Lately, I’ve been thinking hard about why I feel so distant from people in my life when I know, in theory, I have a strong support system of close friends. As I was hiking on the outskirts of Salt Lake City today I came to a realization, and it has everything to do with high school physics.

When I took AP Physics: Mechanics in 11th grade, there was one equation that applied to all motion: F = ma. There were different variations of the equation. You could add a spring constant or adjust for vector directions, but the underlying relationship is the same. Force is dependent on acceleration, not velocity. As humans, we can only perceive force when there is a change in velocity, not when velocity is constant. When we are in a car traveling at 20 miles per hour, we can only feel that we are moving we merge onto a highway and accelerate to 60 miles per hour.

I realized that this principle also applies to friendship. We can only perceive how friendship is changing, not what friendship is at a given moment. We can have strong friendships, but unless friendship growing, we cannot perceive the feeling of intimacy. This is why even though I have strong friendships that have lasted decades, I still feel lonely. This is also why I didn’t feel lonely this summer even when I was estranged from my close friends. It is not the quality of existing intimacy but creation of new intimacy that shapes our perception of intimacy. We become habituated to the friendships we already have. No matter the quality of our existing friendships, we require the creation of new friendships to feel change in intimacy. It is only through the creation of new friendship can we feel intimacy at all.

In college, I didn’t make that many friends. I did, however, have an abudance of romantic relationships. I never quite understood why that was the case, but everything makes so much sense in retrospect. Friendships are slow and steady. They require years to build, but they rarely fall apart when a certain threshold is reached. Relationships, on the other hand, are quick and volatile. Everything is accelerated in relationships, but this acceleration comes at the cost of stability. You can get close to someone extremely quickly in a relationship, but it’s common knowledge that most relationships end quite quickly, especially in college.

The quicker you become close to someone else, the more intimacy you would feel. I wanted to feel intimacy. I feel intimacy by sharing as many experiences with someone before the initial honeymoon phase ends in a relationship. I took a lot of trips with people I’ve known less than a month because that generated the most intimacy in the shortest amount of time. Then the relationship ends, and I would feel the crushing change in intimacy caused by the breakup. Then I would have to start over with someone else. The cycle of highs and lows continue. It’s always the chase for the same change in intimacy.

I’m not sure how this realization would affect my attitudes towards friendships and relationships moving forward. Now that I understand what causes me to feel intimacy, does that make me more or less likely to pursue new friendships with new people? I understand the intimacy cycle in which I live, but I do not know if I want to continue living this cycle or to break this cycle. Is this a reality or a condition? Does being aware of what causes feelings of intimacy make me more or less to pursue additional opportunities of intimacy?

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