Life is nice

Readers-readers-readers it’s blog time!

I’m so excited. This week has been… incredibly busy? A bunch of my friends are just getting back from break, but I feel like I’ve been on continuous “go” for a while now, especially since school started yesterday. But I’ve finally carved out some blog time. This week I’m going to write out lots of relatively-disconnected little thoughts that I’ve been saving up for a while. These are things that I write down when they occur to me, at least a few times a day; elsewise thoughts can fall into loops in my mind and it’s nice to have a clean mindspace :).

I find it interesting how much I echo people’s speaking styles, after a single exposure? I don’t often notice it, but I was at a dinner party the other day and the new phrasing that was coming out of my mouth was strange enough that I checked back to see where I had gotten it from.

This time, it was “I thought I’d check the source material,” which is something that fits in my vocabulary, but not something I’d normally use. It turned out one of the people at this party had used it about 15 minutes before, and I said it when I was speaking to him again, unconsciously.

I also said “there is a Sarah,” which I would never use in my normal patterns. It had been repeated twice though previously, in this group of people, so I appeared to have adopted it. I also generally notice I tend to adopt a more casual, slang-y way of speaking with people I meet on the street, and tend to go very intellectual and fast when I’m annoyed with someone. I’m possibly most scientifically eloquent when trying to bulldoze people I’m annoyed with than when I’m actually trying, which is an interesting observation.

What’s strange to me is the actual adoption of language is unconscious. I’m aware when I’m speaking in a different way than normal, but it feels like it’s just “happening” to me. However, I’m fully aware of what was said, and who said it, and can usually track these things back to the specific instance in which the particular phrasing I’ve adopted was used. I wonder if people who pay less explicit attention to everything that’s said adopt language. You know, I intuitively think they probably do.

Another odd observation is how much I pay attention in conversations—like, if you stop focusing for a few seconds you can lose an entire sentence—and how much it seems like everyone else must as well? It’s kind of absurd that we don’t miss more than we do when talking to people. Then again… it depends on what you’re talking about. A lot of the people I talk with put content in every single sentence, but maybe most conversations you can generally get the gist of it if you zone out on occasion. One of my friends has trouble with zoning out, and really wants glasses that will show a conversation transcript on the lens so that she can catch up when she inevitably loses the thread somewhere.

I was talking with my advisor about context-switching recently… basically, I’m bad at working on several projects at once, and would rather do things one at a time. However, as a professor, apparently all they do is context-switch, constantly. My professor says it’s a skill one learns in grad school, and you can get better at it and less stressed about it.

The thing is, though, that I don’t think I’m bad at context-switching in general. I was in college at some point, and occasionally my life gets busy now (read: this semester :P) and I’m able to get a lot of diverse things done with pretty low overhead. But context-switching with projects stresses me out, because you have to hold a lot in your head. If I’m not the lead on a project, no problem, but I seem to be trying to hold the entire project in my head every time I work on the project that I’m mainly responsible for. Meaning, not only am I tracking what I’m doing, but I’m doing a lot of tracking of is this what I’m supposed to be doing, is this the best thing to be doing, which requires that you keep the entire scope of the project and where you’re going and what remains and in what order it should be done and what needs to be saved and how should this whole thing be organized—all of that, in mind. And if I’ve got this massive precarious structure in my head, and someone’s like—nope, you need to work on this other thing now—I’m looking at this crumbling, enormous thing, and I just want to be buried under it and be overwhelmed and pulled and upset because uh, I’m holding up this thing right now? I don’t like how huge it is and I’m trying to decrease it, leave me alone?

I guess the strategy here would be to break it down into pieces and work on each of those pieces. I struggle with that because I really like having the big picture (at the project-level, and at “organizing Monica’s time” level) in mind. I think I’m actually quite good at the whole organizing-time-efficiently-and-making-plans-happen-in-advance-and-in-order skill, even compared to a lot of the people I hang out with.

The strategy I came up with a month or so ago and I’ve been pushing in my head is a general “DON’T WORRY ABOUT THIS YOU DO TOO MUCH PLANNING” banner that I send around my head reasonably frequently. It is actually doing something—making me back off a little on the nitty-gritty details and try to just let things happen—but I’m interested to see how that develops further.

Wow, I notice that it often takes several paragraphs to discuss a thing that is a fragment of a phrase in my word doc of thoughts. E.g., the whole chunk above is: “Context-switchableness? Have to learn it? (says [advisor name])”

The remainder of that sentence is “but also I like blocks of uninterrupted time a LOT”, which I also think is interesting. You know how I don’t use a phone? I didn’t use to use a phone, and I still try to strongly discourage friends from contacting me on a phone. The reason I don’t like phones is that they make you way too contactable. People expect you to respond in, like, minutes. Which is completely unacceptable to me, because I need huge chunks of time—hours—where I can switch off the internet and people and just be left alone. This is a lot of the reason why I end up with a late schedule, because that’s the only time when you’re not expected to be awake and ready to engage.

This desire of mine for chunks of alone-in-head time is annoying to people. It’s annoying because it’s really nice when you can contact people in minutes, and don’t have to plan everything days in advance.

I’d been thinking about this desire as just that—a desire, and one that everyone shares to some extent, and I was just exaggerating it to be annoying for some reason, but everyone basically has the same feeling, they’re just getting over it better.

However, I was talking with people recently who were taking a different mindset. In this mindset, everyone legitimately feels different needs, and they’re forcing themselves to be in the roughly average mold as everyone else, but literally everyone has different capabilities and different defaults. So it’s not that everyone’s in the default of “oh my god why are you forcing me to be online all the time STOP” but then are just really really good at context-switching and shunting their brains to different topics… instead, there must be a lot of people for whom, like, checking messages and responding constantly feels good or something? Or like, not kind of traumatic if done constantly. Just like, a thing, maybe a mild inconvenience, maybe even good, like how I feel sometimes when I’m in the mode where it feels kind of fun to have a gazillion things to manage at once.

And if this is true… then my forcing people to plan also takes somewhat of a different light. Because I’m really good at planning. I like planning, I have a hard time turning it off, I like looking ahead and knowing the layout of my day and where it’s going to go. However, I know people often don’t like it when I make them plan instead of doing something on-the-fly. For example, before I had a working phone (read: last year), I used to print out Google maps before I went anywhere and plan my routes, and then basically get it right on the first try when I needed to get somewhere new. I still tend to memorize maps before I take off for places on my bike. But this is really hard for some people. (e.g. I suck at street names. Images are great, street names are so bad.) And I actually know it’s hard for some people, and that not being spontaneous drives some people crazy and takes all the fun out of it and makes them feel cornered. Also, I’m increasingly realizing that a lot of people around me can’t focus or take action as well as I can. ADHD doesn’t let people focus as long as they want to (…I have an astonishing ability to focus for pretty much however long I need to. I didn’t really realize this was astonishing until recently. I knew people didn’t focus as long as I did, and attributed that to… something… mainly “I’m-ignoring-this-because-it’s-confusing-and-I-don’t-want-to-think-bad-thoughts-about-people’s-willpower”). And if you need me to take action on something relatively mechanistically easy—something that involves several steps, emailing or calling or whatever, but not hard—this is extremely low effort for me. In fact, taking these kinds of actions is relieving for me, because otherwise they’re piling up on my lists, and I have to finish my lists, and I don’t want anything on my list because it’s distracting. I now am doubting that this is how completing small actions feels to most people.

I’m having a hard time drawing a distinction between what I thought and what I now realized, since I think the above may be obvious to people. But it’s something like…

Before: There are two assumptions: 1) everyone has my default skills (people are allowed to have extra skills, but they have all of my baselines), and 2) everyone basically has the same landscape of things that are enjoyable or stressful (what I’m calling preferences). Since these assumptions don’t actually align with peoples’ behavior, I seem to have arrived at an odd series of justifications for the contradictions, some of which are below.

  • If the majority of other people are showing a different preference than mine, then I’m somehow wrong, because we all have the same preferences. I thus need to compensate for my wonky and unjustified set of preferences.
  • If I can’t compensate properly, because my wonky preferences are really off from normal… well, that doesn’t make any sense, because all of our preferences are roughly normal. So how to explain it? Oooh, I know: other people also have this bad preference, but are really good at overcoming it. They are super skilled in something. Everyone has my default skills, but people can have extra skills, and it seems like the majority of the population has a skill that I am lacking. Ah, the reason I am struggling with this preference is because I am lacking a skill.
  • Hmmm, wait, here’s another weird thing. Some of my friends, who are good people and try hard and everything, are failing to achieve a thing. Why are they failing? They have my default skills—they have insane willpower, almost infinite energy, are equivalent smartness, and have strong preference to please—they should be able to apply this to any possible hard thing and at least do as well as I could do. Why… aren’t… they? I mean, obviously it’s a failure in willpower—they aren’t trying hard enough—but that’s not an okay thing to think. Some things are hard for people, we know that, just like there are equivalent really hard things for me that other people don’t find hard. But why don’t they just—but NO MUST BE SYMPATHETIC—but—you know what, we’re going to just ignore this people-failing-thing, it’s very mysterious.

For an example that wraps up all of these veins of logic:

  • Uh, many of my friends appear to be magic? Like, they do things and those things feel absolutely impossible for me. How. The thing scares me, I have no idea how they do it, but they say they like it. But—how—okay, so, well, obviously the difference is they like the thing. And we all have roughly similar preferences, so all I need to do is make myself like the thing—it’s surely possible, I can do this, I just need to willpower through it, since willpower is the core of everything if you happen to not initially like a thing you’re supposed to like. Uh, crap, I still don’t like the thing. Well, well—well who cares if you like the thing! Sometimes people are different, fine, but whatever, you still need to actually do the thing. Just—do the actions. Do whatever people are doing with whatever mindset you have, just push through it. Okay, some progress but—why are people so good at this? Why am I not good at this? Why—right, it’s because people are unnaturally skilled at this, it’s because I’m having a failure in skills here, obviously there’s some mind thing going on, but obviously I should be able to push through, if you can’t power through by brute analysis then… then… and now people are telling me that I should be good at it, that I should be but I TRIED I can’t willpower more I don’t know what to do, I don’t understand why you want more willpower from me—and now you’re telling me that since I said I want it (of course I want the skill, didn’t I just say that?) why don’t I just do it, and I know we all have the same preferences and you want me to push mine over but that didn’t work and I don’t have any more willpower to give you and WHY DON’T YOU LIKE ME I’M TRYING CAN’T YOU SEE I’M TRYING I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU’RE MAGIC AND I’M NOT, I’m sorry, I’m angry, I don’t know, I’m sorry.

(Note, for those of you who are new readers: this is not at all what’s going on intellectually :). I’m writing here from more of my emotional baseline, which also has beliefs, but my emotional center is much more inaccessible than my intellectual self and, as such, its beliefs don’t always make logically-cohesive sense. They’re pretty decent instincts, as they go, but are often slow to adjust to changing circumstances.)

But! But. I’ve been teaching myself some new tricks recently and trying to push those into the metaphorical hindbrain :).

First acknowledgement: Here’s a new knowledge bit, Monica, take it or leave it—most people don’t try to willpower through hard things.

I think, since I’m good at willpower, and willpower and intellectual analysis are my fallbacks, I tend to think that every time someone succeeds at something I find hard, it’s through a success in willpower. That means if I don’t have a success it’s through my failure in willpower, since it was just as hard for them and this is the path they took.

I… I really don’t know what to replace this with, but it just doesn’t make sense that people are willpowering through whatever crap I find hard. People just don’t find a lot of those things hard. And when people are telling me to do things that they find easy, I shouldn’t hear that as this request instead: “You just need to goddamn try harder, Monica, because I just told you to match my preferences and the way to do that is to try harder.”

(One of my friends said the following thing once: “People are already generally doing the things they find easy. If people aren’t already doing [x type of] research, it’s probably going to be a lot harder to get them to do it than it would be if you were simulating convincing yourself, because people gravitate to the things they find easy.” That comment still puzzles me at an emotional level, but I like thinking about it, because I think there’s some real truth I’m not acknowledging there.)

Point 2. Here’s a thought: People don’t all have the same preferences. And it’s okay. It’s OKAY. You are allowed to like the things you like, and dislike the things you like, and—nope, crap, I don’t believe this one. I still want everyone to want roughly the same things. Hm… let me try a “because” on that. I still want everyone to want roughly the same things because… it’s fair. Because you have to. Because you have to do what people want from you, and that means you have to like it, because you’re not allowed to not like it and be angry with them, because then they’re going to hurt you, and then you’re going to have to do it anyway, because they’re right and you’re wrong so it’s better not to think about it.

…Oh, okay, that’s informative. Thank you emotional self! (It’s always funny how the emotional self has good reasons for beliefs that off the top of your head don’t make any sense. I believe in the emotional self though—it’s got its own set of logic, mostly revolving around protection from hurt, recently :)). So there’s something about it being safer to have the same preferences, and—oh, there’s also my recent narrative about people being dangerous! In therapy a few days ago I described people as “jumbled messes of emotion and color that are literally going to explode at you if you don’t try to control any part of them you can—if you don’t understand what you can say as input and what’s going to come out as output, if you don’t make them into this comprehensible black box where you understand at least some of the wires.”

I think I’ll probably have to sort through my “people are dangerous” narrative, since it runs deep. The tag of “people are dangerous” is just my newest iteration of it. It ties in a lot with my strong need for everyone to be nice around me, and to fulfill expectations, and to have very clear expectations set for me… when I think about the “people in dangerous” kind of behaviors I have, it ends up feeling like a tangled, wrapped up ball of Christmas lights that feels incredibly cringing-away-from-things and desperate-to-please and afraid-anxious. Basically, if I can figure out how to get enough new frames that I don’t believe this one, I’m going to be so well taken care of :).

But anyhow, let’s try my last easy thought. (I feel like I’m describing my feelings right now, but not at all taking advantage of all of the possible fixing-this approaches that would be possible reading this from an outside intellectual perspective. Maybe someone will point some easy way out of this to me, or maybe I’ll come back to it later and come up with something myself. It literally just takes a sentence in the right moment for me to get a perspective change, but it’s hard to make that sentence.)

Last easy thought: people have different skills. Yeah. Yeah. This is my new realization as of a week ago, and more yesterday. Yesterday was about the intersection of preferences and skills, actually. It’s like: different people find different things hard. It can actually just be really really hard for me to be accessible by phone constantly, and that’s fine. That’s a real thing. It’s not that other people have more skills than I do, it’s that it’s literally just not as hard for them. Interestingly, I don’t seem to have to do much adjustment for the “other people can’t do what I can do”, since I already have a strong sympathy-understanding-they-just-can’t-for-some-reason response built-in. But I think the update there is not that people are unable to do specific things, but that the meta-skills are different too—what the landscape looks like if you don’t have willpower and energy and brute processing power to throw at it. The update is that it’s not about specific damn-can’t-do-the-thing, but about perspective, about what mental resources are available when you grab for them, the idea that other peoples’ default go-to I-need-help tools are not the same as mine are. (And so will succeed in circumstances mine won’t, and fail in circumstances mine won’t, but they’re different.)

I think a lot of this feels like a gradual expanding of my new “people aren’t always right” belief, which is built on the idea that all of us are basically the same. (Made up of the same cloud, my mind is throwing up at me. It’s a grey cloud, and the “people aren’t always right” belief is sort of like a castle on top of it. Since talking to my friend who can’t see mental imagery, I’m appreciating my own more.) And I love the “people aren’t always right” idea, because it’s helped so much with the “people are dangerous” front, because it means I can listen to things people say and aren’t immediately wrong, don’t have to have a reaction to it.

(One thing that’s super super puzzling to me is why I’m so unguarded with people. Like, there’s a part of me that feels deeply threatened by people, and yet I seek out new people and throw as much of myself at them as possible, and hope that they’re nice and don’t say anything I have to take to heart. This doesn’t make sense. Why am I not more scared? There must be some weird exceptions and compensatory stuff going on behind the scenes, and I am really puzzled about how those are working.)

Whoop that long. Back to your regularly-scheduled short(er) bits, here we go :).

At this dinner party the other night, I told my “breathing too loudly” story. This story goes as follows: when I was in high school, during a certain period of time my mother liked my sisters and me to all be downstairs, in the living room, rather than upstairs in our rooms. This is because I spent most of my time in high school either studying or doing sports, so if I was allowed to be up in my room all the time studying, then no one would ever see me.

However, I’m not good at studying with people around or with noise, which is why, to this day, I still need to do all of my serious work alone and in silence. (It’s mighty inconvenient, may I tell you :P).

At one point I even yelled at my sisters for, quote, “breathing too loudly”, which I still get teased about today.

And that’s the punchline of the “breathing too loudly” story. This is one of my stock stories, that I’ve told many times, and when I deliver it, it is funny. People always laugh at the last line—incredulous, amused—and I mean for it to be that way, that’s the way this story is told. It’s not a “should be told” this way, or anything I’ve thought about deeply—that is just this story: this story is about friendly teasing about obnoxious things we used to do as children, and it is humorous because of how ridiculous a response that is.

I told this story incidentally, an “along the way brief story about me” in answering a question at this dinner party. And I got dead silence. I even added the “I still get teased about this today,” with a sheepish smile, because I was getting nothing, and the there was a little bit of laughter. But everyone always laughs at that story—when people care about you and are paying attention, and you’re giving them humor cues, people are primed to do this.

The follow-up question was, sympathetically: “And how do you feel about that situation, where you had to sit downstairs?”

I’ve, like, never ever ever had that happen, and I feel… kind of touched, actually. This happened to be an entire group of people who knew about or experienced need for silence and preferences around social stimuli, and they were listening to this story, and they weren’t listening to my delivery cues, they were filling in the story. I think when I tell this story normally, and people are simulating themselves in my place, when I come out with “and I yelled at my sisters for breathing too loudly” it’s a total surprise because it’s nothing they would do, and so it’s funny. I think with these people, they were simulating themselves in my place, they were not enjoying it, they were listening to what I wasn’t saying, about being stressed and noise-bothered and not a particularly yell-y type of person in general, and they ignored the humor cues, and gave me silence. A “that’s not funny” silence, a sympathetic silence, and a “tell us more, if you’d like” end.

This reminds me of one of my friends, who once told me that no one believes her about things she finds really upsetting because she delivers “I’m really upset” stories in a monotone. Since I heard that, I’ve been watching my own tone when I talk about things that upset me, and I’ve been very surprised, because that’s almost never been the case for me. When I talk about things that upset me, I’ll often do it in a serious voice, which gets taken somberly. I’ll also often do it with a serious voice but smiling, and that gets treated pretty much exactly the same as if I’m making an upset face with it. I didn’t expect this, because the words contrast my facial expression—I do amused, or just smiling with flat eyes—but people have no problem interpreting this, and don’t smile back. Never when I’m telling a joke though, and especially not with like 5 people all doing it at once. I guess it could have been the delivery—it’s possible I did it differently than usual—but the sheer amount of surprise that I felt afterwards assures me that I didn’t think I delivered it that differently.

I wonder, then, what stories function like this for other people. Probably the entire class of embarrassing stories, which were not fun in the moment for the teller but need to be told as humorous as a defense mechanism. (And eventually embarrassing stories can become relegated to an independent “younger self”, at least in my experience, so then I don’t mind telling them because they’re not about “me” anymore.) Not actually sad stories, which can’t really be told as humorous very well, because people can read the sadness in the content. Oh, people-are-still-resentful stories—stories where people are still kind of aggravated with the teller for doing a thing, and then teller has to make themselves out as outrageous and the story as humorously awful for the other people to blow off steam. You know, I’m pretty sure the breathing-too-loudly story is a “people-are-still-resentful story”, or at least that’s why it became a funny story in my mind, because it kind of had to. Everyone was upset in that situation, but I was the one who took the bad yelling action unsolicited, as it were.

There must be other stories that function as funny stories when they weren’t actually funny to the person—I feel like there are many types of stories like this, that range from—oh, black humor, of course. That’s definitely the canonical example, and there’s got to be more in the “I’m kind of uncomfortable range”—slapstick, I guess as well. Wait, what’s pure, happy humor? No, that definitely exists as well, like when someone does something clever, or unusual, or sweet, and it’s delightful. I’m getting anchored here on my existing story, but that slight uncomfortableness, that I’m not even aware of anymore when I tell the story, combined with laughter is so—interesting. It tastes like something, hard to grasp, kind of dark, kind of sharp, kind of out of reach.

Well. I really liked talking with this group of people—they kept on reading true things into what I was saying, kept on reading the backstories, and it was pretty amazing. I love when I have people’s attention and they’re using their minds to figure me out.

I was talking to a friend about therapy, and she was telling me (ooh, look at all of the “she”s in the blog today. For a good while I only had stories about male friends, very glad to have female friends back in my life. Acknowledging that gender is complicated and nonbinary and that this perspective also makes a lot of sense to me.) that she wouldn’t want to do therapy, because she doesn’t want people influencing her when these are her issues, this is who she is. And every person brings their own form of feedback based on their perspective, even if it’s just how they smile or when they nod or when they frown slightly. And my friend doesn’t want that, doesn’t want to be influenced or changed by someone else’s perspective when what she talks about is her own.

…I’m just really grateful for her for saying that. People don’t often have that kind of insight, and she was saying it off-the-cuff, and I see what she means. I can’t really see what she means and what I think about therapy at the same time (which is interesting, and feels like a real stopping point for me being able to gain a cohesive understanding of people. I feel like I can’t back up enough to get multiple perspectives in my head at once. I feel like I’m in mine, and I can zoom into other people’s, but then I want a “model of people” and I’m flicking through individuals and I’m like NO, I want a model with ALL OF THESE PEOPLE AT THE SAME TIME.)

(With regards to my personal perspective on therapy and how I differ, I think it’s something like: I want the therapist’s perspective, since I assume it’s a “normal” perspective…? Oh interesting, that might go down the track of wanting to know what’s normal and typical and how I’m different and how people work, but the wanting normality thing is not necessarily because I want to be normal so much as I just need to know what normal is. …Wait, that’s weird, why is that such an urgent need, huh.)

But anyhow, I really like hearing her perspective, which seems like a great reason not to go to therapy, if you’re exposed to what I think is the principle of it in the first place. You have to want to be changed, or… well, I think it can still work, but it’s going to be a lot more painful for everyone involved.

Someone was asking me if I liked libraries. I said no, because if I wanted to study, I’d go to a quiet no-people place, and if I wanted social, I’d go to a social place. But I like book stores, and I like books, so libraries are good because: books!

This response produced much happy discussion about books among the group, which my companion responded to with a smile and: “Everyone here likes books.”

“Are you surprised?” I asked.

“No. It’s just cute,” he said, and smiled some more.

He paused, then said: “Sorry, I didn’t hear your full answer about libraries,” so I explained my reasoning about libraries again.

“Ah,” he said, nodding. “Libraries are a place of worship for me.”

“Ah,” I said, nodding. None of my reasons would be relevant, then, and I could definitely see how one could love libraries if one viewed them as places of worship. “That makes sense,” I agreed.

Hmmmm :). I got through not very much of this word document, but am glad I got to share what I did about thoughts this week :). Thank you all for reading as always, and wishing best weeks to you all :).

Monica

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I said no already

I was working just outside the gym today, and someone was sitting across from me. He stared a little, but I mostly wasn’t paying him any attention. Then I went to work out for an hour. When I finished, it turned out that he had been waiting for me. He wanted to know my department. He wanted to know if he could talk with me. I said sorry, no. He said just tonight. I said sorry. He said just tomorrow. I said sorry, no, and hurried up with the bike-unlocking procedure. He asked if I had a special someone. I said no, but I’m not looking to date. He said you’re just so beautiful, please. I said sorry, no. He said he’d probably ask me next time. I said no, and it will always be no. I was walking to the road by this point, and he was following me. He said are you going in my direction. I said no, probably no, and finally was able to get on my bike and take off. He yelled “Please” after me.

Goddamnit. I hate stalkers. They make me so upset, because there’s nothing you can do with them. You have zero control, because they’re crazy enough to wait out for you for an hour anyway, and they know where you are. He almost knows my department, because I only barely lied (yes, I know, I am at fault for this part, I should get better at lying, ug, but I don’t want to shouldn’t need to), but because he doesn’t have my exact department name he can’t look me up in the directory and email me, which I have a reasonable expectation that he will do. He knows I go to the gym now, too, which means that I get to worry about him being there, and look out for him. Last time I gave someone my first name, and that was bad, because you only need my first name and my school to find me given the blog. You just can’t do anything with stalker types.

Bad news about him was he was desperate, good news about him was he wasn’t orally aggressive. Very much points for being not aggressive. Someday I’ll pick up an aggressive one and then I’ll be in trouble, since you can’t—you can’t DO ANYTHING WITH THESE PEOPLE. You can’t be like—don’t visit me here, because obviously they aren’t listening, and you can’t ask for people to protect you or stop them or anything, because I move around, and go to different places. I’ve been lucky so far, and I have some hope for this one, because he wasn’t aggressive and maybe he got the message. Hopefully I won’t see him again—he was pretty restrained, all considered, didn’t try to touch me or anything, and I didn’t even know he had attached himself to me until he came up to me at the end, versus the people who I’m aware of.

Speaking of, I was told I was beautiful and secured a promise to be followed around yesterday as well. I told him I was sure he had better things to do with his time. That one was a young, eager-to-please kid though, and he said it in a harmless trying-to-be-sweet way, not in a I’m-actually-going-to-do-it way. I didn’t think about it for more than a block afterwards, just got myself on my bike and left quickly.

There are many benefits to being attractive. (An attractive woman, though, relevantly. People treat attractive women different than they treat attractive men.) But anyway, when a stranger opens with “You’re beautiful”, and has that look on his face, it has never been a good situation for me, and almost always ends with me being uncomfortable, slightly guilty, angry, and/or upset, depending on the specifics. I have a relative who always sort of wants to believe me when I say that there’s sexism, but always asks me for examples so he can decide if they’re bad enough to justify the blanket statement. I think this one would qualify, but it seems rude to send him a text out of the blue. I’ll save it up for later—try to remember the details—and attempt to recall it next time I see him.

(That is one of my main reasons why I feel like it’s all right to post these things. I get it— if you don’t see examples, you don’t know, and people often have a hard time coming up with examples—the general feeling of it—on the spot. I find it’s helpful, when I hear these sorts of stories from other people, to try to imagine what the next steps are, if the situation had happened to you, and what it means you have to look out for concretely in the future. That often lends the unhappiness and helplessness feel to the imagining. Huh. Maybe that’s a good technique for the next time I feel like it’d be good to talk to someone about this. Also, blanket-believing people around this general topic is a good thing in my book, but the people who I feel I should talk to are not doing that.)

(Eh, preaching to the choir, I imagine anyone who sits through reading this blog is pretty good to go :). I texted a friend though when it happened an hour or so ago, and I felt much better from that. This seems nice for me too. Thank you for reading :)).

The Usual

Hey all,

Hope you had happy holidays! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I have a bunch of miscellaneous tidbits saved up. I also have been musing on a specific situation, so I’ll explain that one first—and then who knows! Here goes :).

I’ve been thinking about an old situation today. It cropped up because I delivered the punchline to a few people recently without the full story, and my audiences (surprisingly to me) winced every time. The punchline is: “They told me to pretend more.”

I found the comment hurtful at the time, but it was surprising to me that other people would agree with me on this so immediately, without most of the background. I’m sure a lot of the wincing is just generally due to people being sympathetic to the speaker, but there was enough negative affect expressed that it seems like there’s some intrinsic “faux-pas”-ness simply in telling someone to pretend more, regardless of circumstance.

Anyhow, I found it unusual that they winced, and then found it unusual that I thought that was unusual (the meta just keeps circling in my reflections; it’s like one of those carrion-eaters), so I got to thinking about it. And my response to it. And what my response could be, should the situation arise in the future! I like thinking about how to make my responses to all scenarios better—it makes me feel safer about the possibility of getting hurt in the first place, because if only my responses are good enough then maybe the hurt can be resolved in the moment and I don’t have to dwell on it. (That’s the theory, anyway. I think a big part of my wholly believes this is true.)

The situation was this. I had wanted to try a new activity, and needed a partner to do it. I asked one of my friends if they’d do it with me; they also wanted to try, so they agreed. We went out one day and attempted it—turns out that I didn’t like it, and he didn’t like it either. Because it was new to me, I knew I was going to be pretty bad at the thing, and this did prove to be the case (nothing practice can’t fix, of course.)

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the sort of activity you could forge through with grim resolution (e.g. my first cross-country skiing practices). Rather, it was a performance arts-type thing where you have to look like you’re enjoying it (or at least not forging through with grim determination), elsewise it just really doesn’t work for anyone involved.

Performance arts are not exactly a current specialty of mine. I’m not terrible at them, and in real life I’m good enough at covering up distaste or unhappiness or whatnot. (Note: “good enough” doesn’t necessarily mean I’m actually doing a good job of hiding it, though I suspect I’m fine at that given I’m actually trying. But really it seems like people often just want you to hide it enough that they don’t have to deal with it. Plausible deniability or something, though this may be my bias since I sometimes want this from people and had a recent experience of this type. Could be something else though! Regardless, I’m pretty good at this version of hiding, where everyone knows that you’re hiding it but they’re going to let you / want you to do it, as far as I can tell.) (To be fair, there are also times where people want to hear you share, and emote at them. *Shrugs*. Different situations.)

In any case, I made a hash of this particular activity, and was feeling uneasy-sad-frustrated about it. I don’t like being bad at things in general, and I had a lot emotionally riding on this particular activity, since it was tangled up in a web of previous discussions and it was popular with a bunch of people around me. I was talking with the other person about it at the end—going over our experiences, seeing what might make it better in the future, how I might get better at it, since that was my stated goal in wanting to do it.

They asked me, explicitly, if I really did want to get better at it. I said that yes, I really did want to get better at it.

They then told me that, if I really did want to get better at it, and only in that case, then they suggested that I pretend more. (In terms of emoting during the thing, not in terms of the actions of the activity itself.)

In-the-moment-Monica’s reply to this (though this was a while ago, so I’m not sure I’m remembering this well): “Oh”. (long silence). “Should I have…?”

Vaguely-remembered reply: “No, no, it’s fine since we were just trying it out. But in the future, if you really want to get better at this, then it might help.”

“Oh.” Cue my usual swamp of defeat at being misunderstood / feeling like the task set before me was mandatory and impossible / feeling like duh that’s the obvious thing but really don’t you get how impossible this is for me / why are you pointing out and rubbing it in that I’m bad at this / I was actually already doing emotional suppression to appear neutral, how am I supposed to swing positive? / wait you want me to lie? / wow this is really not making me feel better about this activity that I thought I needed to do in the first place because of some reason shaped like peer pressure and trying to prove myself to someone / … you know, the usual. I have the whole cycle described in a previous post—not describing the same situation, but my whole “you have misunderstood me” emotional crashing-down follows a similar trajectory when it happens.

Monica-now: That’s a rough approximation of the situation. Apparently, telling someone to pretend to enjoy something more is something of an automatic faux-pas, but this didn’t occur to me at the time. What occurred to me at the time was: Oh, they’re trying to help, and this feels awful for I-have-no-clue-what-reason, but okay, let me engage.

I’m just still so confused about how people know to engage their anger response. I don’t actually think an anger response would have been the best thing here—the other person really didn’t mean any harm, and did a few checks because they knew it would be controversial. But even the fact that they did a few checks… anyhow. I talk to people sometimes, or read stories sometimes, and the person / main character sends back something just as biting whenever they get bit. And I just seem not about to realize that there was something to get mad about in the first place, or even that I found a particular comment upsetting and we should stop and…

Oh dear, I actually started typing “I found a particular comment upsetting and we should stop and discuss intentions.” I find this particular unfinished sentence illuminating, because I actually have zero desire to stop and discuss intentions when I’ve taking something someone said and been upset by it. I have this deep underlying belief that the people around me are trying, and that if they say something I think is hurtful it’s almost always on accident. (I think this is pretty true, as well, though sometimes I think that I think that other people are trying more than they are.) So if someone misunderstands me particularly badly—when I think they really should know better—then I have lost faith in them, and they should be made to go away. And the best way to make people go away is to do what they want, and say thank you, so that is what I do. (This isn’t an explicit thing (unlike a lot of this stuff :P)—I only discovered this pattern because I do it so, so often unconsciously.)

(Oh, incidentally, when I was circling with friends a while back I discovered this interesting bit of my psychology: if someone upsets me, one time badly or a few times semi-badly, apparently my only feasible recourse is to politely ice them out. (This seems to stem from an underlying belief that people don’t change, and that social skills take freaking forever to develop so if the other person’s skills aren’t developed in a way that’s already compatible with mine, I need to abandon ship.) Also, I expect myself to behave well in every single situation, and expect this from others as well. It’s kind of astonishing that most people I am surrounded by do behave well in every situation, and that I do an astonishingly good job of it overall. This seems absurd. Long live expectations and nice people? (I actually do not care if you’re just pretending to be a nice person—being a naturally nice person is beautiful, being a person who executes a lot of control to be nice is just as good and even better in some ways that feel like trust.))

Okay, so I lose trust in people who say things that feel like they’re not paying attention or trying hard enough. The comment wasn’t, like, ridiculously bad though. I get properly angry at people when comments are ridiculously bad. And this comment was meant to help, and was obviously couched.

What could have been said, instead of “pretend more?” There’s a positive-neutral response I’ve heard which is something like “Ah, I see we aren’t enjoying this, but let us currently work with whatever we have in the moment and not worry about the future.” That solves zero problems in terms of getting better, but at least acknowledges and makes the best of the current experience.

I think that what I would have liked for an “awesome advanced-level social response” would be something like: “Huh. I see that you’re expressing that you want to do this, but it doesn’t actually seem like you want to do this. Why did you ask me to do this? Seems like there’s some stuff going on—want to tell me about it?”

That’s advanced-level social because it requires an extra (potentially risky) inference step. In the actual situation, the other person was answering my direct-level query: “[okay, you have just reassured me that you purpose in doing this is to get better at it, but you seem to be struggling with that, here’s a way not to struggle.]”

I seem to have wanted them to do the following: “[okay, I will now put aside my experience, which was also not great, and which I was hoping would be great, but instead I am feeling disappointment and some insecurity and confusion, and my friend is asking me how to improve at her goal, but she totally isn’t doing what makes sense given that’s her goal. Why doesn’t she…”—and at this point, I seem to have hoped that the obvious track isn’t taken, but instead we have this leap which goes “…huh, maybe it’s not that she’s weirdly confused about the steps to achieve her goal. Maybe it’s that she is actually feeling conflicted about the goal itself, and that’s what’s causing all of these weird execution errors.]”

And then, once that’s realized, we have the horrifically difficult task of how to convey “I don’t actually think you want what you think you want” to someone, which, really, should be saved for advanced-social users because it’s a fucking mess.

In this case, it’s made a little better because what I wanted conveyed was “I don’t actually think you want what you say you want”—which is better in this case because what I was saying was only a partial reflection of what I was thinking. If what people are saying is a direct reflection of their main vein of thinking, then this substitution doesn’t help anything.

The worst version of the “I don’t actually think you want what you think you want” delivery, from someone who is genuinely and earnestly trying to help, goes like this. (And I’ve seen it done. Not even just to me. It’s horrible.) “Huh. Okay, this looks to me like you’re deceiving yourself about this goal of yours, and you’re actually not paying attention to what you really want. What do you really want? What are you hiding from yourself?”

Reading it now, it doesn’t seem that bad, right? Depending on tone, this can be fine, and it’s certainly meant well. Someone’s doing you the favor of pointing out a flaw in your thinking, and trying to help you find the solution.

However, when it does go wrong—when people take it as an attack out of nowhere, like they don’t know who they are, like you’ve spotted this thing they’ve missed and now they can no longer trust anything—that’s bad. And I’ve seen it in a few people now: “But what if I’m just deceiving myself? What if I’m not looking hard enough? What if I don’t actually feel this way?”. After a long time thinking about it, I’ve personally just given it up as a bad track to take and decide to trust whatever comes up and have it proved wrong later, but the lack-of-trusting-your-own-thinking can be insidious. And I feel like I’ve seen this distrust-embedding being done to people through exactly this sort of phrasing, with a solidly good tone attached—victorious would be a nasty one.

It’s one of the interesting outputs of living in a community where people prize clarity and truth in thought, around personal introspection. Normally, you wouldn’t dare to say something like “You’re misleading yourself, lying to yourself, etc.” to someone, because it’s very impolite. But when the social norms are changed so that truth is more valuable than politeness, you end up with some weird edge-case hang-ups that are really weird because I’m only seeing them in this group, but they keep on popping up in this group. This group generally says that doubt in your own thinking, and questioning your own thinking, is good. Which I think is valuable, and probably most of us should swing more in that direction. But really, don’t do this to the already thoughtful and indoctrinated ones, especially about things that don’t have ground-truths that you can check (such as “what do you really want”)—it messes them up and makes them go in circles when they’re trying to work things.

(Note: I just said all of the above very confidently. I am confident given my current (minimum) evidence, but am willing to be mostly wrong in all of the above given different evidence. However, I think I’m trying a thing out where I just trust whatever I’ve observed and come out with it (oh, look, it’s related to the above! I hadn’t made that connection), so I’m standing by the confident tone, but as usual I’m willing to be wrong on this.)

Anyhow, that’s why I think that only the social wizards should do the “you are misleading yourself” idea, because being earnest won’t even necessarily save you from this one. (Being earnest and attentive can save you from practically everything, in my experience. Caring goes a long way.) But what I’d like my social wizard to do… you know, I think even something simple. Like: “Hey, that seemed kind of weird, what’s going on for you?” Like… expressing trust in me, and that I have a reason for what I’m saying, and reasons for what I’m doing or failing to do, and the lovely, warm touch of noticing (I really like when people do advanced social things; it brings me great pleasure. I get the double whammy of knowing they care, AND the joy of watching someone execute a high-level skill. Most people don’t have the latter to the degree that I do, I’m almost absolutely sure.), and taking the time and energy to check in. That’d be a really warm response for me.

And then (in this… bizarre fantasy of mine? –Hold on, this turned out to be a very long tangent that needs its own paragraph, but I’m returning to this in a second once I finish the sentence.) And then as the conversation goes on, gradually introducing what they noticed and exploring the space with me.

(Return to tangent. In this… bizarre fantasy of mine? This is very strange to me, but something about “what would they have said” reads as “fantasy” to me? But… not. Uh. I think I’m getting stuck here because “what they would have said to make me all glowy” pings my “stereotypical romantic fantasy” category. But “what they would have said if they were an advanced social user, because advanced social users simultaneously execute caring and high conceptual insight, both of which incidentally make me feel glowy” doesn’t really at all ping my “stereotypical romantic fantasy” category, and rather hits my “Monica’s obsession with theoretical analysis of social analysis, which is often actively transforming glowy situations into concrete non-glowy one” category. On the other hand, the latter maybe even is stereotypically romantic? Like, saying “I care about you, tell me what’s going on” is pretty stereotypical. The part where it’s like “look I’ve made this inference about your goal structure, I’ve spotted something I don’t think you’ve spotted, and now I’m going to drop hints about what I’ve discovered into the following conversation where I execute I care about you but in an extremely calculated way wherein I’m also going to teach you something about yourself but in a way that makes you feel heard and not in a way where it’s like ‘why didn’t spot this yourself’, and look I’m interested in your mind and I know you’re interested in your mind and I’m going to help you explore and we’re going to learn stuff about you together and it’s going to be fascinating.” …UMM. Okay, the feelings in this paragraph feel far too familiar to me, and I’m pretty sure this is actually squarely in the current category of “Monica’s ideal romantic fantasy.” Figures. What even. I also know that I tend to feel hella guilty after these episodes because I’m not sure I can return the gesture. But here’s a thought, Monica—what if—oh goodness, what a what if—what if this isn’t actually other people’s version of ideal romance. What if they could do this to you, and you could do something else to them in return. It might not even be mind-related! (What. How could someone not want something mind-related. Like, what if they wanted physical affection. What. Is this even possible? For someone to be interested and good at mind-mapping but not wanting to be mind-mapped in return? Is it? Or maybe returned mind-mapping not as their primary thing? I actually have evidence that this is in fact possible. But do I believe it in my heart of hearts? NO. –NOT YET.) …Okay but now I feel really weird about writing about social stuff, since introspective social stuff is supposed to be vaguely academic, and not romantic related since… romance is, like, weird or something… Monica, literally this entire blog has recently been about your feelings, and mostly negative feelings at that—fine “constraining feelings” not “negative feelings”, what is it with you people and your vocabulary, (wow I have a lot of filters)—some glowy feelings aren’t going to kill us. Also, the realization that nice social stuff is linked to “romance” in some way is a really (kind of spectacularly, at the moment) useful one for me—it helps bridge a lot of stuff. Romance might not even be the right concept for it—meaning, I might not end up with that category label in the end for the glowy feelings—but I wonder… could that even explain the fanfiction? (I’m always trying to explain my inexplicable affection for fanfiction.) That… doesn’t explain everything, because I have a particular relationship to both the author and the characters when I read fanfiction, but yeah, I think that’s a useful contribution to the fanfiction mystery. Oh wow, cool, I love learning new things. Especially bright and happy things that link stuff. Not that this vein is entirely bright and happy, because… well, there’s still stuff to be resolved in the tangle labeled “romance / affection / roles / sex” in my mind, but this is cool :). Hmmm :). (*hums happily*))

*clears throat* So I totally forgot where I was—ah, that there are nice ways to say that you think someone’s misleading themselves. And that probably, a good way to go is just to say that you’re interested in their thoughts, since something seems confusing. And if you’re interacting with me then you can explain all of your reasoning process and I’ll be happy, and if you’re interacting with other people probably the former will suffice.

(Thought related to the above tangent. One of the part that feels dangerous about having the above as a romantic idea is that it places an enormous amount of power in the other person’s hands. They could deliver the information “in a bad way”, and because I trust them to be an advanced user, I can’t do my usual trick of “don’t-trust-you” and withdraw, since I actually do have high confidence in their ability. Ugg—okay, the route my thoughts are currently going down are also super familiar, like “they wouldn’t have if they just had more information” and “you can’t expect people to be perfect” and etc., which doesn’t actually solve my problem of the feeling of betrayal and kind of absolute faith that I assign to advanced-users. I just generally don’t cope well with people who can give me really good feelings and also really bad feelings—I’m much more comfortable with people who give “light neutral / occasionally swing bad”, “positive / occasionally neutral-bad”, and “positive-neutral”. (I do know a purely “positive” person. I’m currently in the process of hero-worshipping them.) It’s something about whether I have defenses up or not. I call my defenses “expectations”—if I expect someone to disappoint me (rational or not), then I won’t expect that much of them in the future. If someone does something deliberately mean, then that’s super easy because I can label them as “negative” and not see them again. If someone does this messy shit where I mostly like interacting with them and lower my guards because they’re doing the really-nice-Monica’s-version-of-romance stuff but then they occasionally mess up and I have zero walls up now, then TERROR AND DESTRUCTION. Or, like, the messy cycles of misunderstanding I mentioned earlier. So far, my new strategy for dealing with these people seems to be withdrawing from them—labeling “positive-negative” people as “DANGER!” seems to be the adaptive strategy I’ve recently adopted. Oh, come on, there has got to be a better way of dealing with this. I know there’s some loop someone can unravel somewhere that’ll make this circle-of-doom I’ve got something that’s workable. The components are all there—good happy feelings, good communication skills, good introspective access, high social skills on both sides (I’ve learned mine. I kind of like when other people learn them too, because they’re often better at explaining them, but the naturals are beautiful, like I’ve mentioned. Also there are HYPER-ADVANCED SOCIAL USERS who can marshal troops and convince large groups of people of stuff. I’m very bad at convincing people of things.), high degree of intensity and willingness to try… there has got to be a way where I can be okay when people occasionally mess up. And I don’t feel like I’m not good enough for not having equivalent social skills, if that insecurity pops up. I feel like I’m currently taking the tack of gradually—so gradually—convincing myself that people are just people, and really don’t know everything, and have these huge sets of lenses that they view the world through and that there are thousands, thousands of thousands, of ways you can view the same thing, such that there’s not an underlying truth in anyone’s perspective. (For reference, though the latter probably reveals this, I previously held the fundamental belief that whatever people said was right, given I trusted them and they had the possibility of access to adequate information.)  Also, that trusting myself in what I want is a thing that I can do. (This is related to the previous. This is also related to:) Uh, there seems to be no fundamental thing I need to do in the world? (Previously, “shoulds” dominated, and moral shoulds about the purpose of existence dominated as well. I still haven’t figured out what to do about the moral shoulds yet, but am, I feel, slowly inching closer to my existential crisis. Everyone else has one or lives in them constantly—when’s mine?) Also, I live in really a lot of rule-based structures, that are very concerned with what other people are thinking. Like, really really a lot of rule-based structures, which don’t seem necessary given my goals. Whatever those goals are. Things that I want. You know. Anyhow, I’m making some sideways process on the “not having such a weird relationship with people as the concept” front, and “accepting the ways in which being obsessed with social actually is pretty cool”, but it feels pretty slow. Sometimes the slow stuff’s not painful though—like, you don’t even notice you’re doing it—which is cool.)

Uh huh. So, that was the situation, and I am done with that story. That went on a lot longer than I thought it would :).

And now for miscellaneous stuff I had stored in my word document!

First, a question—I’m playing Dungeons and Dragons, and it’s pretty awesome. I’ve been watching my behavior to see (oh, when do I not) if it resembles my “easy” behavior—e.g. how I interact with my sisters.

Sorry, that wasn’t especially clear. I view social interactions, generally, as a performance. There are rules to follow, you follow them, generally you get nice interactions as output. Also, I have hang-ups about casual touching and cuddling and such. One explanation is because I feel like I don’t know the rules well, and there are lots of meaningful touch-based interactions that I would like to know the rules for before engaging in / I haven’t internalized the rules well enough for it not to be exhausting. The above explanation is part of it, but not capturing the essence of it—the point is I have hang-ups about touching, and generally view social interactions as quite performative. (This is not necessarily a bad thing in my mind.)

Then I hang out with my sisters. My sisters are the easiest people that I could imagine interacting with. I like them both a lot, and they know me and like me. My youngest sister was telling me over break that when she tells other people about me, she can list accomplishments or whatever, but then she says “but that’s not Monica”, and, yeah, they have all of the weird bits that are Monica. I hang all over their shoulders and do a lot of association games and singing and random noises and whatever with them, and I don’t have to think about it. It’s easy.

I was talking to my therapist about this (…god, I can never stay on track) and she was like: do you want more of the easy relationships in your life? And I was like: …um? Sometimes? I have someone like that here (“easy”), approximately. Almost all of the rest of the people I interact with are I-admire-you-so-I-need-to-be-very-performative. And I was telling her how crazy it is that I have so many of these I-admire-you friends, because there’s such a high density of interesting people who I admire here. And she was like: …so, do you want more easy relationships in your life? And I said, again: …um. Some….times?

There doesn’t really seem to be a point to the easy interactions. You’re just having them, and you’re enjoying them. I don’t know what to do with that. The I-admire-you interactions are high-intensity, and tiring, and really engaging and interesting and learning. They’re good. When I have the energy for them, they’re so good. They hold, too, beyond the easy interactions—I can look back on and mull over the I-admire-you interactions.

I also don’t need the easy interactions. I actually forgot I had such a thing as “easy interactions” until my dad reminded me last year. Technically I guess I don’t need I-admire-you interactions either—I’ve gotten by for at least one year in recent memory where all interactions were with people in the middle. *Shrugs* Undecided.

Anyhow, back to the Dungeons and Dragons game—I noticed I was being more actively-delighted and first-impulse-y during gameplay the other day, and that surprised me. Maybe that’s part of the role-play thing—certainly it’d be harder to do outside the game, where there aren’t easy choices of things to do / talk about. Regardless, though, I notice a decent variety of how-much-I-hold-back behavior when I interaction with people, and there’s usually more holding back.

I then was very curious about how much you can tell about someone’s personality via playing an equivalent amount of Dungeons and Dragons with them, versus living with them or talking to them or something. I wanted to ask our Dungeon Master, and hope to remember to do it next week (he’s seen a lot of players go through, and also knows them outside of the game. He’s a tricky one, though—you know people who make you play a bit for information before they give it to you? Sometimes he’s like that—I enjoy interacting with him a lot.) (Sigh, this post is revealing a lot more about my preferences that I expected :). It’s fine when I know they’re my preferences and am revealing them in a deliberate way, but the uncontrollable ones that I learn about via observation rather than having some beliefs behind them make me shake my head.)

 

I think that in Dungeons and Dragons, you get a whole lot more about morals than any other medium. There are just a lot of opportunities to kill things? I think you probably also get a lot of experience with how people make decisions, their levels of risk, how good they are at solving puzzles, how cooperative and team-oriented they are, probably something about what they value. Incidentally, I’m a Brute in my D&D game, good at physical stuff and bad at thinking, and this seems slightly strange to me. Also, I love being a Brute. I’m also the team healer. I really like that too. Being the team academic feels like too much pressure… it’s also interesting how no one on the team is in a leadership role, and really everyone talks about the same amount. There’s an exchange of—just, so dynamic—leadership roles that feels easy in the game but actually not at all what real interactions are like, in retrospect. Also, we’ve been playing long enough that I can watch the Dungeon Master (DM)’s reaction to things, and see a little bit of how he’s leading the game. I almost killed my character yesterday, and the DM said: “Really? You want to do that?” and then one of the other players checked for traps, and then it turned out that I would have killed myself. But the DM didn’t let that kill me, he paused me before I took the action, when he probably shouldn’t have. He also enforces player cooperation, and will chide people lightly if they step too far out of line. He did minor discouragement to sexism once, remembers to engage with all of our comments (even when muttered), and seems to take genuine delight in some of the weird decisions we make? Dungeons and Dragons is weird, guys. It’s a ton of fun with the right DM. A friend of mine suggested that I DM (which means I’d be in charge of game play and would have to do all the game stuff in addition to all of the social things) and I was like: HELL NO why would you think I’d be good at this? This sounds wildly overwhelming, I can barely manage one-on-one conversations with constrained social rules, you want to throw me to the wolves? I’m kind of curious what he meant, though, given that this is someone who knows me well. I know this friend is really into DMing—maybe he was just projecting that onto me. Regardless, it does seem like some advanced-level social shit, which I’ll leave to the experts :).

(It occurred me to the other day that I’m playing the easy level of social interactions, because I only try to evoke positive reactions and I’m quite honest. I also don’t try to convince people of anything. On the other hand, I seem to want to slam against social conventions pretty hard if I don’t like them, which makes conversations interesting.)

There’s this guy at work who’s cute, and who I’m pretty sure also thinks I’m cute, but it’s just potentially awkward enough that I don’t want to put any effort forth to doing anything, and I don’t know what his motivation is but I suspect it’s similar, so we are existing in that excellent space in between which is, like, pure potential and occasional distraction on my end. It’s pretty awesome. It’s like a teenage drama except that we’re both fully capable of making a move if we ever drum up the motivation to do so. Ah, I do love having the choice here :).

We were playing the card game “Hearts” over Christmas break, and I had no idea I could be so triumphantly smug. I was executing this ridiculous smirk—vicious, really—when dooming one of my cousins to the worst cards. I was also doing a lot of suggestive eyebrow raises at my sisters. Where does this stuff come from? I’m almost never in situations where I show this stuff normally :P.

There are cases where people don’t know what they’re not experiencing (see summarizing blog post). Some people don’t have mental imagery (they can’t visualize things). Some people can’t smell and don’t know it. Some people don’t realize they’re colorblind until their teens. It’s strange.

Someone recently told me that “blue balls” is not just a metaphor, but an actual physical sensation. I was once talking to someone and he was talking about his heart and body, and I was like: “yeah, your metaphorical heart”. And he said something I can’t remember, that indicated that it was NOT metaphorical, and which I can’t recall precisely because I had no clue what he was talking about.

Most of the above cases where people don’t know they’re experiencing the world differently (oh, yeah, synesthesia’s another one) are cases where people are like “oh, yeah, they’re talking about that metaphor” and not realizing that people are really not talking in metaphor. Apparently people experience emotions really differently too.

Which makes me just want to go hunt down all of the things that I think are metaphor that other people are probably experiencing. I strongly suspect that I’m missing the whole chunk of sensations that are “emotions that are felt in the body”. Like, I’m really really quite sure I’m missing that part, and that other people are feeling that part. Whenever I get something sort of related it feels like a victory. Once in 11th grade my heart stopped for a moment when I saw my crush. I was like: WTF IS THIS THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. (It didn’t happen again either.) Last year I’m pretty sure I got butterflies in my stomach, though actually it was shaking that was mostly making my teeth chatter, so I wasn’t sure about that one. These occasions are super rare, and I remember them because they were so weird at the time. Now I’m surrounded by people who are feeling all sorts of stuff in their chests and whatnot, and I’m like: uh, I see a lot of visuals? And they represent emotions. I think maybe these things can act as equivalents, your physical stuff and my visuals, but that’s as close as we’re getting.

I also know I’m weirdly wired with regards to sex. Whatever, man, so over it. (lol, but it’s way too much work to get into that right now, plus I think I did it in a previous blog post.)

Also, my romance is weird! Well, see above—it’s possibly my romance is just hooked up to different things. To be determined on that one.

My… physical touch is weird? Like, one time, a hug was actually just straight-up comforting. And I wasn’t doing a whole social rigmarole on it. That was just the once, though. And I know that people get more out of it than that. Sometimes I get stuff too! It’s enough to remind me that I know that I’m not getting the full effect though :/.

MY SOCIAL STUFF IS WEIRD. Also, “enjoyment” is weird. But yeah, I take a much more explicit, non-intuitive approach to social than most people. How it goes :).

Also, have you heard of trypophobia? It’s fear of small, irregularly spaced holes. I have it, and have known I had it for years, but was delighted to learn that it had a name. However, along with the name came terrible, terrible images on Google. Looking at mild pictures feels like the sound of Styrofoam; looking at the worst ones feels like I’m staring at pictures of mutilated limbs. Why does this thing exist? This is not an adaptive thing to have, and is also weird. I used to cover my biology textbook figures while I was reading them my junior year of high school because looking at the cells—with all of the little circles pushed together ew ew ew ew ew—was bad. Zooming in and zooming out is fine, and I made it through biology without too much trouble, but it’s such a bizarre little trait.

Someone else was recently telling me that textures are easily associated with sounds, and that if he could he’d stand on a beach and just hit a gong over and over, the timbre of it was so pleasurable. How cool is that? How fucking weird is that? People are so weird. It’s amazing.

ALL RIGHT I’m going to bed now. (…I did… so little work today. I’m going to be doomed, readers, my big deadline is on Feb 1st. Sometimes I’m like: you know what? I’m going to live life. And often I’m like: BUT WORKKKKKKKKK)

Thanks for sitting through the rambling (and the two new insights! Cool :)) and hope you all are surviving the crazy weather if you’re in the US and otherwise emerging from the holidays.

Wishing you all the best!

Monica

Talking with Ted

It’s the tail end of the party, and I’m chatting with a spiky-haired guy who’s standing across from me. There’s a guy to my left with whom I’m making vague attempts to keep in the conversation—meaning, I’m making occasional eye contact when I’m talking—and two guys to my right who are talking with each other. All four of them are work colleagues, and are waiting on the rest of their group before they take a group Uber home.

Spiky-haired guy—let’s say he’s named Ted—has just finished with literally quizzing me on his friends’ names. I get it right, barely.

“So you’re actually quizzing me now,” I say, incredulous. He shrugs. “Though I almost didn’t get that right.”

He grins and asks me about mindscapes. I sigh internally, because I already have complicated feelings about this guy and this interaction, and he’s just adding on. Specifically, he’s just asked me about what it feels like for me to think—mental voices, imagery, etc.—which I call “mindscape” discussion. I like mindscapes. It’s one of my favorite topics. And not only is he asking about it, but he probably has a good description of his own and has thought about it, and I always like to hear about those. I sigh again, and award him some mental kudos points for good topic choice.

He listens attentively to my description, and, as promised, has a good description of his own. I’m enjoying this interaction, and am not sure how to feel about this.

When the topic comes to a natural finish, I start the next one. “I was talking about something related in my last conversation. I found the whole conversation surprisingly interesting,” I tell him. “I’m still trying to figure out why.”

“Why it was surprising, or why it was interesting?” He shoots back.

“Why it was interesting…”

“Why was it interesting?”

“Well, yeah, that’s the question, but there’s also the question of why I found it surprising that it was interesting.”

“So why it was surprising?”

“No, I guess why it was surprisingly interesting. I think we were talking about meta-social stuff too, but that wasn’t all…”

He’s watching me carefully, listening, and the intentness of his gaze plus the fact that I’m still unsure whether this other guy to my left is in this conversation or not reaches a breaking point.

“What are you thinking right now?” I ask, turning away from Ted and towards the guy on our left. His name’s Andrew, I remember. Quizzing actually does help a lot with learning names (a phenomenon which has research on it and everything.)

Andrew startles.

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m actually just feeling tired right now, and am not holding up my end of the conversation.”

Ted slings an arm around Andrew, no hesitation. “This guy’s the best,” Ted says. “We spend far too much time together.”

Andrew and Ted glance at each other, friendly and easy. Good friends, then—that makes me feel better.

“No problem,” I reassure him. I’m pleased about something else as well, and tell him so. “I’m glad I had an accurate guess for what you were feeling.”

(I’m proud of myself, because I generally don’t seem to intrinsically understand “tiredness” as a state of being at parties. I think this is because I tend to ramp up my social energy to match the engagement level of the other person, and assume that everyone else has the capacity and desire to do this as well. This is not a correct assumption, and frequently means that I’m not good at dialing down my energy in group settings, or recognizing that tiredness cannot always be fixed by jumping to a better topic.)

Andrew nods agreeably. Ted asks, “What am I feeling?”

I look at him. “You’re engaged. Challenging. But in a way that you’re enjoying yourself.”

(I know this one. I know this one so well. I know what it feels like directed at me, and I know what it feels like when I direct it at another person. In my previous conversation, I’d been doing it at someone else, but Ted’s leading the charge on this one. It’s so high-energy, and very dynamic, lots of topic switches – rapid-fire questions – complicated third-person interactions – fast emotional processing – idea generation – challenge– intent listening – tug and pull – quick.)

“That’s Ted,” Andrew says fondly, and Ted looks at him.

Ted is lost for words for long seconds. “Aw, I’m blushing,” he says, finally, and I feel the pace come down.

He gets back into it soon enough, though, and now Andrew’s in tow. I’m glad Andrew’s in the conversation now, even if it’s mostly watching. I’m always uneasy when I’m not sure if someone’s in or out of the conversation.

“You have a lot of energy,” Ted tells me, after we’ve topic-switched a couple more times. He’s getting better at them, hitting topics I care about faster. “How much have you drunk?”

I smile to myself, used to this question. I’m quite fond of it.

“Guess,” I tell him.

We bounce back and forth for a while, then move on. He starts in on athletics, keeping the focus on me. At one point, he announces the following:

“Now you’re lower energy.”

I startle. I hadn’t realized he was tracking my energy levels. But in retrospect, of course he was—that’s what this game is, isn’t it? And also why it’s fun?

He topic-switches, and moves on to talking about failure modes. He asks me what my failure modes are, and I get stuck.

“Uh, wait, what? “Failure modes” wasn’t actually what I meant, but, like, what kind of failure modes are we talking about here? …What?”

“Is that one?” He teases, watching me literally search around for words. I do seem to do this more than other people—have too many thoughts all running into each other, trying to figure out what they want and what the social expectations are and which of my thoughts fit into that and what I actually meant and do I want to engage with the other question anyway. The result is that I end up with my mouth open, making syllable-long sounds at people, while I try to figure out what to say.

It’s not an unpleasant experience for me. I don’t like when my mind is blank, but this is the opposite of blank: it’s just sorting through thoughts really quickly, discarding and generating really fast. Now that Ted’s reminded me that tracking my energy level is something I can do, I notice that I’m actively ramping up right now. Where I was medium-energy level before, getting stuck like this has pulled me into super-engaged territory. I sigh at myself.

“Not—what I meant—“ I say, and go with my usual method, which is clearing the initial thoughts by saying them really quickly and then going onto whatever I’ve decided is what I actually want to respond with.

At this point in the discussion, a new guy slides himself into the conversation. I’d previously had a decently-long conversation with him—Jacob—and he’s less of a stranger to me than most people here. He hadn’t been involved in this conversation, though, and had probably just finished a previous one.

“Jacob,” he says, introducing himself, since he doesn’t know anyone else in this circle.

“I’ve met two other Jacobs tonight,” I inform him, as Ted and Andrew introduce themselves.

“You didn’t,” Jacob tells me, and I raise my eyebrows at him.

“You’re just gonna assert that?”

“I am the only Jacob here,” he says, and I continue to raise my eyebrows at him. “Who else  have you met?” he asks finally, relenting.

I make a swooping motion in front of my face, which he instantly copies.

“No, he had hair like this,” I say, still doing the swooping motion, which he is still repeating, in a playfully mocking motion.

“Oh really?” Jacob says, and that’s it, I’m done with him.

(…I’m writing this right now, and I’m wincing a bit at how little it took for me to be done-with-him. He actually lost my respect the instant he said “You didn’t,” and then just got additional strikes from there. I feel bad, because when I complain about things in other people—actually, who am I kidding, this was an active dismissal, it’s worse than that—I like to be able to say why exactly I was unhappy, with details and instructions so that I’m only condemning one tractable thing. My “official” reason in this case is that I don’t like when people deny my subjective experience, especially when I know I’m right about it. And I get that that’s being especially earnest, and teasing as a concept exists. But I like teasing, and this… like, wasn’t a thing to tease about? It was a statement of fact. And then I let him know that I wasn’t happy—“So you’re just gonna assert that?”—and he didn’t acknowledge that. …But damn, this seems like an especially high bar for people to meet, and kind of unfair to people. I gave this guy a total of two sentences before I decided to basically ignore all of his further engagements with me in that conversation. And he did, twice more—was being challenging-in-my-face but I wasn’t really responding after that point. …I’m also proud of myself for being able to identify this sort of thing so quickly and not feeling much guilt about it. I still feel like it’s unfair, but I also don’t care? If I met him in another conversation I would hold it against him a little, but it was one interaction so I’d be happy to layer new impressions on top of it. Probably people just being drunk, right? Or something. I don’t know what’s the right thing to do.)

Ted’s been watching this and throwing in a comment here and there, but I turn my body towards him soon enough and he’s back to the races. “How much do you exercise?” he asks, and I give details. We’re a decent amount into my sports history when the last guy to my right speaks up.

His name’s Pete, and he’s sitting on a chair with his phone in his lap (Ted and Andrew and I are standing). We’d been introduced, but he hadn’t been in the conversation at any point before this—we’re something like 20-30 minutes in.

“I’m Pete,” he tells me suddenly, holding out his phone. “I know we’ve just met, but you should add me on Facebook.”

I focus on him. “Um,” I say.

“You’re Monica, right?” He says, as I stand there.

“Yeah,” I say.

From the corner of my eye, I see Ted and Andrew exchanging glances. (I can’t help but check in on all the people involved in conversations, see where their attention is.)

He holds the phone out, and I fail to reach for it.

“Uh, so I don’t actually post things on Facebook,” I say.

“Oh,” he says, drawing back.

“But those two over there have great posts,” I say, pointing to two friends in the corner.

Ted’s giving Andrew a kind of incredible face which is like: aw, man, oh no, poor buddy, an out-loud wince crossed with I’m-very-amused-right-now crossed with incredibly-knowing-full-bodied-grin crossed with we-know-a-secret-right-now-OUCH.

…Oh. Shit. Until I saw that glance, I hadn’t really realized.

“No, no, it’s a dumb social ritual anyway,” Pete says, pulling back completely.

I wince. I generally don’t add people on Facebook unless I’ve had a good conversation with them, but this is like watching a trainwreck. Except I’m the one wreaking it, and I can’t figure out if I’m in third person or first person or not.

“No, I mean, if you really want to—“ I say, making a halfhearted reach for it.

“No, it’s all right,” Pete says.

Ted reaches over and pats Pete on the shoulder. In a comforting “tough luck, buddy” kind of way.

I want to bury my face in my hands. I have just realized what has happened, which is that two guys have just attempted to come onto me, I have just rejected them both, Ted has vastly won this competition, and Andrew has been observing this whole thing.

Oh. My. God.

“…So what were you talking about?” Pete asks, rallying gamely.

“Ted was asking me about athletics,” I say, glancing at Ted.

“Oh, did he tell you that this guy is crazy about athletics? Not sure if you’d gotten to that yet.”

I turn toward him, and learn that apparently Ted works out 4 hours a day. I ask him how he has time for that. I internally feed bad that I hadn’t known that information already.

(That night I think about it, and I realized that really shouldn’t feel bad about not knowing it. Ted was driving this conversation, and he was enjoying driving it, and he was keeping the attention on me. In a normal conversation, I try to make sure to reciprocate whenever someone asks something about me. Thus, I’ve set up a system where I get negative feedback when I realize that I didn’t. But this isn’t a normal conversation, and the expectations aren’t exactly the same here, since Ted was playing this whole thing to be based on my interest levels. I’m sure it would have been good and appreciated to ask, but what seemed to be just as good was for me to react to things, and I had my attention full.

Ted had touched on the tone earlier in the conversation, shrugging. “You’re sort of novel,” he said. “I know these guys.” I’ve heard the statement “you’re novel” as the reasoning behind intense interest from at least two other people in this community since I’ve gotten here.)

I’d actually been planning to leave ever since I got talking to this group of people, but had been enjoying it so had stuck around an extra 45 minutes. At this point though, it’s trailing down, so I say my goodbyes. No hugs this time.

I shake my head at myself on the way home. Conversations that Monica enjoys: focused attention on me, fast-paced, and manageably challenging. I have concerns, because a big part of me doesn’t think that this is a style of conversation I should enjoy. It’s not sustainable, for one. It’s self-centered, for two. It can set certain relationship norms up in place that I really don’t like in the long-term. It’s unequal. I don’t control it. Friends don’t approve. It doesn’t feel like the “right” kind of interaction to like. It feels kind of illicit and submissive, conceptually. It feels like weakness, conceptually. (That seems to hit the accessible ones. I just did a scan of my emotions, trying to answer the question of the reasoning underneath the statement “I don’t like liking it”. None of the listed reasons should be necessarily considered “endorsed beliefs”: ideas I’ve thought deeply about intellectually and agree with. These are just some of the emotional mess underlying “I don’t like liking it”.)

Let’s sort through a few of these pretty quickly. Are conversations like these sustainable? Meaning, are there people who are going to be willing to have them with me, and will these people continue to be willing to have them with me? Intellectual answer: this is not going to be indefinitely available, but there are currently lots of people around, and a small subset of them enjoy leading these types of conversations. So opportunities are available but it’s not indefinitely sustainable. Okay. Seems like a fair worry. Conflict #2: it’s self-centered. Intellectual response: …um, fuck yeah it is? This conflict doesn’t seem to be an emotional conflict, this seems to come from my intellectual centers. But this is drawing from an emotional understanding of “how conversations should be run”. If we’re instead saying that the point of conversations is to enjoy them (which, this seems to be what getting-to-know-you conversations like this are about, since it feels much more flow-based than content-based to me.)… Back up. Why do I have rules about how conversations should be run? Presumably so they can be enjoyed. And most of the time, most of my rules are correct in that conversations should be run pretty equally in order for them to be enjoyed. But we need to go back to the base objective here, and this type of challenge-one-person-focused conversation is a non-standard case of a conversation that is also enjoyable for both parties, otherwise both parties wouldn’t be engaging with it. Emotional part, are you buying it? (Emotional part is sort of buying it, and really sort of not.)

Third conflict: one person leading and challenging sets up bad norms. Intellectual response: my intellectual side says that this is an intellectual argument and so it’s already fully endorsed. I’ve recently propagated this intellectual argument down to my emotional side, which is a reason why I’m so wary about this whole type of conversation in the first place. Okay, leaving that one alone since it’s new and I think it’s good on the whole.

Fourth conflict: It’s unequal. Oh boy. This is an old argument that seems like it pops up from my intellectual side but is actually deeply emotional. This is basically tied in with the “weakness” and “submissive” and “not right kind of interaction for me” arguments, in a big ball of “ugggggg I don’t want to look at this.” (Okay. Okay. Let’s just look briefly at it and see if there’s anything immediate we can do.) What objective is this section of emotions trying to protect me from / pursue? …Okay, nothing fast is coming out of it, this whole section just keeps on flashing a “dangerous!” sign at me and telling me to continue not looking at it. This whole ball of things is also sort of alongside ideas of control, so that can get lumped in too. Well, I know I’ve had worries and blocks set up around this thing for a while, so I guess I’ll just update that I really haven’t resolved any of this stuff, and spend some more time on it later. (I haven’t done any emotional introspection stuff recently, actually! I’ve been working instead. I really should be working now :P. But the rest of life also exists!)

And that’s most of the conflicts—happily, this does seem to mostly center on the ball of later listed conflicts! As per usual, they didn’t pop up first, so I’m glad I did at least a little searching as to why this whole interaction was making me feel uneasy. (In addition to the facebook-adding thing. …ug that’s awkward. Also, I love that they’re all good friends with each other. Watching people who like each other interact often makes me happy, especially if they’re strangers to me.)

But it was a good interaction over all, felt comfortable and interesting, and I’m glad to have had it. This whole thing has also encouraged me to attend more parties like this when available.

And with that, happy holidays times two, readers! I’m not heading out until the end of the week, and am looking forward to pushing ahead on as much work as possible before then :).

Monica

Nice things

I’m at a party, and I’ve made eye contact with someone I haven’t seen in a while.

“Monica!” he exclaims when I come closer, and opens his arms up for a hug.

I say his name back warmly, and reciprocate. Hmm, I appreciate his hugs. It’s been a while.

He pulls back, keeping us at close range. “You smell pretty,” he says, sort of helplessly but also firmly, like it’s what he’s thinking right now and he’s going to own it.

He holds eye contact and I smile at him. It’s sweet, I think—the phrasing doesn’t quite make sense, he was probably going for “you smell nice” and “you look pretty” and flustered himself into a blend, but he’s not taking it back.

“I’ve missed you too,” I say. He asks me what I’ve been up to, and I start on my prepared story for the night.

At one point he’s just responded with something, and we’re holding eye contact, and he does a sort of shoulder-shiver, an exaggerated expression of feeling communicated through his body. He half-smiles, then makes a funny tongue movement like he’s rolling a candy around in his cheek.

“Mouth movements, too?” I ask, because that’s new. I’m used to his shoulder-shivers and even full-body ones; I make them too, when I’m in a certain state of mind and feeling overwhelmed. This guy is particularly good at translating those sorts of shivery feelings into physical manifestations, and it feels honest and not like a performance and like it’s just something that happens to him.

“No,” he says, struggling to find the word, “it’s a dental thing…”

“Retainer,” I supply, and he nods.

He kind of shakes his head, smiling again. Hums, slides himself into: “I find you attractive.”

Again, like a statement of fact, like it’s what’s on his mind. I keep eye contact, smile. “You’re welcome to come over whenever you want,” I tell him. I pause. “Though I’ve been issuing that invitation for forever.”

He sighs. “Yeah, you haven’t reached object permanence for me.”

I frown; is he referring to the infant psychology studies, in which young babies don’t believe that an object exists when it’s not in their field of view? It’s a great set of studies—if you show a baby an object, make it disappear behind an obstacle, and then bring the object back, babies will be just as surprised if it’s the same object compared to if it’s a new object. We aren’t born with the understanding that objects continue to exist if we can’t see them; we have to learn it over time.

“You mean I don’t exist normally?” I ask him, because that’s a pretty weird framing to bring to bear on the quotidian question of why he hasn’t visited.

“Yeah. You’re here when I see you at parties. Not sure what’s going on with that.”

I raise my eyebrows. (Haven’t managed just the one.) “Well, I am only going to be here for the next two and a half years.”

We talk briefly about my upcoming move to Princeton in two and a half years, and what he’s been thinking about concerning transportation between different areas of the Bay, and move on from there.

We’re parting when it comes up again. “I’ll figure out the object impermanence eventually, in the next ten years or so,” he tells me, smiling.

“Better figure it out faster than that,” I say.

He laughs sheepishly, goes in for the final hug. “Yeah, I might have to sit down and figure out what’s going on underneath.” He’s referring to the kind of introspective practice we’re both familiar with, where one takes a puzzling aversion, tries to identify the associated emotions, and separate out and sort through the feelings for what are the base fears and reluctance underneath. This process usually unearths interesting and seemingly irrelevant lower-level emotions. I had been doing it really briefly on my bike ride over, and discovered that the reason I was feeling low-level and uncaring wasn’t that I was actually low-energy. Rather, I was using the uncaring feeling as a cover for the fact that I was feeling a little anxious and worried that I was going to be disappointed by this party. It’s a simple link in retrospect, but then again, I really could have been feeling low-energy. I find the practice of acknowledging emotions underneath—just acknowledging them, not even doing anything with them—can make me and most people feel surprisingly better.

“Mmm,” I acknowledge into his shoulder, then let go.

“See you later!”

Returning smile, then he’s out the door.

“He said WHAT?” One of my housemates asks, appalled. “He just said that you smelled pretty and that you’re attractive? He just said it? I don’t approve of that.”

I’m leaning against the counter, laughing a little. I’ve just been recounting the highlights of this episode in the kitchen, and have not been doing it in a way that effectively portrays the underlying feelings of the event. Apparently smiling besottedly and saying “So I was at this party yesterday, and ran into a guy I’ve been with a couple of times, and he told me I smelled pretty and also that I was attractive,” is not the way to effectively communicate why this was okay.

“He sounds like a creeper,” she continues on. “You smell pretty? What is that? And so boldly telling you to your face you’re attractive! I would drop him immediately, that’s rude.”

There’s really nothing else I can be but actively amused. “Okay, I see your point,” I tell her. “And yeah, I totally agree with you with someone I just met, or if they were being aggressive about it. But he knew it was mutual attraction.” And he was also doing it a way where it felt like he was being vulnerable and not expecting anything of me, not like he was dumping something my lap and leaving me to deal with his emotions. I don’t actually know the details of this difference, but there… is one? There’s a set of feelings I can get in response to a statement like this which feels a lot like obligation, guilt, feeling overwhelmed, and feeling pushed. And at the opposite end it just feels warm and special. I think it has something to do with expectations, and existing common knowledge, and… maybe a lot to do with the feeling I get about whether everyone’s going to be okay no matter what is said. When this sort of thing goes well (and I’ve delivered this sort of sentence to other people, too) it seems to work best when it’s delivered in a tone of: “take it or leave it, these are my feelings, I’m going to be disappointed but just fine if they’re not returned, but I already know we both enjoy each other’s company and there’s nothing bad on the line here.”

“He said you had OBJECT IMPERMANENCE?” my housemate screeches, when I get to that part and explain the baby studies. “That’s incredibly inconsiderate. I’m way too feminist for this. He sounds like a jerk.”

“Uh,” I say, because, “um, I mean, he didn’t—”

“That sounds horrible. Why are you hanging out with this guy?”

I shake my head, smiling helplessly. “I mean, we know each other, and what he said is still appropriate within the community that we’re in. If someone I didn’t know said this to me, I’d agree, but it was actually fine.”

She shakes her head in return. We discuss whether we want guys to be chivalrous or not and whether they should get women flowers. (She says yes to gallantry—“it shows they’re educated”—and “I like when men get me flowers, but not roses. So cliché.”) (I say: “No gallantry, and I don’t want anyone to buy me flowers. Have you let the guys know that you want flowers but not roses? You should probably tell them that, so they know. People have different opinions on this sort of thing.”)

Different strokes work for different folk, I guess? I’m just kind of smiling at the screen here—not much to be done about the conflict here, and a lot of it depends on how I tell the story, and how we interpret others, and what our shared values are. (My housemate and I have many shared values, and our expectations of how they should be expressed are occasionally different.)

Well, as long as everyone feels safe and happy in their interactions, then external judgment doesn’t actually matter, does it? That’s the overall feeling I’ve been aiming for for a while now, and while I’m not quite there yet (I still have this strong belief that there’s an external “right” that exists, and not just every one of us carrying around subjective values) I’m getting closer, with regards to situations that are purely about subjective enjoyment for the players involved.

Seems right to me. Happy holidays, everyone!

Monica

Adventuring

Hey all :).

I’m feeling good, this week :). There was a bit of a slump in the past few weeks—I think it was a combination of dealing with lingering feelings from the circling event and also actually needing to get my final project done. In any case, I was in one of my swings where I wasn’t really talking to people—didn’t feel like dealing with people, and was staying home working instead—but this week I get to emerge into social life again! It’s always nice when I feel like I want to reach out to people, rather than wanting most things to go away :P.

It’s also really nice to have the faith that I can hide away for a bit. It used to bother me whenever I felt like this, because I was worried I’d regress on my social skills or something, or that I was accidentally making myself sadder, or that I wouldn’t swing back out of it, or that people would call me out on it, or that I couldn’t emerge for the minimum mandatory socialization that has to happen to not fall off on work and alternatively not alarm people. Turns out, it’s all fine. I don’t actually have any problems doing some interaction and then a lot of time alone, and the balance actually feels pretty good to me when I’m doing it.

This reminds me of one of the topics I’ve been thinking about recently, namely close friendships, dating, the fraught introversion / extroversion divide, desired time spent in the company of people. I totally go through cycles, but I kind of confuse myself with how I like my people / alone balance to be :). Someone asked me about my perfect day recently, and I said that I’d be pretty happy getting to talk to various cool people all day, having interesting conversations. I’d need a few days to recover from that, but the day itself and the after-days would all be cool. In other evidence of me liking hanging out with people, I’m usually the person who reaches out to friends and old contacts, not the other way around. And whenever I get to new places, and am trying to make new friends fast, I can do social things until the cows come home, and it’s interesting and engaging for me.

On the other hand… I thought I’d changed up my patterns since getting to grad school, but I’ve settled into almost the exact same socialization patterns that I had in college. This isn’t unduly deliberate—there are circumstances of communal housing that are similar for everyone—but I could have made different choices along the way. Namely: I seem to end up in places that are far enough away that it’s kind of a pain for friends to get to. I seem to seek out friendly roommates who nevertheless mostly leave me alone, except for casual communication in common spaces. I like planned socialization time with friends, especially one-on-one, and organize meet-ups for that purpose. I still downright refuse to be contacted for spontaneous gatherings and communication, which includes not being willing to check my phone. When I need to do any sort of serious work I’ll isolate myself from people (…this is also why I ended up spending so much time on my own in college. I usually can’t concentrate around other people.) I’ll message people, but usually a few times a day is near my maximum, and I’ll see my closest friends something like once a week or so. Whoo hoo, I’m back to my normal isolationist-with-social-intensity-interspersed routines! It’s something I had to give up when I was in Cambridge—we were required to go into work on somewhat normal hours, like a proper office job, but I seem to have drifted right back into it. I’m also keeping late hours, as is my wont when schedules will let me get away with it :P. (…Uh, and part of the point of keeping late hours is that people aren’t awake. I like it when there are no external demands on my time and I don’t have to check email and such. It’s a big part of the appeal.)

But I am so good at getting people to guess I’m an extrovert :). My energy also ramps up crazily during social interactions, which—if we’re using my favorite definition of extroversion, which is “gains energy through social”—can be misleading. The key bit to realize is that social stuff feels pretty performative to me, “important” in that there are consequences if I mess it up, and interesting / engaging and in a “pay a lot of attention” way. This all means that I automatically ramp up my energy in a similar way as I’d do for anything that I feel requires my focus and concentration. I also prefer to take at least an equivalent amount of time alone after such events, though I’m definitely capable of forcing it :P. A funny mode I have is if I’m emotionally exhausted, but know that I have a while yet before it’s done, I’ll drop into this energy-conserving mode where all of my emotional reactions feel really blunted and flat. I can switch myself out of it pretty much immediately if necessary, but it’s always kind of a mood I enjoy when I’m in it, because it’s like: lay it on me, go for it, it’s totally not going to hurt or affect me as much as usual, and it just feels really calming to know that there’s nothing that I can do, nothing I have to be or react to, I’ve already had my fill and all of this stuff is just extra and not really about me or at me, just there. (Hm, that does sound like a weird state, in retrospect. Anyone else get this?)

In any case, this brings me around to: dating! Whoo-ee, dating’s some complicated business. I’ve been doing the simple version where I’m honest and blunt-ish and approximately say what I’m feeling. (Who needs subtext? Subtext is for bringing up explicitly for interesting discussion. “…so I’m appreciating this silence while you try to come up with something, but if you want I could also help you out here? We’re talking about whether we want to see each other again, yes?” or “So I notice you keep on moving a certain way, and that in some types of interactions you’ve been reacting like…” and more, so much more (evil grin)).

But I’ve been recently hanging out with a friend or two who are doing dating the normal way, and it sounds exhausting. “So, I just made the first contact for the date, but I now have to wait for him to contact me next, because I want him to do some work.” “Am I allowed to message him again? I don’t want to be too clingy.” “It’s important to play hard to get, it actually has a really effect, people become less attractive to me when they reply too quickly.” “Look at this message! What’s going on here? What’s the tone?” “Are you getting ready for your date? It usually takes me a hour or so, with all the makeup.” “So I want to have sex with him, but I can’t just say that, but if he brings wine, then I can just sort of let it happen…” “I have to have at least a few dates before I get in his car, he could do anything!”

It just feels so restrictive, and painful, and tiring, hearing about it. There are so many rules about what you are and are not allowed to say, and what you’re supposed to do to indicate interest, and what the other person is supposed to do to indicate interest, and I was like: “…if you’re interested, can’t you just message if you want to message? Can’t you just say you’re interested in sex? Can’t you just put on normal going-out clothes? I feel like the people you’re talking with aren’t super mysterious and they’re not actually out to get us, you can talk to them like you’re talking to me.”

I’ve heard that taking the direct approach is often actively detrimental. There is a reason everyone plays “the game”, and that is because playing “the game” works. Happily, I don’t care enough, and choose weird enough people, and me being out there has worked surprisingly well. I have seriously been surprised by how well people seem to get along with me, given that I’m deliberately violating the social norms. People have told me on a few occasions that they were actively surprised by how comfortable they’ve felt around me by the end, which is so strange to me, because I’m not doing anything. I’m seriously just asking invasive questions while following people’s interests and my own, and people are usually initially worried about this, and then they tell me they feel really comfortable by the end, and I’m like: people. I have been trying to learn how to make people feel comfortable about me for FOREVER, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make people feel comfortable confiding in me for WHO KNOWS HOW LONG, and all of a sudden I’ve just got it? By following my own interests and asking you bunches of hard questions about who you are and what you care about? On the first date? …This was not in the manual at all, you know. No one says this is a thing that you can do, this is not in my stories, this is a weird sneaky shortcut to some kind of emotional safety, I don’t understand, but hell yes I will take it despite having no idea how it works.

(Fine, I can hypothesize. I’ve asked people about it, actually. (Made them analyze it. This is also not allowed in my Manual of How Social Interaction Works. I think it’s kind of rude because of the cognitive overhead, but I really appreciate when people do it anyway.) The reason why what I’m doing works is something like: I’m actively curious about who people are, the curiosity feels genuine, and, most importantly, the curiosity feels open. Meaning that it feels non-judgmental and interested and compassionate, and this feels unusual to people. Who knew that I’d grow up to be a good listener—I’ve asked my friend Tiffany about when I first started doing active listening, and she said around junior year of college. Back then it was an intimidating kind of active listening that felt pressuring to people, and even now I know my questioning system can feel very pressuring if I’m pushing it that way. I still remember how miraculous it was when I first heard the idea that “active listening makes people like you”—if I recall, I got that from a book. But nowadays apparently I’ve softened the active listening without even trying. Who knew, man.)

(My mother knew :P. My parents have been working on the whole “train up Monica in all the social skillz!!” front since high school. Incredibly, I think I’ve got it now. Like, I’m actually done. There are small skills to pick up on the edge cases, and when I move to a new environment there will be extra things, but I’ve got the essentials, and the proper cues in place to notice when I need to be adjusting and learning. How insane—it’s been such a long-running training session—and I’m talking a major focus of mine since middle school, something I’ve been actively worrying about and working on all the way through college—and I’m, like, done. By my own standards, of course, since I’m sure others differ on whether I’m properly socialized, but I think I can declare success by this point. I mean, I can date now. What more could you want from me? :P).

(Less tongue-in-cheek, I say dating’s important because it requires a ton of subtextual implicit stuff that’s important in normal conversation but not the established standard.  Of course, I’ve been cheating in how I’ve been approaching it, but the fact that apparently it works anyway says to me I’m good to go. There’s also the question of what one wants to accomplish with one’s social skills. I basically want to be able to make friends with the people I want to be friends with, not offend people, be able to function well at work, and communicate my interests / needs / desires in a way that builds connection and is reciprocated. If I want more advanced skills, like the ability to lead people well, convince people, manage people, facilitate group interactions, get along with every type of person, or help people from a therapy context (for example) I have to start building again, but I’m happy with what I have given my current goals.)

(Additional addendum: saying that I’ve got my basic social skills and can come off as pleasant to most people, and interesting / appealing to a specific type that I care about, doesn’t save me at all when it comes to work :P. There’s this lovely much-closer-than-in-normal-life meritocracy going on in research, and while it’s far from perfect (just like in non-research life, there are many biases, e.g. see the number of African-American professors), you definitely have to actually be good at what you do to get anywhere. Moreover, being good at research requires a skill set that has parts that feel almost orthogonal to socialization.)

Anyyyyyyway, I had a few points I’d stored up for a while, one of which is: I give thanks for not being super invested in dating, because it makes several of my friends very sad when they want to be long-term dating and are smashing against the dating wall. Two: I have an exception for me enjoying living by myself, because one summer I lived with a friend whose company I enjoy a lot, and I had an excellent time hanging out with her more than once a week. And this leads me to my original point in bringing up dating, which was: do I want to be dating in the first place? (…I love that it took me more than 1000 words to get to this point.)

And the verdict seems to be… um, no? I’m not, like, closing this route off or anything (that seems silly, I’ve got lots of life left to change my mind as new situations arise), and if someone stupendously awesome for me wants to show up, then by all means. But I’ve done, like, a pretty thorough investigation by this point, and I keep on drifting towards the conclusion that I don’t actually need to care about this, right now.

So, hear me out! I started out this whole “figure out sex and dating” venture two summers ago because I got fed up with men telling me I should date. The last straw was an old guy telling me I was “pretty enough,” so “why aren’t you?” In proper feminist form, I decided to completely buy his importance on dating and started on the “dating adventures” so I could have concrete evidence why I didn’t want to be dating, and also I was worried I was missing out on stuff. I really liked the idea of kissing and had been wanting to try that out for a while, plus sex was scary and I generally don’t like being scared of things. Plus, everyone talks about dating all the time, and it makes good stories or whatever, plus friends were encouraging me in this project. All good, solid reasons to start dating, am I right?

In any case, I’ve been exploring this properly for something like a year and a half now, meeting up with a good number of people and even trying some short-term dating for a while. Conclusions: wow, kissing and related activities are not nearly as good as I thought they would be for me. And I did proper research on expectations, too—I for one read a ludicrous amount of romance, to the degree that I’ve read a ludicrous amount of romance-gone-wrong (the field is biased positive, but by sheer number I’ve spanned the multitudes.) I’ve also consulted with real-life people about what romance is supposed to feel like (the number of people I’ve asked “what is romance?” and the number of helpless shrugs I’ve received in reply). I’ve asked people about what the related activities are supposed to feel like, too, and also consulted the internet, and then consulted more people (“no, but what are the emotions associated it? What does it feel like? What are the analogies? What’s the closest related activity?”) I have tried things with several people who self-report that they are good at these things, and many spontaneously referenced the relative number of other satisfied partners they had had to assure me of the validity of their self-report. (…that is a monster of a sentence. That wouldn’t even pass in academic writing. Euphemisms and obfuscation and some science jargon, oh my.) I generally just met up with a bunch of people, and they even happily tended to fall outside of any single identification category. All good experiences, with some pretty cool people, and thank you to everyone who bore with me in my delusions of scientific investigation and generally was accepting and awesome with me. (Like, everyone was great with me. I know I’ve had far better experiences than most, and I’m grateful to everyone for the consideration and humor and kindness they demonstrated.)

Here’s an observation that was exciting to me: I have, on occasion, experienced all of the fluttery warm feelings promised to me by the romance trope! They were often accompanied by enough emotional baggage that I grew fearful and tired and decided that I didn’t want to do this right now. However, I have isolated the experience to myself, rather than other people: other people do seem to feel all of the reported feelings and inclinations, and I seem to… not. This is useful, because it can mean that other people are right in insisting that dating is the best thing ever, because it actually is for them, and I can also be right in saying that dating is interesting but also more stressful than I care for at the moment, like, for real, having collected evidence on myself and anything, not even repressing any more than you are, like, FOR REAL FOR REAL (I’m not defensive or anything) and I can also be right. I am still uneasy about different people having such strong opinions while each being right in their own subjective experience, but feel satisfied that it can be divided this way.

I have also learned that while people can be interested in me, I am allowed to not be interested in them, and in fact can do things like change my mind and be a little abrupt. Additionally, while I try to be sensitive, I don’t have to necessarily engage with people even though they may be persistent. (Still working on this one. I’m making much progress.) I have also learned that relationships can be very confusing, there are a lot of emotions, a lot of consideration of other people’s emotions, communication is key, and I like friend-dynamics a lot. Also, the internet can be very kind in specific places and has nice names and labels for any of the above feelings if one feels so inclined. (I like labels. And boxes. And other organizational boundaries. I am highly empathetic to people who find labels and boxes and organizational boundaries constraining.)

I also learned that I find discussion of dating and related activities quite interesting, and probably will for a while, and still like romance and imagining but don’t want to deal with actual people at this moment. I have also learned that people are highly suspicious of repression when one says such things, and suspect blockages due to fear, and perhaps that one is replacing the things that one really wants with easier-to-acquire things. Look, I can’t promise I’m not, but this stuff doesn’t scare me anymore, it just currently feels tiring, so give me a break. (Again, I’m so obviously not defensive here. I’ve internalized a lot of these arguments, and now spend a lot of time arguing with myself :)).

That said, if someone like my summer roommate appears and wants to be housemates with me for a while, I am down. If someone wants to show up and watch movies with me, so down. If someone wants to engage in “related activities”, and is, like, an interesting person who will hang out with me in other contexts as well… to be decided, really. That’s the scenario I’m currently running hypotheticals on. I suspect that if they wanted to do friend-stuff that’d be even better, but to be concluded.

AND SO CONCLUDES THE DATING SAGA! Ha, not really. I’ll still be trying stuff out and gathering additional data (read: hanging out with cool people :)). And generally I’ll be watching for if things change and generally analyzing emotional reactions. But while this was an active operation for quite a while (consult my friends on this, I’m not even changing the terminology much from how I’ve occasionally talked about it) I hit an important keypoint two days ago when I had a realization that went: “…oh wait, I’m not actually interested in pursuing this goal anymore even though a few months ago I probably would have been okay with this situation”. For everyone who listened to me talk about this and told me they thought this was a phase (I respect those people, since I also suspected it was going to be phase)—evidence seems to be leading in that direction.

It is amusing to me that I decided to go through my first 22 years of life and have no romantic /sexual relationships whatsoever, for the stated reason of “I’ve got school!”, and that I’d tell this to people and they seemed to have no idea where to store this information. I’ve been congratulated before, amusingly (…uh, it’s not like it was hard. There was school, relationships weren’t the default.) I’ve been reminded that I went to an all-women’s college and then was at an all-woman’s dorm in Cambridge. (…In retrospect, I really miss all-women’s environments. Sigh. But also, I lived in Boston over the summers, and I don’t only date men. Also I spent a good amount of time at MIT. Also, there were parties at Cambridge. If I wanted to make it work I could have made it work.) People have been much nicer about the inexperience thing than common adage would have had me believe, though I might have just gotten lucky on that front. And now, after a year and a half or so of trying this out, I’m back to where I was. Not entirely, because I know myself much better now in this area, and I’m no longer afraid of sex, and I have arguments to marshal, and amusing stories to tell (seriously, if you ever try these sorts of adventures, pick the weird nice ones. Weird nice ones make fun and pleasant experiences and excellent stories.) Also I’m more open to taking up opportunities if I change my mind and opportunities arise. But it’s been quite a ride, this whole dating thing :). (And again, thank you to everyone, and for the opportunities I’ve had, because it’s pretty special that I got to undertake this adventure the way I did.)

…You know, this was not even what I really intended to talk about, in this blog. I’ve been thinking about it pretty constantly for the last long time, but I didn’t know that I’d been wrapping it up nicely and was ready to present findings. *shrugs*

In other news, I’ve been making a lot of progress on the “identify feelings when you’re feeling threatened” problem, and I think making that progress, and changing behaviors and actually seeing the execution results has done a lot towards lifting my mood. Also, I have a lot more general blog thoughts I have written down and want to write about, and am back to wishing I had more time to write this thing. Well, I need to finish that research paper due on Saturday, and then maybe I can do another fun one next week. Man I missed feeling like I was on top of the world and knew what I was doing and was pleased with the environs inside and outside my head. I feel like it’s been a while, when it can’t have been that long, maybe a few weeks, right? But I haven’t felt chatty properly in what feels like a while. (Humor and overly long sentences, I missed it. Did you know I used to write this floridly when I was younger as well? Apparently I’ve always amused myself with overly complicated sentences, and it takes effort to make it legible. I was thinking about how many writing “dialects” I had, and I think I settled on “academic”, “normal”, and “informal” but with not too much of a difference between “normal” and “informal”. Maybe “clear” should be the middle category.)

In any case, I hope you all have great weeks, and best of luck on finals for those in the midst of that. Happy adventuring, everyone :).

Monica

Finals

Hey all :).

I do so enjoy generally not having deadlines. However, I am now in the period of the year where deadlines are looming threateningly, and so won’t be able to blog this week :/. Someday I will be able to say I don’t have finals, but today is not that day! (As an aside, my friends and I counted recently, and I’m a 20th-grader. How excellent and absurd is that?)

Hope you all had great Thanksgivings if you’re living here and great weeks if not, and talk to you all later!

Monica

p.s. for more detail, combined human-robot trajectory planning is kicking my butt. (The problem: if a human moves this way to achieve a goal, and a robot is trying to coordinate with it, then what movement does the robot make in response?) Also, attempting to run optimization algorithms is hard. (What even is optimization? It’s like– most generally in this domain, trying to find the best solution to a difficult problem using a bunch of math/programming tricks people have come up with, and you just need to adopt to your specific problem. But there are so many details to that statement :P). However, I’m now at the point where I’m like: “oh, wait, that equation doesn’t make sense, let me attempt to make it make sense,” instead of “ahhh I’ll do whatever you tell me to just give me more equations and I will force it into code!” Even when I’m wrong with my fixes, the fact that I’m able to try is quite satisfying.