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I’ve been trying lately to be a decent friend to the people I like a lot. I’ve had enough time since ~2006 to reflect on how I’ve treated friends and vice versa. I’m not thrilled with either, in some respects. Long story short, I’m a pretty narcissistic person, and I’ve played a pretty damn cold person in order to satisfy that drive without becoming too vulnerable.
I emphasize that I played a cold person because I still don’t believe that this is who I am. I think that being really different from most people you meet kind of joins with a history of hating yourself to catalyze this bizarre, cold-war-like social behavior that I have seen and embodied.
The idea is that hanging out with someone is like a game of chicken or Mutually Assured Destruction. Both know that the other isn’t really *just* the persona they’ve shown to the other, but the first two reveal that she’s more than this persona is “chicken” and thus loses some kind of ephemeral points. The problem is that these points, and the game itself, is part unconsciously absorbed from the society (various internalized isms?) and part actively constructed by the two people involved.
I think that one other thing has made it difficult for me to own up and be “chicken” in this scenario, to show real vulnerability and put your well-being in some else’s hands for a moment. I’ve confused the act of standing up and being the “chicken” here with emotional neediness, or manipulative behavior. I’m almost more afraid of manipulative people, and of acting like one, than I’m afraid of showing vulnerability. So the two combined were enough to keep me well hidden in the basement of the nuclear missile silo for a long time.
What I think I discovered is that really sincere and direct connections between me and my friends rule out both the possibility of manipulation and neediness. To be cold or “checked out”** towards those people anymore is to forget this. The same thing that keeps my nonsense in check also keeps away bad stuff at the opposite pole: manipulative neediness and passive aggression (conscious or otherwise).
**So, I just finished reading Nevada by Imogen Binnie, too. That’s one reason I want to write on this stuff now. Maria the main character has brought the state of being emotionally checked out to a fine art. I guess there’s a reason I felt so much about Maria and ID’d so strongly, like a lot of other people I guess. But frankly I don’t think that ID’ing with Maria is such a great sign in a real person, beyond a certain degree of identification. I won’t go into it here, at risk of spoiling certain plot points, for one. But reading the book (at like 125 pages a day) brought up memories and premonitions that made me want to write this post, essentially.
For example, Maria doubts herself internally, but never shows that to 99% of others much, including when she’s lecturing someone on the one true path to radical righteousness (me, anyone?). For me, the episode in the apartment and car with James H. was the best thing in the book, and it was a good book, so that’s saying it’s really good. For the first time in the story, Maria gets a chance to test her whole internally worked-out enlightenment/ideology on James. Which means that she commits to helping him if she can, but also to making her framework of ideas on herself and the world coherent and persuasive to someone else. Someone who is actually present, someone whose bodily emotional responses are actually there “in her face,” and vice versa. The result is that she essentially achieves the goal, to her own satisfaction (unlike on the air when she called NPR that one time). But that doesn’t conduce to James’ complete enlightenment or wanting to be her friend for real. He just bails. The question is not whether James is checking out here (he clearly is). The question is whether Maria will when she discovers he’s gone. And even if only to herself, she refuses to feel the let-down and instantly writes him off out of sour grapes, then Maria isn’t all the way over her own major problem.
The thing is that making a friend is full of opportunities to be let down hard. And chances to let someone down. It’s too bad maybe that the attractiveness of doing that is feedback-looped by how much you like yourself. Becoming someone you like whether the peers like it or not is tough for a lot of people. Right? And the lengths people go to in achieving that can lay the foundation for bad phenomena later on, as well. The adaptation that saved your life becomes a curse that perpetually singes your life around the edges, if that adaptation is checking out. And what I now believe, at least, is that neither clear communication nor great feelings about myself suffice to keep me checked in and keep me from letting friends down. At least, it takes both. So that’s what I’m going for.
*Thanks to Mark E. Smith for the lovely homophone.
Thanks to Topside Press for getting Nevada out to people & thanks to I.B. for the novel! You’re rad, neat, etc. 🙂