At 15, I was a beanstalk of a kid, with shoulder-length, surfer-blond hair and a free-spirit that loved nothing more than dancing up a storm in my bedroom while listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” If the rest of the family happened to be at one of my sisters’ sports matches, there was a good chance I’d light up a doobie and switch over to the Doobie Brothers. Such was my adolescence.
Of course, about that same freedom-loving time, I can also remember being shuttled by my mom to the sophomore dance with my date, Cindy. I can still see us awkwardly talking just off the dance floor. She was proudly wearing the corsage I gave her. I remember wondering if anyone would ever give me a corsage? I kept getting her fruit punch every five minutes, anything so that I didn’t have to talk with her. I know she desperately wanted to dance. But I never asked.
Finally, The DJ announced the last song, which if you’re from that era, you know was “Stairway to Heaven.” Cindy was nowhere to be found, that is until I spotted her making out with a senior on the dance floor. My young ego was punched in the gut. It was all I could do not to cry on the ride home with my mom.
How could I feel so groovy and vibey dancing in my room and then so awkward on the high school gym dance floor? Cool as can be by myself. Lost and confused in a crowd.
Of course, even today, I suppose it’s natural. As much as we yearn for connection, when we’re offered the opportunity for intimacy, we shrink and run back to our room—to the safety of our cocoon. I’m guessing that’s how many of us will feel in the next few months as our mirror neurons start to dance together, maybe awkwardly.
I know I’m being put to the test.
I’m in the early stages of a 12-day trip in the U.S., hanging out with my sons and their moms, and also some friends in Austin, and then a collection of folks in Santa Fe who I’ve never met in person, but with whom I’ve had numerous Zoom calls. This summer, I will meet a senior exec of a London-based company who I’ve been advising for nearly two years—every other week—and, yet, we’ve never met in person. How tall is he? How emotionally fluent is he (as Zoom doesn’t often reveal that)? How connected might we feel in person? Might I get him sick, or he gets me sick, even though we’ve both had our vaccines?
Whether it’s on Zoom or meeting in person again, it feels like the era of first dates, right? And just like that 15-year-old boy, it would be easy to flee to safety (back into the cocoon or the far corner of the gym).
Of course, there is an alternative. We could take those four letters and rearrange them into something more liberating—we can let flee become feel. We can stay in the moment and allow ourselves to feel whatever we feel; even it’s strange, awkward, and vulnerable. We can also remind ourselves that we don’t have to be perfect in our relationships—just honest and authentically real.
Who knows, we might even dance?