For the past month or so, I’ve been in a self-imposed exile from any kind of real intense communion with people. What this means is that I haven’t really gone out socially. I’ve minimized any kind of workplace fraternization (which, incidentally, has been difficult as this job is relatively new and I should be getting to know my colleagues). And I’ve not really been talking as regularly to the people in my immediate sphere.
The reason for this is quite simple: Self-critique.
I’m not obsessed with myself to the point of distraction the way that may sound, but I realized when I got my new job and didn’t feel as settled as I had expected to be that there was obviously something else making me relatively unhappy.
Moving to DC was a conscious choice. One that worked one every level except socially. My “career”, if you can call it that, is in a good place. I’m doing work I think is important and I’m nicely, but not disgustingly, compensated for that work. I have ample time and opportunity to finish my personal writing which was something I could not do in Pittsburgh to the same degree.
However, DC is a remarkably harder place to find a niche than in Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, I very much had my circle of friends and people who felt very similar to me. In DC, people have more money, less time, and (at times) no regard for the fact that they are only one of a couple trillion people on the planet. This makes it hard to find outlets socially that allow for the kind of relational interaction that I have found to be most rewarding.
People (or most of the ones I’ve met) tend to want to engage in activity that is not rewarding to me personally and that dilutes any true healthy relational interaction. Shopping is mind-numbingly boring to me and the conversation tends to be equally as banal. Going to the movies is difficult because folks don’t want to see what I want to see and loathe talking about it afterward, which I also find confounding. And to just sit and chill makes most people I’ve met so uncomfortable that they’ve literally left me sitting alone for significant amounts of time.
People I’ve met here either find me to be weird, overly serious, or aggravating. Sometimes all three. At the same time.
So upon realizing that things were not as balanced as I had hoped, I decided to re-evaluate myself. It’s a periodic process I engage in to help me correct the things about myself that contribute to my feelings of inbalance. I believe that since one has so little control over the actions of others, the least one can do is change the parts of themselves that are problematic and hope that it makes relational interaction easier.
What I found is that sometimes, most times in fact, I overstep my bounds in speaking my truths. While I don’t necessarily believe that what I say is wrong or right, I realized that this is beside the point. What I didn’t do in the past was give whoever I was talking to the courtesy of deciding whether or not they wanted to hear what I had to say in the first place.
This is unhealthy. It has made getting to know even the most well-meaning, nicest and most compatible (upon first or second glance, of course) of people turn away from building a friendship at all. I always knew that I came off abrasive, but in my head, I told myself that people don’t like the truth.
This is true. But it is truer that people don’t like unsolicited truths. I can probably be quoted by any number of friends and acquaintances as having said that “a true friend doesn’t allow you to enact unhealthy behaviors.”
I still very much believe that.
But I think now it is more important for me to only say certain things when they are requested. Because people don’t hear what you say, they hear what they want to hear. So I should wait to tell them when they are ready to hear it.
Now, of course, this seems like common sense and it is a wonder why it took me so long to get to this place in my life. But once you learn something, you do often wonder how you never knew it. Such is life.
A series of events happened that triggered this minor epiphany.
First, I was talking with a friend who was really excited about a date he had. When I asked for information about the guy he was going out with, he rattled off his stats. This struck me as very odd. I wondered almost instantly if my friend would then hold this man to a standard set by his preconceived notions of what those stats represented to him. I felt he was setting himself up for disappointment because he just didn’t seem interested in allowing for the guy to be different, or more accurately, to be more than his stats. It was all about aspects of this person that were very quantifiable and very superficial.
I was offended and I wasn’t even the date. I immediately told my friend that he should not approach his date with a checklist to make sure he wasn’t “lying” or “inconsistent” (to use his terminology) before he even really knew him well enough to know whether or not he was a “liar” or “inconsistent”. How similar someone is to their stats is important, but only so much.
He said, “don’t start.” And I, rather callously, pressed on.
The second instance was an acquaintance that graciously attempted to help me figure out how I could become a mentor here in DC. He mentioned, in his list, a couple of black fraternities. I didn’t have any initial reaction, but when I asked whether or not participation was predicated on being in the frat, I realized that the missions and goals a black fraternity might espouse, even inadvertently, wouldn’t jive with my own principles.
I didn’t say it nearly as nicely to him as I just did here. And I really did offend him. While not intentional in the slightest, it was definitely one of those times when you just don’t hear how you sound.
Integrity is very important to me. I think it is the number one reason why we, black folks, have not progressed nearly as far as we could given our unprecedented access to “the American dream.”
Going through these processes of recognizing the things you do that are detrimental to building healthy relational interactions is a necessary process. It is very much something that I value and it feels good to “make progress” toward becoming the kind of person that I very much would like to be.
When I embarked on my little journey into myself, most of my friends and acquaintances found it very odd and off-putting. People who like you, rarely if ever, think there is anything so wrong with you that would warrant this level of self-analysis. That’s wonderful to know. But it’s not really true. Everyone could stand to re-evaluate themselves more frequently.
I know that. I would love that. But I’m not gonna say that anymore.
It is important to me that my relationships, both platonic and otherwise, be based in interactions of integrity and not be rooted in a heterosexist power dynamic where everyone is trying to see how much the other person is “doing” for them and vice versa. This way of behaving has always struck me as profoundly silly.
But I realize that while I think this is silly, most other people do not. They have no problems with creating relationships that fit their ideal instead of ones that fit who both people as individuals. They have no problem playing games to see if the other person slips up. They have no problem “stacking screw-ups” to use against the other person later instead of stopping in the moment and calling attention to hurtful behavior.
This is socially sanctioned. Relationships are a game. It’s a race to see who wins.
Being alone is frighteningly okay with me. To the point where I do sometimes wonder if I am anti-social. And yet, I do feel lonely. Pervasively so. It is like an underlying emotion in my day-to-day life. Something that is always there. All my closest friends are in other cities and 90% of the people I’ve met here don’t end up making it very long with me (both because of me and because of them).
The willingness to live a life of integrity is always foisted on the other person. Everyone has numerous requirements for their mate and their friends. Look at any personals site. Endless ads listing likes and dislikes. Very few of these people own up to the things that they do that inhibit healthy relational interactions. And while I try to do that, this was an aspect of myself I just didn’t see before. I had to once again figure out how I sabotage relationships.
Ultimately, I realized that while I would like people to have certain qualities and I’m not willing to compromise on a few things, I can’t badger people into such behavior by constantly reminding them of the way they behave. Especially if I’m not asked as much.
Again, why this took me so long…I don’t know.
Originally written on July 26, 2005
I really enjoyed reading your post. I have many of the same feelings about people as you do. I recently became bored with society and have been in semi-isolation. I feel that I’m a bit of a misanthrope. You write very well, I enjoyed reading