Communication & Connection

JC locals discuss how good communication provides them with more meaningful relationships.

When you were a child, your social skills may have been graded on how well you played with others. As adults, a more important question may now be: How well do you connect with others?

“Healthy relationships require an understanding of each other’s needs, knowing where natural boundaries are, and being able to say difficult things,” says Jennifer Patrick, a licensed clinical social worker who provides counseling services for JCMG. “In couples therapy, I often see a hesitancy to share what is going on.”

Lack of communication or miscommunication creates a barrier to meaningful connection — something we all have a baseline need for, Patrick says.

Dr. Kurt DeBord, a counselor and professor of social and behavioral sciences at Lincoln University, agrees. “We are social creatures,” he says.

Quite simply, we need each other. So why is it so hard to connect? According to Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness Index, three in five American adults report that they’re lonely.

The answer may lie in the intersection between our need to connect and today’s high-tech world.

“Modern technology has helped in so many ways, but it doesn’t help with intimate connection, with touch, with looking at each other face to face,” Patrick says.

In many ways, we are more connected, but we’re also more disconnected than ever before, DeBord suggests. He’s observed a rising anxiety over in-person interactions from his patients and students — an “anticipatory anxiety,” where anticipation causes greater anxiety than the reality of an encounter. 

According to Patrick and DeBord, making intentional effort to develop connections is needed to create meaningful relationships.

“Take risks with each other. Be vulnerable and confront your anxiety — step into it,” Patrick says.

We asked three locals to share moments of real-life connections that hold meaning for them.

Misty Young

Misty Young and Lt. Damon Nunn.

Working as the director of marketing and communications at Lincoln University, Misty Young says she first took notice of Lt. Damon Nunn, of the university’s police force, during a work meeting.

“I mentioned to someone that he was more handsome than I had realized,” she says, adding that it didn’t take long for him to hear about her assessment.

They had been together on a few group outings, but never on a one-on-one date when Nunn was sitting in Young’s office one late summer afternoon.

“We were in the early stages of feeling each other out, and he was leaning back in his chair, giving me this cool guy look,” Young says. “I told him, ‘This is not you. I want to really know Damon.’”

“He realized that anything he was trying to put on was not impressing me,” she adds.

Young says neither of them remembers what they were talking about that day, but she does remember how his muscles looked in his arms when he held his hands behind his head and leaned away from her.

“He was thinking he’s this super cool guy, and I just wanted to get to know his heart . . . even though his muscles are amazing,” she says with a laugh.

Young says Nunn was taken aback at first when she called him out, but then he leaned forward.

“I could physically see him letting his guard down. It was a simple moment, but even he will quote it back — it was that moment that changed our relationship.”

Misty Young

“I could physically see him letting his guard down,” she says. “It was a simple moment, but even he will quote it back — it was that moment that changed our relationship.”

Now engaged to the tough guy she calls the goofiest person she knows and the king of dad jokes, Young says she knows that if Nunn leans back during a difficult conversation, he’s not ready to let his guard down.

“Simple conversation, finding things in common, and being able to read each other’s body language can change everything,” says Young.

Dr. Jennifer Su

Dr. Jennifer Su sits at the counter at JC Healthfood looking at locally made jewelry

When she knew she was going to be on the West Coast for a conference in March 2020, Dr. Jennifer Su had to make that awkward first move.

“Can I meet you?” she asked fellow vlogger Carlo of Carlo & Seb.

The two had been connecting through her YouTube channel, From Jen with Hope, for about eight months. Working as a Jefferson City doctor who specializes in integrative wellness, Su’s YouTube channel and blog share her penchant for health knowledge, handbags, and her zest for life. 

“Writing my blog only happens when the Lord has something he wants me to write about. It always flows so easily, so I know someone out there may need to read about what I typed,” she says. “Vlogging is about sharing any experience I am having. I love doing that.” 

Su began her passion project in December 2018, and it’s an outlet that fuels her — allowing her to share what comes to her heart. Her online outlet also opened doors for connecting with like-minded individuals, such as Carlo, who lives outside of Jefferson City. 

Dr. Jennifer Su holds an amethyst crystal.

Reaching out for a face-to-face connection was not something Su took lightly. She knew meeting someone halfway across the country who she only knew through YouTube and Instagram was an endeavor she had to take with precaution. So her husband and parents worked with Su to know where she was and when.

Su and Carlo set a plan to meet one evening at Louis Vuitton in Beverly Hills. 

“I Googled ‘Louis Vuitton Beverly Hills’ not knowing there were two!” she says. 

They turned the mishap into laughter and eventually found each other on the busy Beverly Hills street, phones in hand, mirror videotaping the other.

“Everybody’s afraid of getting hurt, and you’ll get hurt sometimes. That’s OK. Not everyone likes vanilla ice cream.”

Dr. Jennifer Su

“I think he is really my brother,” Su says. She recalls an infectious joy as they laughed and chatted like old friends, driving in Carlo’s car around Beverly Hills and Hollywood.

This was the second time that Su had tried to take an online friendship to the next level.

“There was one girl I thought I would be friends with, but she kept coming up with excuses to not meet,” Su says.

She acknowledges putting oneself out there doesn’t always work out — not everyone is going to want to have a deeper connection. But she reminds others not to take it personally.

“Everybody’s afraid of getting hurt, and you’ll get hurt sometimes,” she says. “That’s OK. Not everyone likes vanilla ice cream.”

Jim Marshall

When Jim Marshall began his nonprofit organization, Cody’s Gift, in 2010, he recognized the importance of connecting with young adults. For the past decade, Marshall has been speaking to elementary, middle, and high school students across the country about his son Cody’s death by a heroin overdose, and he’s had many kids open up to him along the way.

“[My talk] brings a lot of kids out who have never talked to anyone,” Marshall says about stories of abuse, depression, and addiction. “They see me as nonjudgmental and as someone who will care.

“I try not to get into the science of counseling,” he says. Instead, Marshall encourages kids to begin talking about the difficult issues they’re facing. “If they don’t know what to do, they will self-medicate.”

“I try not to get into the science of counseling.”

Jim Marshall

Unfortunately, the students he’s been asked to speak to are getting younger, as more elementary and middle schools are seeing a need for his presentations. Marshall shares that he was once approached by a third-grade girl who admitted she had been cutting since the age of five. He also notes that the average age of those who start an addiction is 12.

A high school boy in North Carolina stands out to Marshall as a particularly important story. Marshall was standing in the Top Sail High School gymnasium after a presentation when a young man approached him with tears running down his face.

“He was six-five and about 280 pounds — a country boy,” Marshall says. “He gave me a big old bear hug, and he thanked me for talking about issues that other people treat like the plague.

“He told me that he had told his friends’ parents that his friend was using heroin — and he’d lost his friendship because of it. It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever heard,” Marshall says. 

“The guy made a bold, decisive move to help his friend instead of being a pallbearer.”

For Marshall, friends admitting friends were using was a story he’s heard before.

Jim Marshall looks off into the distance at the stadium.

“My own boy [Cody] said the same thing to me, but after he saw two of his own friends die,” Marshall says. At Cody’s visitation, his friends said they regretted not saying anything sooner — they wished they could go back in time.

“Every human being goes through tough mental health struggles at some point of their life. It’s part of being human,” Marshall says. “Communication is paramount. You have to have courage to open up.”