You Don’t Owe

A single stupidmarket trip aside, I’ve spent the last four or five days alone. By my estimation that’s about 40 years too short. Unlike most people I know, I seem to need my solitude. Plus I absolutely love it. It takes me days by myself to think. It’s the macro-level of getting involved in a task and needing some time to get settled in to context where you can actually perform it.

I learn a lot of shit about being a person really late. I mean fuck, I’m 52 years old and I’m just coming to some basic self-understanding that most people around me seem to be born with. So be it.

To Wit:

I was writing something else, something that I’ve written a hundred hundred times over the last forty years no doubt (though more in the last 3 than in the previous thirty I’m sure) when the truth of it all hit me like a ton of bricks.

Let’s take the bullet points one at a time and see if you can get to it in the time that I have.

  • I’m tired of feeling taken advantage of.
  • I don’t understand people’s plaintive demands on my time and attention. On one hand it’s nice to be valued. But on another, well…kinda fuck off. No is a complete answer.
  • Effusive displays of emotion towards other people are anathema to me. They’re crass, uncivilized and don’t belong in public. They rarely belong even in private. How you feel about another person should be expressed in your actions, otherwise it’s pretense. You shouldn’t need to say.
  • Don’t fuck with people.
  • Don’t embarrass or take advantage of your host
  • Don’t embarrass or take advantage of your guests

There are a lot of things that have been going on in my life over the last six or seven months that have brought these kinds of things to light.

More poignantly, I’ve (or more properly “‘d”) been rubbing up against these things like a belt sander on an open wound, which…as I type the words feels less like an analogy than is strictly healthy, which is rather the point I suppose. Okay okay I’ll stop talking in fucking circles. I find it fun. But I can’t imagine you do.

It feels to me as though even the well intended among the people I know (about a 95% ratio across a few disparate social groups, online and off) are constantly pulling and pushing at me across all these dimensions.

Now I’m angry at no one but myself about all this. It’s always been the case really. It’s my nature to presume I’m the problem at least most of the time.

But…and this gets a little circular again. Sue me. It’s the nature of self reflection…the mistake I’ve been making has been in the presumption that I’m wrong about this. The feeling (and I hate the fucking word, but sometimes you’ve just got to call a spade a spade) that when people are playing passive aggressive games with me that I’m supposed to sit there and take it for the sake of social convention, politeness and such makes me fucking violently angry with myself.

As does feeling somehow bound to come hang out just because people ask.

As does feeling bound to respond when people are over-expressive of sentiment (gotta admit, I’m kinda with Loki in The Avengers on the idea of expressed sentiment.)

As does “sucking it up” when I’m constrained by my rules about social conduct against people who don’t follow those rules. Though…in this case I think it’s a matter of framing. Sucking it up is an act of overt submission. Sticking to my ideals and not taking the damned bait is quite the opposite. Though they can look the same from the outside. The difference is rather more a matter of self-talk than anything else.

Now those aren’t all QUITE the same thing. But they mostly are.

And, as I write that I realize there’s a misconception that can be gleaned from that: I’m not at all against the polite jocularity that comes in the form of “dude I’m just fucking with you.” I absolutely love that. It’s healthy bantering horseshit. I’m no GOOD at it (indeed I’ll “play along” to an extent that causes people to stop and say “dude, I’m joking.” Yeah man I know. I was playing along with the joke.) But it’s fun, as long as I keep it on the right side of the line.

Of course there’s a fine line between people trying to get a rise out of you as a matter of social play and just playing patsy. When I get a little tipsy I get pretty boisterous and people seem to enjoy that. Lord knows I do, exhausting as it can be.

The most obvious thing about all of this, which I expect people will “yeah, duh” about is the following:

I don’t fucking owe people acquiescence on the plane on which they demand to relate with me. This is more poignant if not more true with people as I get closer to them.

I don’t know how the hell I missed it. Sometimes No is the answer. Sometimes “go fuck yourself dude” is the proper response. Sometimes it’s fine to just nod and smile vacantly with a raised eyebrow at some moron and a knowing wink to someone else in the room.

How I got to the place where I’m not a first class person in my own life is…well…if I think about it there are two things about that: one is that I’ve almost always been this way. The other is that I understand on some examination perfectly well how the hell it happened.

So I can sit here and be angry with myself about it, but on any application of internal focus it’s really just frustration and “well, better late than never” in the truer sense of the phrase (rather than as a brush-over of deep personal mourning and whining.)

bathroom trip and a few minutes of thinking later

It’s one of the weirdly back-handed things about being a denizen of the internet since it’s existed (and, you whelps, I don’t mean “the web.” I mean since IRC (nee “Relay”) was a thing back in the 80s, AOL and CompuServ, and dial-up BBSs before that.)

When you live online you have a level of isolation from personal interaction that we’re all acutely aware of. But that’s not really “social activity” in any real sense. This is one of the things I’ve spent some significant amount of time confused and frustrated about over the last couple decades (the admonishment that “people online aren’t really people” is an adjunct realization.)

There’s a notion online that you don’t really have any “Skin in the game” in the Taleb sense (read Taleb. He’s great. He’s an unforgivable asshole on the internet. But he’s smart as fuck and his books are worth learning from. Rather inadvertently speaks squarely to my point now that I think about it.)

What happens is you end up developing the minimal subset of skills required to get along in the “not quite social” context of the internet and stopping there. So I have no trouble on the internet telling someone where to go and helping them pick out a basket in which they should travel.

The contrast between that flexibility, freedom, and yeah, self-assurance and the near complete lack of it in meatspace is suddenly (and again I kick myself for the suddenly part of it) crystal clear, at least in comparison. I can only imagine it will become more so over time, rendering THIS realization somewhat indistinct and foggy.

As such: I find myself tending towards online interactions, as no doubt many of us do, because I’ve internalized that subset of identity quite clearly over the last four decades. And THAT’S the mistake. The literal cognitive dissonance between online identity and meatspace identity brought me to a mode of biasing towards the comfortable context rather than tossing myself into the world where I need the experience, the abrasion required to actually develop and, much as I hate to say it, mature.

It’s hard to give myself some slack (at the BEST of fucking times) and not get overly frustrated that I’m just figuring all this shit out now. But hey what the hell. That’s how it goes I suppose. I get more mad at myself for getting mad at myself than I am mad at myself in the first place, which is progress in its own way I suppose. I’ll take it.

A lot of the fear that I would get wrapped up in is tied with the impulse to curate other people’s interpretation of my actions. But…there’s no way to do that accurately, not really. Sure you can play that kind of game in some contexts; corporate politics for instance. But that’s not really the same thing.

I’ve been perfectly fine with the understanding that you can’t curate someone else’s emotional state, not really. But outside of specific conversational scenarios (what I’ll call a scene) you can only do so much to affect how other people think on a macro level. In some regard I’m a victim of my own acumen, in that I’m pretty good at seeing how people see and hear things and can usually describe things in the way they need to hear them in order to communicate what I’m trying to get across.

But to take that scene-based interactivity and try to draw it out to a macro level presumes a level of intentional manipulation that again, does have its place (if I were to confess to a bit of Machiavellian/Greeneism.) But when you’re trying to deal honestly with people in actual real human relationships that’s to be avoided. You can’t actually…eh…just caught myself about to lie. You really CAN do that. It’s just not to be done.

Trust people to understand you in depth on a macro scale. If they don’t, well…you can only do what you can do. Accommodating people is fine if it’s a function of clarity. But not at self deprecation.

You don’t owe people the fulfillment of their expectations and desires of you. You owe yourself the integrity of being yourself and knowing that you’re a first order person.

I’ll leave you two quotes:

“You have the right to take up space.” – Amy Alkon (Seriously. Read her book “Unfuckology” it’s solid.)

and, one that makes more and more sense to me the more I let my brain cogitate on it in the background:

“Mikey, remember, you’re YOU.” – My Dad.

Startling how much smarter he becomes the older I get.

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