Being Close

My grandmother taped the Karate Kid from HBO and I watched it when I was home sick from school for my whole life. This was often, especially as a teenager who didn’t find inspiration at school. I know the movie by heart. Ask any of the annoyed people who’ve watched it with me. It plays in my mind, and it informs my vision of what is possible even when I am not aware. We’ve all got stories in our minds that influence our actions and beliefs.

What I love about the way the date scene embedded above is edited are the glimpses into Daniel and Ali’s friendship. For those in the dark, Daniel and Ali went through alot to arrive at Golf ’N Stuff for their first real date. He’s new in town, and he’s already been beat up more than once by her ex-boyfriend’s gang of jerk friends. She’s rich and he’s poor.  Daniel is reminded their love won’t work in the world at the end of the date, when her friends roll up in luxury convertibles and mock his mother’s old faithful jalopy. 

During the heart of the date, Daniel and Ali are not constricted by their context. They play arcade hockey, and right before he scores a goal, their eyes lock in anticipation. Bouncing on the trampoline, they fall in an embrace, laughing. In the photo booth, their bodies are close and they hold hands. As they look at the photo strip, you see a moment in his gaze of wanting her body. Then it cuts back to their friendship, which is portrayed as meaningful conversation with each character beaming.

The quest in Karate Kid is about Daniel getting the girl and winning the fight. We can obviously do better. It’s foreshadowed from the start, and resolved through a series of bad sequels, that Daniel and Ali are not going to last as a couple. The bigger and underemphasized theme in this story is his need to belong. It keeps getting funneled into romantic chases and physical triumph. You see the drama in this first date scene. It ends sour, each character lonely. The story is a trite and narrow piece of the truth. Aren’t there more options?

We need more stories of people learning to take hold of themselves, through allowing what may even feel like risky emotional bonds to form. Our interactions develop our character. How much potential are we leaving on the table because we are afraid of wanting something that is not allowed to exist in the world? Humans fill our relationships with expectations and then unravel in disappointment when our lives don’t match the story in our minds. These are prime moments to grow in our presence and release attachment.

Cultural conditioning around intimacy - and I point directly to my white, small town U.S.A., middle class background - has us believing that being close entails possession, privacy, and obligation. In this paradigm, holding someone’s hand in friendship and looking into their eyes can feel dangerous. These conditions are hostile towards curiosity and joy. I wonder how life would be if fostering intimacy was one of the society’s treasured design principles. I’m trying to imagine this possibility when encountering the many faces of love, across my relationships. The task is practicing ways of being that allow us to explore boundaries with safety, which requires listening and adaptation. It requires being home in ourselves.

Diesel Cafe photo booth with Erin, 2010

Diesel Cafe photo booth with Erin, 2010

My wife Erin and I, after 10 years together, are thinking back to the beginning. The ways in which our lives are intertwined now makes it hard to relax without thinking about our obligations. We remember how to be playful by having a life full of friends, where caring and intimacy are allowed to exist. We have always questioned the notion that being close with others threatens our marriage. Quite the opposite seems true. How did humans arrive at so few accepted pathways for relationships? Why have our physical boundaries become so rigid? What trust is required between people and in the societal contract for love to flow?

We are connected. The idea that it is possible to be alone in this body, with this mind, on this planet, is an illusion. If you are like me, you have been conditioned to protect your heart. I am asking myself why. There is nothing to break in the open heart. It can be painful when old beliefs shatter, simply because they are known. Despite our best thinking, the future is unknown, and it’s okay to be in love with each other anyway. I am going to die and so are you. Every little bit the heart opens is a move towards living the dream.


People Everywhere (Still Alive) by Khruangbin


My own learning on connection has leaped thanks to Gibrán Rivera and the Evolutionary Leadership community. I made a video about it!