Posted by: scintillatingspeck | July 14, 2017

How can I be a better relational creature?

This morning I wrote on Facebook:

I want to carve out some time today to write, i.e. think “out loud” but not really out loud, about confusing social things, and see if I can figure out what my baggage is and if I can unravel it, and what isn’t my baggage and can’t do much about. For example: I have habits of avoidance/withdrawal that I want to confront, complete with stories I tell myself of people’s lack of availability and disinterest that may or may not be true. Also, it’s clear to me that we live in a culture that works very assiduously to separate us and keep us from connecting, and I probably shouldn’t blame myself for that. But I’ve been conditioned by all that crap.

Here I am, writing out loud.

I suppose it would be helpful to remind myself that this is a lifelong project, this bettering of myself as a relational creature.  And that I seem to come with certain handicaps.  I don’t know what’s fixable or not.

The confusing social things.  What are they?  They are things like: how do I know when to follow up with someone?  How do I know when to leave people alone?  Who is interested in being connected to me?  Is there a way to know?  Is everyone just way too busy and overwhelmed?  What if I’m busy and overwhelmed?  How can I help other people to not feel overwhelmed by me, or vice versa?  Why do I so frequently assume that I must not be interesting enough, or skilled enough, or normal enough, or whatever enough, to build and maintain solid connections and community?  Why do I think most people are way more mainstream than I am and thus probably reluctant to be associated with me?

I could probably list many more questions than that, but it’s a start.

This effort to improve my relating feels crucial right now, as we are settling into a new place, and I so much want to get us launched in the right direction.  I confess I often feel terrified that I will mess everything up and that we will find ourselves in a situation like we were in before, where we were often isolated and depressed (at least I was depressed).  I want to change that.  I want to feel empowered to create significant changes in our lives.  I also don’t want to mercilessly blame myself if not all relating goes well, to only own what is mine to own.

So, this piece about avoidance/withdrawal is real, and old, and I’m not sure what to do with it other than keep picking away it, keep pushing myself to meet people and reach out to people and not stop, even if I’m afraid and paranoid and tired.  Is that all there is to it?  Just push, push, push?  Maybe I am supposed to be doing things differently.

I wish someone had been teaching me all along how to make friends, keep friends, build community, and keep community.  I don’t think I have a lot of role models to emulate, honestly.  My family of origin was never immersed in community.  My mother left her home country.  My sister left her home country.  I have no history of having a solid community or extended family around me to fall back on.  I don’t have a hometown to go back to.  I don’t have a religious community or workplace or school or any community-of-proximity like that.  What I have is what I’ve tried to create, from scratch.

I do have beloved friends whom I adore, and that is something, indeed.  Many of them are far from me.  Many of them will always be far from me.  I think my reflections about the confusing social things are more about people in my relatively close vicinity.

Do I know what it takes to relate well?  Does anybody?  How have I managed to alienate, or be alienated by, a bunch of people?  What is a reasonable amount of attention to expect or apportion?  Am I not being fair by sometimes failing to recognize all the times I and others have been attentive, compassionate, patient, and loving?

I seem to have more questions than answers.  That’s probably fitting, for now.

I know I have stories I’m running about Who I Am and How I Am Perceived. And mostly, I wish I could toss them.  The stories are generally on the theme of I Am Weird and Normal People Don’t Like Me.  But there are other, newer stories, too, like my overall convictions that there is no such thing as normal and everyone experiences some degree of social anxiety and we all want and need connection and maaaaaaybe I am not all that weird.  Oh, and let’s not forget people aren’t thinking so much about me because they are overwhelmed by life a lot.

I don’t want to comprehend, in totality, all the times I’ve dropped the ball.  It might kill me.  All the missed opportunities.  All the ways I could have been better.  All the fear-driven disappearances.  I want to declare: I’m nipping this in the bud.  I want to show up.  Even if my brain is screaming at me to crawl under a rock.  I don’t know how many people realize how hard it is for me to interact.  Part of me wants to introduce myself by saying, “Hi.  I’m Jen.  I can often do a good job of passing as normal but actually right now my brain is screaming.  I want to connect with people, more than anything, and I also frequently end up a million miles away from achieving that.  How are you?”  Yeah, that would go over well.

I will keep practicing.  I know I make myself sound like a terrible oaf, and I might have more social skills than I give myself credit for.

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Responses

  1. Wow. I feel like you’re in my head, Jen. These are all questions I’ve asked myself and stories I’ve told myself, too. What kind of a person (I ask myself), has no feeling of family, no roots, no old friends or home place to return to? Sometimes it seems to me I’ve spent my whole life inviting connection and wound up standing like an idiot with my empty outstretched hand, alone again. On the other hand (no pun intended!) I do have friends. Finding friends in Maine has been extremely challenging, in spite of my more socially comfortable partner. I know it’s a cliché, but I’ve made some of my best friends through volunteering in my life. It’s worked again here as I’ve volunteered to lead a dance class. It was terrifying to put the effort together, but I’ve met people and stretched socially in good ways. I’ve also found that developing a routine in this new place has led to friendships, or at least getting to know the neighborhood and recognizing faces and cars and place names. We take the same walk every day. Inevitably, over time, we talk to neighbors, get to know the dogs, see the same cars on the road. We found a favorite place to eat and go there at least once a week. Over time, we’ve gotten to know all the waitresses. We go to the farmer’s market once a week and buy from them, getting to know the local businesses, finding resources for local food, including eggs, meeting farmers in the area. Now I help a local farmer in her booth in exchange for eggs. I’ve also met people at the pool, where I swim once a week. It takes a lot of time for me to put down roots, and I want connection more than anything, but I insist it be healthy connection. That’s not so easy to find. I also struggle to get out of my own way. I discover when I’m honest and authentic about what I want and my fears, connection happens. Other people understand. A lot of people are lonely, and though they might not truly be available for the kind of connection I want, we have at least a moment in which we exchange an honest communication. Authenticity is attractive, if we can dare to let our guard down and be real. I think you find yourself exactly where you’re supposed to be in the world right now. That means there’s already a place for you and you’re needed. All that’s left is finding that place. I know you will. Jenny

    • I’m so glad you are finding connection and putting out burgeoning rootlets in Maine, Jenny, and not just simulacra of connection, but holding out for the real deal. It’s heartening to hear of all the ways in which you are meeting people and having moments of genuine convergence.

      I think, overall, that I’m doing okay here, and my connections are developing at a rate that is reasonable, whatever that means. I don’t think I have messed anything up (yet). I hope that people will offer me the same patience that I’m trying to offer them.


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