How Close Is Too Close? (Essay)

Illustration by Sam Liacos.

Words by Hoda Essa. Art by Sam Liaco.

I’m used to an insatiable type of closeness. Growing up, I was close and open with my parents. At 10, I used to sit in my mother’s room and listen in to her grown woman conversations that she’d have with other women in my family. I learned about the female anatomy, sex, men, and marriages. When listening in to my dad and his friends’ conversations, I learned about hard work and facts about life. In my culture, especially in Somalia, it’s encouraged for girls and women to separate themselves from men that are not their family. And in my household, that meant that when my dad had his friends over for dinner, all the women in the house would retire to their respectful quarters and call it a night.

Not for me.

I’ve always had a great handle on other people’s boundaries. I understand that people need time alone to recoup and sink into themselves–but for me, I like my love up close. Front and center. Tuned in and present. Aware and intuitive. A love like family.

As I’ve got older, I sensed really quickly that not everyone sees love the way I do. I was existing in an incredibly cushy reality of luxurious affections, trying to participate in a world that often prides itself on flourishing through the harshness. I was meeting people on campus, my job, and internships that were basking in the benefits of disassociation. Often, I felt that most people were removing themselves and opting out of life (and love) to preserve themselves. My world was shifting from late nights cooped up with my grandmother and momma, burning coals and resins to relax ourselves, to a place where people lied and stole and had no remorse for one another.  It wasn’t until I was 18 that I was able to see the whole “loving at arm’s length” come to up close and to fruition: when I fell in love for the first time. I didn’t fall; I collapsed. I tumbled into this love with no avail because it was the first romantic love that was deep, profound, phenomenal, but also incredibly human, at least at first. I truly loved this boy with every ounce of my being, and that love knew no bounds. Whether we were watching movies or talking on the phone late at night, every bit of our connection felt like time and space were obsolete.

This love made me feel infinite. Here I was, experiencing a bond with someone who chose this burrow-hole of a universe to experience with me–this was beyond closeness. We shared everything with one another. Not a moment or event passed without me filling him in on the minute details of my life. But what I learned most about this love was a lesson in closeness, outside of just proximity, but as intimacy.

This love created an infinite well for my emotions and sensations to spill into, but it was exhausting. Opening up to someone who would shut you out eventually creates an incurable fissure in a relationship. It didn’t happen all at once; the phasing out of communication was a gradual build up that motivated us to keep close for as long as possible, just to say we did. The days of endless conversation and finding any rhyme or reason to be up under one another turned into excuses and lack of accountability. Here I was, fully present and aware with and for someone, so much so that I forgot about how to house my own heart in the process. Here I was, trying to recreate an environment that spilled over with love, a familial type of love–Did you eat? Have you chatted with your school about football? Get to bed on time? Here I was, arming myself for a battle to mirror his worthiness back to him, meanwhile he never saw it in himself.

While this love left me cautious and exercising my right to side eye another’s intentions, I still desire closeness. Perhaps it’s because I grew up loving openly. I grew up in closeness that betters you and teaches you. There’s liberation in wholeheartedly tuning into love and allowing yourself to be open.

1 comment

  1. Love this!! The transparency is incredible. Also the fact that you still seek love up close and intemitly is also inspiring. “Always looking to seek the lesson in every circumstance” is what I get from the last paragraph. Great write up!

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