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Almost posted to Usenet [Mar. 25th, 2007|03:30 pm]
Those of you in the group probably know which group, and why... but I think it might be an interesting essay about human relationships even if it never sees any wider readership than here.

Cut because it's long...
You know that kid who was always made fun of and picked on? Well, if you grew up in Bridesburg, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, that kid was me. And some others; I don't think there's ever just one such child. Nevertheless, I was one of those kids.

It's caused me to have an interesting life in a lot of different ways. One of the things I've noticed is that social situations are almost always a duty to me, in some respects. "Hey, John, let's go to a party and hang out with people" makes me think "Um... why? What good is going to come of this? Well, okay, it's expected of me, so I'd better go along."

I don't "get" socializing too well. I mean, I understand it, I see it happening, but I don't really "get" it. As yet, I don't think of going someplace to be social as a possibly enjoyable thing to do. I know it can be, for some, and it probably could be, for me, but that's not what I first think about. Part of this is probably just me being an introvert, but part of it is that I'm trained to expect to have to protect myself in most social situations.

(There are more issues at work as well. ADHD makes sensory overload unpleasant, depression can leave me low on energy, and the weirdness that makes me call myself a shaman makes lots of social interactions weird for me.)

It makes it really hard for me to make friends with anyone. It's not that I'm not friendly, or not receptive to friendship (though sometimes it is - it's not easy to recognize friendship when you're frequently expecting to be attacked); it's that I don't have any gut level understanding of how friendship works, how it develops. Plus, there's that whole "no expectations of socializing" thing going on. Much of friendship is just hanging out together, which is the very thing that I rarely think about, because I have so few expectations of anything nice happening as a result of that.

This gives me a bit of an outsider perspective on human relationships, and allowed me to think of some things that aren't often stated explicitly.

First off, no one owes you anything, not in any pragmatic sense. Sure, if you smile and say "hello!" to someone, there's an expectation that that person will at least give you a brief smile and nod as acknowledgment. If you're respectful and polite, people who jump all over your case are likely going to be seen as nasty. It's just that none of these things are owed to you in any sense that you can demand them. If a person jumps all over your case, what are you going to do, have them arrested?

In a social circle, you can complain about the behavior of another, but there's no guarantee that your complaint will do anything. A person can say "I can't help it, so-and-so just pisses me off!" and unless there are a lot of so-and-sos who piss that person off, well, people are going to accept that. They might not like it, but what are they going to do? Maybe so-and-so really does piss that person off, and maybe that person can't really help it. We all have irrational likes and dislikes. While there might be some social pressure to be polite to a person who pisses you off, you can't demand warmth or friendliness.

This is one of the things that helped me to realize that life really is pretty fucking unfair. There's a lot of people who, if they knew the real me, would consider me to be a really great guy who they'd often like to hang out with, the kind of person who should be called and roped into gatherings, and even if he refuses frequently, pleading tiredness, well, you should keep after him, because he'll really add something to the group those times he can make it.

But that's not how it works out.

It's not my fault; my native weirdness coupled with a lot of bad training put me in a situation in which I don't know much about how to socialize. And it's not anyone else's fault, either. What, are they supposed to read my mind and know what a wonderful person I am? Do they have mystic senses about great-guyness? Even if they did, there's six billion people on the planet, if ten percent of them are great folks, then there's 600 million great folks, and one, more or less, doesn't really make the world bright and happy or sad and lonely.

It's no one's fault, it's just the way the world is. And the fact of the matter is, there's only one person who is always with me who can do any work to change that, and that's me.

There's a rough balance to strike, of course. If I annoy folks, or am a bother to deal with, or even if I just set off their weirdness detectors, well, I can't insist that *they* change. But I also can't change just because I piss off or weird out a single person. You'll always piss off or weird out *someone*.

It's even harder to do this because it's not really something you can do consciously. You can't really try to be non-annoying, or non-weird. You can try to change external aspects of yourself (fighting back the urge to interrupt, or to dominate a conversation), but not internal stuff (loving to talk). And sometimes, you can't change anything. For whatever reason, you and a person or group of people just don't click, and that's just the way it is.

Recently, I had a bit of a realization about one of the most destructive icons of my childhood, The Fonz from Happy Days. See, he was cool, so cool that he could have almost any woman on the face of the planet just by snapping his fingers... as if every woman was compatible with one man, however sexy he might have been to others. Without intending to, the show spread the false idea that one could earn affection by being worthy of it, which also spreads the false idea that if you don't get affection, you're not worthy of it, or unfairly perceived as unworthy of it.

(I feel like defending the writers of the show by mentioning that he was the personification of every guy's feeling that some men have *no* trouble picking up 'chicks' ("so what's wrong with *me*?"), and that's part of teenage angst, which one of the themes of the show, but this is already too long.)

I finally came up with a farming metaphor for relationships. You can try to make sure the soil is fertile, you can plant the seeds, do your weeding and fertilizing and watering, but you can't be sure that insects or blight or weather won't kill what you've sown. And you can't even be sure when that plant you thought was a weed might be useful, but you can't spend too much time on the weeds, or your cultivated crops might suffer.

(First person to make a joke about "ho'ing" is going to get spanked. Or not spanked. Or whatever is appropriately punishing.)

You can't grow everything, everywhere. Sometimes you have the wrong soil, or the wrong climate, or you could grow something, but, ick, it's better if grown somewhere else. You need to find the kind of plants you can grow, and grow well - i.e., you have to find your kind of people, the kind of people you can be grow friendships with, and figure out how to cultivate friendships with them, and you might have to adjust your approach and methods until you find a way that works with the folks you want to be with.

Sometimes you'll find yourself being a tobacco farmer in the Pacific Northwest, or an apple farmer in the deep south, and you'll have to adjust your expectations, or make bigger changes than you imagined (or, possibly, move), before you'll have any luck "farming". And that's frequently not fair... but it's also the way life is.

It'd be wonderful if friendship went to all who deserved it, if friendships were easy to develop and took no time or energy to maintain, so we could be friends with everyone who would enjoy our friendship, but life doesn't work that way.

It'd also be wonderful if we were all handed appropriate seed packets and instructions for growing and cultivating... but we aren't. And even if we were, come on, we humanfolks can be awfully independent minded cusses, who'd throw those seeds and instructions away, even if they were clearly right, if they didn't match our self-image. So we all have to learn on our own, and for some folks, it'll be easier than for others.

It's sad, but it's also life. Understanding that can be the first part of learning to live it.

[User Picture]From: firecat
2007-03-25 11:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that pretty much sums up my experience at Potlatch a few weeks ago. I'm fine socializing in a small group (5 people or fewer) where I know at least one person but put me in a larger group with lots of people I don't know, and chances are I won't feel at all comfortable. It's better post-Prozac than it was before - now I mainly feel uncomfortable and not paranoid - but not better enough.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2007-03-26 01:27 am (UTC)
I finally came up with a farming metaphor for relationships. You can try to make sure the soil is fertile, you can plant the seeds, do your weeding and fertilizing and watering, but you can't be sure that insects or blight or weather won't kill what you've sown. And you can't even be sure when that plant you thought was a weed might be useful, but you can't spend too much time on the weeds, or your cultivated crops might suffer.

I think that this is really quite profound and important, and an excellent description, particularly of new relationships. For established relationships, like established plants, it takes a lot more to kill them.
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From: kightp
2007-03-26 06:20 am (UTC)
This is good, solid stuff, darlin'. And true to the bone.

And yeah, probably just as well you didn't post it in said newsgroup, because the person you'd have been posting it for has such a huge sense of entitlement that he wouldn't have caught even the slightest bit of a clue from it. But you know, if that whole tedious discussion prompted you to sit down and get this on paper, so to speak, then it's not a waste.
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[User Picture]From: barbarakitten_t
2007-03-26 04:48 pm (UTC)
oh, john....i want to make a comment about hoes, just to see what you will do.

i also want to point out that there are those of us who can kill plastic plants...and you can put that in your analogy, too.

i can also see you in a black leather jacket and boots and a motorcycle...whoa!
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[User Picture]From: ruth_lawrence
2007-03-28 04:35 am (UTC)
Thank you for writing this....and I'm pretty much in agreement with you.
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[User Picture]From: hmms_sio
2007-03-28 01:29 pm (UTC)
Yes. Thank you. It's good to have such stuff if I feel like reading it.
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[User Picture]From: hmms_sio
2007-03-28 01:30 pm (UTC)
hm... that came out sooo wrong.

I mean: I read it. And thank you, it is very good stuff. And I want to reread it, so I keep it and read it again if I feel like reading it.

Something like that :)
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