A couple of years ago, I bought a beta fish. I’d bought it on a whim one day because I really wanted a pet.
At the time, I was living with three dogs — none of which were mine. I saw the love and affection my roommates had for their dogs, and there was a growing part of me that wanted to have my own animal child.
However, I was not naive about how much time, effort, and responsibility went into taking care and raising their dogs. I thought a fish might be a nice compromise and stress-free solution to my longing.
The fish didn’t make it a week. I came home four days later to find it floating dead in my newly purchased fish bowl. Obviously, my plan hadn’t worked out.
Brene Brown defines connection as, “The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
I think most of us long for connection. However, in order to gain authentic connection, we must allow ourselves to be seen and heard by those we choose to live our lives with.
There’s an epidemic of humans attempting to gain connection through the amount of comments received on their Instagram posts, likes on their Facebook profile pictures — and in my instance, a risk-free relationship with a fish.
When we want to feel better, we reach out — we look for things to take away our hurt and sadness and give us gladness. However, the fleeting feeling we gain in a targeted response from someone isn’t what ultimately makes us feel better.
We can only gain acceptance in our feelings when we seek to have a real connection with the people in our lives that we trust. That means we have to sit with the idea of risk, and maybe be let down. We have to learn to let people see us without the filters (both emotional and on Snapchat).
The main problem with my search for connectedness through a pet was that it lacked emotional risk and responsibility. But it makes sense though, right?
Amazon now has a two-hour delivery service. You can buy nail polish that dries in 30 seconds. And when we have uncomfortable feelings, we can quickly numb them with a variety of vices — whether it’s fast food, shopping, or Netflix, or sex and drugs. We want what we want, how we want it, now. And when things do not go our way, we deflect.
This is the same phenomenon that was going on within myself when I bought the beta fish. I wanted a semblance of connection, but I also wanted the easy way out.
You have to be willing to risk something, whether it’s your time, your trust, or maybe even your heart, in order to achieve authentic relationship with others.
We can choose to settle for the superficial internet lifestyles we sometimes portray, or we can dive head first into what it’s really like to be with people.
A fish cannot emulate a puppy and a puppy cannot emulate human connection. The same way getting 400 likes on my Valencia-filtered Instagram post is not going to give me the same satisfaction of having someone listen to me share from my heart and say, “I see you and I love you.”
If I am willing to take on the responsibilities of being in relationship with people, I will reap the benefits of human connection and belonging.
It is a simple concept and our life’s work. Becoming who we are meant to be comes with the responsibility of putting effort and work toward the things we want out of life.
So, do you want real connection? Or just the fleeting kind? And are you willing to do the scary, hard work that brings it forth?
If you’d like to learn more about how you can make more meaningful connections in your life, we can help. Find a therapist and schedule your first session today.
Kathryn Defatta is a Franklin, TN native with an M.Ed in Human Development Counseling from Vanderbilt. She has unique experience from working in residential treatment centers focused primarily on eating and exercise disorders with men and women. She’s also counseled patients suffering from addiction, personality disorders, depression/anxiety, and trauma.