[EDIT: Despite concluding that I wouldn’t bring any of this up with people, I did. In the form of a link here. Derp. So I have cleaned up and qualified some things. Most technical stuff, but also a few ambiguous expressions. Content and message remains largely the same. The “needs editing” tag still applies.]
Friendships, people, socialising – from a very early age these things haunted me, gratified me, drove my being. Basics hopes and desires were all pinned on being with people, finding a place. I was still a defiant loner, but the desire for people was always there.
Most of my young years, once the pre-school “lets all be friends” equaliser had worn off and classroom pecking orders began to emerge, was spent as a loner. An outcast, who made friends with the odd new kid, who was closer to a few girl classmates, and as time went on, also ridiculed.
High school was worse. For the first year or two there were no friends. I was the fag (before I knew I was a fag, even – there was insight there, just a hateful coincidence), the outcast. I was still acknowledged, talked to and not entirely reviled by all the kids in class. But last chosen for group activities, sport. And always spending spare time alone: in the library, hiding from the world, afraid who might see me without any friends. I was a loner unto myself, and took whatever power I could from that.
But any teenager who is alone knows that there is no real power to be had in it, no matter how much you want to be wherever you are. No matter how transformative the literature, or how deep the imagination and fantasy overlay the world had to be given, much of the time.
It was only at the end of grade 9, as I began to realise my desire to Goth up, that I met a few girls also in a similar mindset – and from there fell into a clique or two, and found a small, genuine group of friends.
Indeed, there were some moments of cognitive dissonance during this time. My identity as a loner: which I valued, and viewed myself as first and foremost was still there. But my growing, entwined friendship base, which I mostly liked, was what got me out of bed for school, willingly and finally. The fact that they were also outcasts helped hold the two halves of my social identity together. Something I’m still happy about, to this day. It serves me well.
It was there that I was to learn the sometimes perplexing, contradictory, horrible and spiteful things people did to each other, socially. Seemingly for fun, if not personal gain. It was girls (who filled most my social circle, though) who were the worst, for girl-on-girl bitchyness, boyfriend swapping and game playing.
Guys too had a passive-aggressive way of ensuring confrontation was not avoided, over often the stupidest of things. Endlessly so, it seemed at times. I’m not sure how I managed to avoid it. Probably because I was never that close to them.
The dewey-eyed, recently accepted me was like one of those villagers undisturbed by progress, just dropped into 90’s teenage-dom. I had no idea what the value systems were, what was going on – what these “friends” were doing to each other. I was just so happy to be there, to not have to think about drawing out eating a sandwich to fill a lunch break.
I tried to be diplomatic in the drama. And when that failed honesty seemed to get me through. I was still on periphery, and still found many lunches left with a slowly consumed sandwich and whatever life the next book was taking me to.
In retrospect, the issues were trivial – but at the time, they were life-defining. End-of-the-Earth important. I still think they were the most important years for learning about people: while everyone is more sophisticated (well…heh), adolescence is a not inaccurate caricature of what Maslow describes.
I also learnt something else in those early social years, something that is still in a formative state now (and forever will be), about myself and how I handle, value and tolerate social conditions and behaviours imposed on me by others.
This is really the point of what I want to write.
The few friends I have these days, I love and adore – I’ve long stripped the people who are in “it” for something other than the mutual appreciation of each other and enjoyment that it brings. But without fail all those who I spend lots of times with have very specific character traits, mannerisms and social demands that I have trouble understanding.
Something that has come up with more than one person over the years: the social experience of not being able to have an open discussion with someone. Rather, you are rather guided through the talking points one person wants to achieve from the interaction. You slowly get the sense your input and elaboration on the topic is being viewed as vaguely aggressive, “off topic” interruptions, despite not being presented with an agenda at the start of the conversation.
Indeed, in these conversations, some people view adding “examples” or “elaborating” the point they’re talking on as a big no-no: or at least something that is secondary, or inferior to what they’re talking about. Or again, just not exactly what they’re talking about, so again: no-no.
“Did I forget to give you the rules, like the agenda, for the boundaries of this relaxed, casual discussion about the nature of various website’s UI? I am so sorry!
Discussing things I don’t feel like addressing in the conversation will result in me subtly implying you’re not paying attention, or missing the point. Or simply taking the focus off ME. And despite what you may think, we are talking about ME.”
– I hope this is the wrong sub-text, but I’m a pessimist.
That’s a regular one, but one I skirt by keeping conversations superficial – let people fill in their own details, tell their own damned stories and perhaps that will give them an outlet for some of the dysfunction they have would have otherwise thrust upon me.
I feel alienated from the social decision making of others, or like I’m some standards bearer for etiquette that is ultimately absurd, by any of the last half-century’s standards.
e.g. Prioritising a message from social media over getting something relatively urgent done in the here and now; to allowing non-issue “impediments” from stopping people doing something beneficial for themselves or a group of people; refusing to curtail activities that could be completed later to ensure we’re on time for something that wont be “doable later”; assuming that I’m ready to take their full on mental state, whilst happily ignoring (and, indeed, compromising) mine.
Why I bring all this up is because recently I’ve been getting upset at how certain people don’t seem to mind foisting their own social / life / anxiety / whatever problems on me. I know it’s difficult times for all, right now. But that makes it even less clear. Often I am in the same, or worse boat – and also need some attention, or at least not to be treated like a sounding wall for every frantic moment that I missed earlier. When I do that to people they tell me off for yelling at them, or I “seem angry”. It’s a shitty double standard…i think.
But that’s part of the point of this piece: I don’t know if it is.
I can’t be sure people don’t walk away from me (generally) rolling their eyes because of the fact that my own psychological dysfunctions litter conversations, experiences and expectations during every meeting. I hope not – I think not, even. But do I routinely place them on those me? Or do I just have a bunch of generally torturous personal mannerisms or behaviours that make others not want to be around me, or make this behaviour from them OK?
Again, I think not – but it makes it hard to be able to use my words and ask those i’m talking about above to perhaps be more considerate. Am I going to be a hypocrite? Causing pain that is not deserved.
I think I go to a lot of effort to accommodate people with out-there, with somewhat extreme social behaviours and needs. I’m dating one, and am one myself (more so than he, even). But I’ve spent lots of time, and do spend lots of energy simply reigning in my own uncertain franticness from outward display.
The fact that I find myself often helping people in highly strung situations makes me think there is an imbalance, and I am right in at least acknowledging it.