvard University found that the single most important factor for happiness is the quality of our relationships. With deeper friendships than ever before, I feel an abundance of love and joy in my life.
These lessons throughout my life have led me to develop my 8th principle:
Real connection happens in-person. Spend time and be present with those you care about.
Want to learn more about nurturing your relationships? I explore this idea and more on the eighth episode of my Principled? Podcast with the most important person in my life: Salomé Attias. We discuss how we can build meaningful relationships and hold onto them - even when you move cities or have to socially distance.