Potato chip connections
Chances are, you’ve had the experience of binging on potato chips or other junk food when what you really wanted was a meal. You’re famished, so instead of taking the time to cook something, you reach for whatever’s quickest, easiest, or most tempting, but you end up feeling like garbage. Connection can work similarly.
We want to connect, but just like a hearty meal requires time and energy to prepare, connection usually requires vulnerability, which can be similarly draining. Sometimes we’re too hungry for connection to feel like we can take on the risk of vulnerability-- rejection would feel too painful. So, we reach for low-effort but relatively unsatisfying “potato chip connections.” We swipe on Tinder. We scroll on Facebook. We watch a TV show with characters to whom we feel connected in some way. We hang out with acquaintances in real life but don’t tell them anything meaningful about ourselves. It doesn’t require much energy and it’s low-risk, but it’s also low reward.
This isn’t to say that potato chip connections are inherently bad for you. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a few Pringles between meals. The problem is when potato chip connections sub in for more fulfilling connections, because it means you’re likely not getting what you’re actually craving. Watching another episode of The Great British Bakeoff probably isn’t going to make you feel connected and loved and validated, and if you’re letting Netflix play the next episode (I know, it’s cruel and unfair that Netflix does that automatically now) instead of calling a friend, you might be numbing your craving for connection instead of satiating it.
So, what can you do so you don’t fill up on potato chip connections?
- Notice how you feel after any given interaction. Do you feel like your need for connection is more sated than it was at the beginning of your interaction? Do you feel a little hollow? Do you feel your fingers itching to open the Facebook app on your phone? Try to pay attention to what kinds of interactions help you feel more connected and what kinds of interactions leave you a little empty.
- Make sure you get enough high-quality connection in your everyday life. Do what you can to prevent yourself from getting so hungry for connection that you go for the junk. Schedule hangouts, phone calls, or time to go to local events that make you feel genuinely connected. This may involve doing things you’re not used to, like calling friends you haven’t spoken to for a while; going to community gatherings that you think might make you feel connected; volunteering; calling a hotline (a great option is Samaritans. It’s a suicide hotline, but you don’t have to be suicidal to all-- the number is (877) 870-4673, and you can call or text 24/7); opening up more to the people you already talk to on a day-to-day basis.... you have a lot of options. Any one of them can make a difference.
- When you realize you’re choosing a potato chip connection, be patient with yourself. If you’re on a steady diet of potato chip connections, you’re probably not going to overhaul the way you seek out connection in one day, and if you do, you probably won’t get it “perfect” on your first try. It’s likely you’ll go through a period of noticing yourself making suboptimal choices, and it can be frustrating to go through that part of the learning process where you know you’re doing something you’d rather not be doing, but haven’t changed anything yet. In reality, that’s an essential part of the learning process! If you can stick it out through the imperfection, you’re likelier to succeed long-term. So when you notice yourself choosing potato chip connections, give yourself a high-five for realizing it, regardless of whether you end up doing anything about it or not.
What’s your potato chip connection of choice? What are some wholesome connections you’d like to carve out time and energy for?