In young adulthood, Donald Miller skyrocketed to success due to the wide acceptance of his New York Times bestselling “Blue Like Jazz.” But while he was impressing the masses, he wasn’t connecting with anyone. At 40 years old, after another failed relationship, he decided to seek professional help. Miller, now married, is now sharing the details of his struggles to find intimacy in “Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.” Here he discusses what brought him to the breaking point and the healing he found through counseling.
RNS: Intimacy issues don’t develop overnight. What are the warning signs in that one is becoming isolated or shallow in their relationships?
DM: For a long time, I thought I was good at relationships because I was charming. People liked me. But I was lonely. I think that’s the sign something isn’t right. When we have hundreds of instagram followers who are impressed with us but still feel lonely, it’s because our real needs aren’t being met. For me, that meant starting to get more honest with people about who I really was, flaws and all.
RNS: How did you discover you had issues that needed to be addressed?
DM: I messed up a relationship pretty bad. I broke up with a girl, and it wrecked us both. Some friends reached out and let me know my patterns were damaging. So I got help. My problems were obvious to everybody but me. When I finally admitted it, I decided to get help. I went to a therapy camp and started seeing a counselor. The journey was amazing and healing.
RNS: What do you suggest someone should do if a person close to them has a problem with intimacy? Is confrontation like you received necessary?
DM: The friends who confronted me had been in my life for a long time. They’d earned the right to be heard. I knew they were for me. So yeah, if we’ve friends who we love and are for, we can certainly talk to them about what’s going on. But that’s a tender thing. Nobody likes to be corrected. We have to be the kinds of friends who’ve earned the right to say something so tender. But my friends talked to me and it helped, for sure.
RNS: How did your relationship with your now-wife Betsy factor into this journey?
DM: I’d known Betsy for a long time but she was always too healthy for me. Betsy is a remarkable woman, and I wasn’t compatible with her until I got healthy, too. But toward the end of that journey, we reconnected. She was the silent motivation for me to keep doing the work.
RNS: You married in your 40s, and a lot of people are marrying later in life now. Does this create any hurdles regarding intimacy?
DM: It didn’t for me. What creates a hurdle is when we’re unhealthy or think of relationships through the false-light of fantasy. Age doesn’t matter a whole lot. If I had married earlier, I would have had a bad marriage. I had to figure some things out first. That took me a long time. I love that I got married when I did. It was the right time in my story.
RNS: What role does social media play in intimacy-making or intimacy-breaking?
DM: I like social media but it can tempt me to play a role or to make my life look more exciting or interesting than it is. That’s a recipe for loneliness. All these tools we use to become our own press agents are making it harder, not easier to connect. I don’t mind social media, I just think we have to be accurate and true as we present ourselves to the world so the relationships we do foster online really help us connect. [tweetable]Connection is all about telling the truth.[/tweetable]
RNS: After having written “Scary Close” and thinking about these issues, do you believe fear of intimacy is especially endemic to Millennials?
DM: No, I think its endemic to human beings. Intimacy is frightening because there’s so much at stake. Like it or not, other people have the ability to make us feel great about ourselves or terrible about ourselves, so it makes sense that we guard our hearts. At the same time, letting safe people know who we are is how we find intimacy, so it’s important to get out there and fight for a small community we can trust. I don’t think it’s just Millennials. I think it’s all of us. Connection is what we want more than anything else in the world. It’s what life is about.