When you play with puppies, they'll lick your mouth; if you lie with dogs, you'll wake up with flees and familiarity breeds contempt; these are all idioms I've heard growing up. Only now, as an adult, each of these sayings brings so many other things to light.
I remember this one time I called my Pastor's house, and he answered the phone. True to form, me, and my bubbly self gave the appropriate greetings and salutations. After a little small talk, I asked to speak with his wife. Only this time, I somehow asked for her by her first name and not the one she is affectionately called.
Let me tell you; Mister wasn't having any of it. He checked me immediately. "No, no, you are no company to her; in future, please address her correctly." Now, don't get me wrong, it wasn't one of those situations where she needed to be called First Lady or anything. I suppose the sound of my voice saying her name so casually to him was sung to the tune of disrespect. Old school, ya know. Needless to say, we never had that problem again.
Before that moment, I hadn't ever viewed myself as one to be familiar. I, too, grew up in the old school era, where manners were automatic. Even now, as an adult, I can't get away from "Yes, Ma'ams and No Sirs. Please and thank you's. Pardon me and excuse me." Responses like "What or Uhh," were not to be uttered from the lips of children—and we were most certainly not allowed in rooms when adults were conversing.
As I get older, I now see that when you've crossed certain lines with an individual, there are liberties you can take that the average person won't ordinarily be allowed. Once you let people into the secret places of your character, they can truly make you or break you.
This made me question, "Is it possible to become too familiar in a relationship?" After all, isn't that the goal? To know you as I know myself?
Truth be told, the more you know about people, potentially the less you like them. Usually, the folks you encounter act as a mirror. Sometimes it's a two-way, where you can see them, but they can't see you, or it's just as we know it to be—and what is presented is what is reflected.
What a person represents can sometimes show you precisely who you are. Honestly, most of us don't like that feeling. How dare you reveal to me my flaws? How dare you reflect me to me without a filter? I firmly believe in any relationship, be it platonic or otherwise; we're either projecting or reflecting.
I've learned that the imperfections of others can trigger emotions that highlight our deepest insecurities. In many instances, those traits that irritate us most about a person lead us to an understanding of ourselves—of course, if we're paying attention.
When I use to date home slice, I hated that he always inserted himself in scenarios. To me, it always came off as a grandiose display of, "Oh, look at me! Look how amazing I am!" He could find a way to shine a light in his direction, even if the conversation was about the weather. (Insert gag reflex.) Until one day long after our relationship ended, I realized there were many "I's" spewing from my mouth in most of my conversations with friends too. Akon, I'm with you buddy, somebody call 911.
I instantly felt sick, and the more I remembered, the more I wanted to puke at the fact that I was inserting a "me too" story in almost every conversation I have. So, is it that familiarity is so commonplace that my issues recognized his issues, and we started clapping like Celie and Nettie in the Color Purple? (Me and you, us never part. Makidada. Me and you, us, have one heart. Makidada). Honestly, something was comforting in him but annoying at the same time.
Could the contempt be then that I can't stand how much he was like me, and I wanted the monopoly on this trait so even if it was negative, I could still be the center of attention? Because if we are the same, then I'd have to compete with him in that regard?
I suppose his aversion to me was that I held him to a standard that I was trying to impose on myself. I wanted to be more humble. I tried not to come across as arrogant. And the more those traits were prevalent in him, the more I asked him to tone it down. And all the more, he kept reminding me that he wasn't perfect.
There I was, thinking, "Ain't nobody's asking you to be perfect, Sir!" But in many ways, I really was. Whew, chall this hindsight giving everything it pose' to gave.
Familiarity is defined as close acquaintance with or knowledge of something. That must mean then that 'Familiarity' is a powerful tool. One that, when used correctly, allows me to keep you accountable, and you to do likewise to me.
Spoiler Alert: Everyone can't handle the responsibility of the familiar. If the Bible holds true and iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17), one must be willing to bear the friction. When sharpening a tool, the tool's brash surface is removed by grinding it with an abrasive substance harder than itself. In some cases, the surface is then polished, providing more smoothness without regrinding.
Translation: You can't be so thin-skinned and easily offended that you not only can't but won't take rebuke. You must be able to receive correction without mistaking it for abuse.
I don't know if it's said anywhere else in the world, but it's a Bahamian staple to tell folks when they cross a line, "You to use!" Which is to say, you've become so accustomed to a thing that it's somehow standard and has lost its thrill; thus, it has depreciated in value. When something loses value, we show it less and less regard. Think about it, when you purchase a new car, automatically, the rule is "No eating in my car!" Five years later, there's a french-fry under every seat and more sand than is on the beach.
Familiarity is also seen when we keep choosing to date the same character in a different body. We gravitate toward what is comfortable and where we feel most at home. It's like that favourite pair of house shoes that have your toe prints in them. You glide right in, and those shoes cup your feet like a glove. Even though these shoes provide no support, we like them because they are convenient and present.
On the flip side, being familiar can complement if we let the tool operate as it should. James says it like this, "For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like." (James 1:23-24 NLT)
Translation: I can see myself in you, but rather than thinking first and then adjust accordingly, I become triggered and react.
In this case, to be familiar means, I trust you with the most fragile parts of me. I trust you to know the bends in the road. Like when to speed up, when to slow down or when to come to a complete stop. It's when I trust you enough that even if we part ways, my secrets are still safe with you. Being familiar with someone means knowing when to proceed with caution and how to handle with care.
It becomes a safe space for a person to say one to another, "Aht, Aht, your inconsistency is showing again." Or, "Hey, pique down; no one asked for your opinion!"
It means because you reflect me, I'm patient with you even if you aren't always patient with me. And while reciprocation is not mandatory, it is easily extended because I value you just as I would myself. All of this means familiarity calls for maturity. Because when handled correctly, there is fellowship and intimacy, not just the physical kind.
Believe me when I say relationships ain't nothing but work. The minute you think you can keep getting away with doing the bare minimum, you'd better think again. Sometimes, familiarity makes us think that we don't have to evolve or grow. But people change, and honestly, I find in many ways that's how we approach God. While His character doesn't change, His methods do. Still, we keep expecting God to perform the miracle exactly like He did last time. Chances are, He probably won't—just like people won't always respond in the way you're accustomed to.
As with most things, there are terms and conditions: access to familiar places in the wrong person's hands then becomes a weapon—although sometimes unknowingly. Having extensive knowledge of anything not only provides information on how a thing works but also what can harm it. Now, think of that in terms of people. When I give you the road map to my most vulnerable parts, then it means you have the keys to the room containing all the ammo that can destroy me.
Though familiarity can be a devious enemy, it can also be a delightful friend; it's what we call a double-edged sword. It can be an all-access pass that pulls out the worst in you, or it can be the stone that sharpens you into your best self.
I use to find myself praying to God, "Lord, if it is your will..." but if you truly know someone, your will and theirs should be in sync. Please, I'm not saying that we should ever get familiar with the Father, but when you spend time with Him, you'll already know when a prayer is contrary to what He wills for you. Just as in relationships, you know what will upset your partner, but when you do it anyway—you've allowed familiarity to fool you into thinking you'll always get away with it. My friend, that's what we call manipulation.
Familiarity not only breeds contempt but it gives consent. But that consent shouldn't automatically give way to trust. All I'm saying is be very clear on who you give access granted passes to or who's access is denied.
Ain't no need there be shame in your game, feel free to borrow this motto: "Just because I'm, free doesn't mean I'm available!" Now go on and let that sizzle in your spirit (in my Country Wayne voice).