“You feel more real to me than any of our previous interactions. You feel more grounded, without all of your facial expressions, like this is who you are.”
I feel washed over in hopelessness, sharper sensation where I’m trying to keep tears from falling. I stand silently for a few seconds, looking away.
“It’s making me really upset to hear that. Like, if this is what I have to be feeling for me to feel real…” I trail off. When I’d come up from downstairs, picking at food, we’d run into each other on the stairs. “I feel lost and overreactive,” I’d said when he asked, and he’d stopped and turned around.
“No,” he says, “that’s not how it’s meant. Everything I’m saying is meant to let you grow to be the person you want to be, to have more options in how you present yourself, to give you tools to shape who you are if you want to.”
I look at him, feeling lost. I take a trick I learned from him the day before, and pretend to be someone else for a second, force the emotions down a bit.
“What’d you do there,” he says, as I execute.
“Made a gesture at being J,” I say—J’s confident and self-assured to an extreme. “I don’t really want to cry right now.”
He tilts his head. “I have a techniquelet that would be good for you. I can teach it to you later, about how to make space for pain.”
“That sounds great, thank you,” I say. I think we hug. He heads up the stairs.
[For people who may be worried: please don’t be :). Rationality Camp is a very special environment in which it’s perfectly acceptable and somewhat encouraged to be emotionally raw. I had a really rapid mood swing half an hour after this interaction and was back to my normal high-energy emotional state, though I think I would have “enjoyed” sitting in the confusion a little bit longer. I interacted with a few people in this state, and it felt like I was unlocking a secret mode in a video game—all of the characters interacted with me differently, and I got a different perspective on myself and my emotions.]
I recount this story a few days later, when he and I are sitting with each other, filling each other in on recent experiences.
“Yeah, I can see that,” he says, thinking. “I mean, I’m dating you, and I feel like I only have an understanding of half of what you care about, what’s important to you.”
We mull that over. I have an objection, but don’t quite know what it is yet.
“I do think that’s because you don’t know,” he adds.
Ah, that was the objection. It’s acknowledged that I share information, that I don’t hide. Good.
“How do I present, then?” I ask. I have to be presenting as something. I certainly feel like I’m presenting who I am.
“You’re not ever not-you, or being fake. But there’s a very stylistic Monica.”
More mulling over. “Stylistic?”
“Like mannerisms, responses, expressions, reactions. You could imagine someone with a completely different value system with the same stylistic response as you.”
He pauses. “Though you also have some higher-order topics you like to talk about with people.
That’d be the part where I really enjoy talking about social inference, and do so related to research and this blog.
Feels like good information. Weird to think about me not being a complete person, haven’t really decided if I believe it yet. It’s certainly pointing at something, about presentation, about closeness, about self, about the discovery process I’m on. Don’t know what that says about everyone else if I’m not being complete though. Maybe it’s not a comparison game, and we can just keep on becoming more, each of us ourselves. Hm.
It’s dark outside the windows, and we’ve been at this for a while. We move closer, and continue.