Search

A Ferret Called Wilson

Chasing Happy, Chasing Dreams

Tag

love

Connections

Why is it so difficult to make connections with other people?

I have fought with this problem for many years. The last time I can remember having people with whom I really felt comfortable — truly, self conciouslessly comfortable — was when I was twelve years old.

I was in sixth grade and I wore baggy shorts and oversized band T-shirts. I sat on walls, hacked computers and bantered with the smartass boys in school. I was a dancer, but I wasn’t friends with the dancers. They were always too popular for me, spending their time wearing makeup and having boyfriends. I had a best friend then, too.

My best friend was much, much richer than I was. She collected San Rio stationary and we would practice trying to draw our own versions that were as cute as the original characters. I got somewhat decent at a Pochako. In science class we would massage each other’s palms to pass the time and stay awake. I think for me it went extremely far in keeping me out of fights with the teacher. He was dimwitted and boring. Taught out of a textbook, but did it so poorly that we couldn’t cover half of the material in one year. Instead of frogs, we dissected raw chicken wings in class. He wouldn’t let me participate because I had forgotten to get a note from my mom saying it was ok. So I sat in the corner and ate the friend chicken wings I had brought for lunch, making sure to pull apart each muscle group and lay it out on the table before eating. I thought he was a moron.

When middle school ended I went to high school. Some of my friends went with me to the special arts school I got admitted to, but my mom pulled me out soon after that because the school’s curriculum was so intense that it was destroying my health. I went to two more high schools after that and in my junior and senior year, I had gone from having something around two dozen humans that I was moderately to extremely comfortable with, down to knowing no one. Of course I tried to make friends, but I remember very distinctly that I spent the majority of my high school years watching other people having friends, studying how they interacted, learning about their relationships like a scientist watching insects through a magnifying glass.

College was a similar story as high school. I transferred into Yale University as a sophomore. I immediately went in search of my people, who I thought would be hanging out at the campus Christian clubs, but they weren’t there. A devout Christian my whole life, only intensifying when I passed through puberty and into young adulthood, I fully expected to be loved and accepted if not because that’s what Christians are supposed to do, but at least because the other people who were there would be like me. What I realized, however, was that the people who were there weren’t so much like me as they were busy being Christians. That meant that they were busy praying, busy quoting the Bible, busy seeing His Work all around, busying having faith and busy being reborn and stuff. What they weren’t doing was loving, experiencing the moment in which their whole lives were occurring, or seeing me for the whole, complete, raw and vulnerable human that I was.

I remember the moment I quit organized Christianity. I was sitting with the campus Christian group one evening. It had been a rough day for me mostly because I was still adjusting to all the newness that college life, specifically college life at an elite Ivy League university which was isolated from the outside world and far away from home. I remember I said the word “shit” in a sentence expressing my frustration over something. Actually, it wasn’t even frustration. It wasn’t even that important. I just like using cuss words. And this one girl, a black girl with an evangelical streak, looks me in the eye and says, “how can you call yourself a Christian when you use language like that?” It was then that I realized that Christians, whether or not their beliefs were aligned with any kind of universal Truth, were not my People. The strangest part of the entire scene was that I didn’t get angry at her. I simply got up and left. I didn’t make a scene, I didn’t argue, and frankly I didn’t even feel compelled to. It was like a switch had turned and a window had opened and I could see it clearly as the bright morning sun: These are not my people.

I’ve been searching for my people ever since. They are not the dancers. They are not the Christians. They are not the type A studious over achievers. They are not the academics. They are not the rock climbers (though there was a time when I was sure they were). They are not the hippies, (though there was a time when I was pretty sure they were, too).

When I came to Japan I left everything I had behind me. The only things of value I brought were my weasels and my bikes. Everything else that came with me was purely out of utility: having it would be easier than having to buy it all fresh when I got here. I brought no friends, no family, no lover, and I had none waiting for me. I thought to myself that in order to be Free, I couldn’t let the fact that these things were not here prevent me from taking a chance, going on an adventure and perhaps finding the People that I had lost twenty years ago. I determined that I would find my people no matter what, and if I couldn’t find them, I would make them.

I found some people when I got here. They were fellow mountain bikers and at first I was sure they would be my People. I poured my heart into loving them. I made myself available for any chance there was to hang out, to help them, or to have them play with me. I went so far as to rearrange my work schedule to coordinate our days off in the vain hope that that would mean we might get to spend time together as friends. When they upset me, even though it was against my habits, I made sure to tell them because if you never fight it only means that you don’t love each other enough to want to fight. No one gets along all the time.

But in the end I realized that these people, too, were not my People. I think in the beginning I believed they were my people because the times when we couldn’t hang out, when they couldn’t pay me attention, or I otherwise didn’t feel wholly comfortable around them, I had an excuse to explain it away. In the beginning it was language. Then my language got better, but my relationships didn’t. Then I thought that it was the work schedules. They were busy overworked Japanese and so I moved my commitments around so that the time was available, should they want it, but no invitations to dinner or to ride ever came in. I wondered to myself if maybe the distance was propriety: a customer cannot have a close relationship with staff. I asked for a job (for no pay) in the hopes that becoming staff would both ease their schedules and make me part of the group that was allowed to have close relationships, but I was turned down with no explanation. Out of ideas and out of explanations, I finally had to conclude that I had been pouring my heart into a receptacle that simply drained it out again onto the dusty dry ground underneath.

Why is it so hard to build connections with other people? My ex husband used to say that if everyone around you seems to have a problem, the most likely explanation is that the problem is you. I tried believing that for a while. No doubt that kind of thinking is what led me to drain myself so thoroughly trying to establish a meaningful connection with people who do not love me. Other people like to say that if you have to work so hard at a relationship, it’s not a relationship worth having, or that the other person doesn’t deserve you. I don’t like to talk about what people do and do not deserve. None of us asked to be on this earth, so since we’re here, why should we not all deserve to be loved? I don’t think desert is a very useful concept for understanding people. No, the people who I wanted desperately to be mine did not fail to deserve me, they simply do not love me.

As an economist I am trained to look at systems. Most specifically, I am trained to look at the systems built by people that form the environment in which we operate. I look around me and I see people doing similar things and being in the same places, even wanting the same things, but it is as if each and every one of us lives our life inside a sphere of isolation. We pass each other on the street and perhaps we give a nod to the other’s existence, but do we really see that person? Could we start a conversation with them if we wanted to, and what would we say? We each do our jobs and then we go home to our cages where our entire world shrinks to the size of the house we live in. Those of us who are lucky enough to have found a family by the time they reach adulthood can go home to theirs. The rest of us? We have to build a reason to see anyone, talk to anyone, touch anyone. And the reasons, so many of them are impolite, inappropriate or shameful.

I want to be touched. I want you to touch me. Please, just touch me.

I want to see you, just you. I don’t really mind what we are doing, I just want you to be around.

Please, let me show you my heart. Let me show you my fears and my desires. I want you to help me carry them.

I want to show you my joy. I want you to smile and celebrate what I have. Please, be happy for me.

I want to swim in your glory. I want to know you down to the synapses of your nerves. I promise I will be kind. Won’t you share yourself with me?

Humans were never intended to live alone, be independent, or survive without touch. The evidence is written all over our bodies and even our brains. Yet, the world that we live in, it builds walls between us. Glass walls. Touch screen walls. Walls through which you can see but never touch. Our world makes it incredibly difficult to build connections with people.

I often wonder to myself, am I the only one who suffers the pain of this isolation? Do the others around me, shuffling glassy-eyed down the street, do they not desire to touch another human? I think they do. What baffles me is that if we all crave the same thing, and it is such a simple thing, why is it that we all live our lives starved for it?

Why in my own life do I feel like I will suffocate from loneliness?

Advertisements

Comprehending Swine

I was talking to the Pigs* this morning and he told me about a story that had been making the rounds of facebook. A woman was disillusioned with her job and three years ago walked out to go on vacation. She never went back and she is still vacationing. Primarily she lives off her savings, hitch hikes and couch surfs, but she will occasionally work along the way. I have no idea how she does this, but I desperately want to know!

Most of the facebook comments, however, were derisive in the fashion most typical of online forums. Anonymity assholification is what I call it; it is the phenomenon where otherwise perfectly decent human beings act like complete jerks because the anonymity gives them courage to act out. People said that it wasn’t a real three-year vacation because she had to work sometimes. Others said she could only do it because of her white privilege. Very few comments were positive and the majority of them were banal, overused and hardly relevant to the actual story. The Pigs said to me that it made him sad to see how the vast majority of the world still isn’t ready to accept that there is another way to find happiness outside of the rat race that’s killing us all.

I said to him “it’s pearls before swine.” I am not much of a Bible quoter, though ironically I reference the Bible more now that I have quit Christianity than I ever did as a follower. The wisdom in this passage is this: If you have pearls and you throw them before a heard of swine, they will just swallow them and shit them out with the other food they forage for. Swine will eat anything, and it all turns to shit. I’m not sure that Jesus used the same phrasing, but I think “pearls to shit” has impact. The beautiful story of a woman with the courage to walk away from the Standard Narrative and forge her own path, when it was posted on facebook, became a pearl that was quickly swallowed by the masses of swine that populate the Interwebs.

In my own life I feel as though I have collected, discovered and refined great swaths of pearls in the form of experience, knowledge and wisdom. I want to share them with the world. I want to show the people around me that there is a way to have happiness and, while it is not easy, it is very simple to do.

The reality that I face, though, is that most people are simply not ready. I could give them one of my pearls and they wouldn’t know it from a moth ball. For me, right now, the challenge is to find the people who want to hear my message. There is no use in fighting with those who are grounded in opposition, however I am sure there are people, like the woman who is still on vacation, who would like to hear what I have to say. Maybe she knows something that I don’t, but I am sure that even those who have begun to forge their own paths to happy would still appreciate having the company and the communion from another who also deviates.

I had another moment of a similar nature earlier today. In realizing that my relationship with the Giant store had come to an end, I felt that I needed to give voice to my feelings and share them with those involved. So I sent a message to Thunder explaining to him that I was going to separate myself from him and the shop because I felt unneeded and unappreciated. He wrote back to me a message I have heard many times before, “I don’t know why you’re so upset, but do what you have to.” It’s a common reply from boys who don’t want to acknowledge that something they are doing could be causing pain to another. I stewed on the message over night. Of course it hurt to be brushed off after sharing my honest feelings and I was mad. I was also frustrated that, even as it is often incredibly difficult to find the right words in English, I had to do this in Japanese and still he refused to help me even in communicating.

In the end I realized that I was dealing with another case of swine. I believe in love. I believe in the fundamental goodness of people. It is a habit of mine to react to people with love and empathy, to try to understand their perspective and why they behave the way they do, and to avoid passing judgment on them as Good or Bad. But swine do not understand about love. They believe in Good and Evil and Winners and Losers. They believe that when people disagree someone is right and someone is wrong. They don’t understand that sometimes both people can want the same things and still be unable to find a solution.

If you give your love to swine, you will just get shit in return. Ironically, I don’t blame the swine for this, either. It is just their nature. It still hurts, though. I think it hurts even more because if I could say, “you are a terrible person!” then I could feel as if my loss was not so great. After all, who mourns the loss of shit? No one. But the loss of something beautiful that, try as you might, you could never fully own though it had been flitted before your eyes repeatedly, and tauntingly? This is truly painful.

Part of me still hopes that what I am saying is not true. Part of me still hopes that this beautiful thing that once seemed available to me is not actually gone. It is the same part of me that hopes that the world will one day wake up and hear my message: You can have freedom, you can have love, you can have happiness, and you can have all of it right now. All you have to do is want it: see it, want it, reach out and take it. It’s that simple.

And yet, again I find myself standing with arms full of pearls and no one but swine to give them to.


Continue reading “Comprehending Swine”

The Modern Yin and Yang

Historically, men and women have always existed in a kind of balance with each other, with each gender filling in its own roles that together make society work. Over time, those roles have changed, and depending on location they have started from different places as well. Recently, however, I get the distinct impression that the role of the female is being stamped out and made to be irrelevant. Our society is becoming completely yang and we are suffering for it.

Taking a grand view, the devaluation of the feminine in western society can be traced back to agriculture. Nomadic humans were “fiercely egalitarian,” as Brian and Jethalda put it in their earth shaking volume Sex Before Dawn. Sharing of work and of bounty was the most efficient way to moderate the risks of the ancient environment. Depriving women or other members of society because they were weak was simply not an option. For one thing, the smaller stature of the female enabled her to nurse young children on the same caloric intake of her male counterparts. Moreover, modern studies of female labor have proven that pregnancy and the presence of nursing infants had nearly no impact on the average 18 pounds of food per day that women gathered. Hunting, on the other hand, was comparatively more risky both in its costs and its rewards. To devalue the feminine in a hunter-gatherer society would be to expose yourself to many a hungry night.

With the advent of agriculture, women were able to nurse for shorter periods and thus became more fertile. Children were able to work on the farms from as young as four or five and so producing many children became economically advantageous to the increasingly isolated and independent family unit. Disease and malnutrition also increased with agriculture making the viability of each pregnancy less reliable. The result was that women became domesticated, along with the animals they depended on for food. Men, on the other hand, were relatively unaffected physically by the shift to agriculture.

The beginning of gender imbalance arrived with the technological shifts associated with independent, agricultural based living. Furthermore, because agriculture was a much more stable source of food on a short run scale, the focus on sharing decreased and competition increased. With each family unit responsible for itself, there was incentive to hoard food and to exchange it for services, favors or other necessities instead of share it openly. With agriculture was born capitalism.

And capitalism is responsible for the continuing degradation of the feminine. Where once fertility was a valued trait in a women, it is now a liability. Children do not increase the prosperity of a household but rather suck its resources. Producing children also becomes a trade off, putting women’s very physical nature at odds with their desires and desirability in the work force. Economic obsession with marginality and comparative advantage has also lead to the conceptual division of fertility from male and female. Where once it was believed that a child required a man and a woman (or in some places many men and a woman) to create and raise, operationally we behave today as if the entire weight of reproduction is carried on female shoulders. It then becomes a natural economic imperative to value male labor over female, particularly in industries where children are considered burdensome to production.

I think it is no accident that today activities which are considered difficult, requiring of high skill, or respectable are given male identities while equivalent activities that are mundane, or necessary but not difficult, are associated with the female. For example professors are men while teachers are women. “Cooking” is something you have to do at home so that you can feed yourself or your family and many women cook, but men are chefs. Similarly, supporting roles are assigned to women while forefront performance roles are given to men. Lawyers are male and paralegals are female. Bosses are male and secretaries are female. Sewing is a women’s task, but fashion designing is controled by men. When you look at the distinctions, there is very little difference in the actual activities involved in many of these paired occupations. For example, what does a chef do if not cook? How does one create new fashion without sewing the clothes? Can a paralegal properly type up a court decision if she does not understand the laws about which she writes? These distinctions are not in any way related to the fundamental nature of male and female so much as they are imposed from the outside in order to support the status quo of a highly competitive performance male, and an accomodating female.

The trouble with economics is that it is built upon the idea that competition is fundamentally a good thing because it raises us all up to our individual potential and guides our choices in such a way that without needing to hold a committee meeting, we can all corrdinate our activities with each other to achieve maximal bounty. What economics does not acknowledge, however, is that the rules that govern our interactions with each other — market rules, commercial law, human capital investment — are made by the very actors that are bound by them.

The difference between economic government and democratic government, however, is that in a democracy each human is worth one vote whereas in economics, each dollar is worth one vote. So in the end, equality is always a very precarious equilibrium. It only takes the tiniest sliver of advantage for one individual or group to be able to amass a majority of the wealth and once this happens all the surplus can be devoted towards shifting the rules in such a way to protect and grow that majority. Corporations are guilty of this, but men are guilty of it, too. Sadly, women are also guilty of participating in the fray. Indian culture is a prime and awful example. A woman’s value is derived primarily by the success of her eldest son. In old age it is her eldest son who will care for her. Thus a woman is driven from the start to neglect her daughters and her sisters and pour all her devotion into the men in her life — her husband who controls her present and her son who controls her future. This sad truth is a reality that was created by a society that had a surplus of power and a lack of incentive to protect equality.

I claimed that the dominance of yang over yin in our modern world was hurtful to all of us, not just our women. Men who are comparatively more yin, that is more passive and accomodating, or more gentle, are devalued just as women are devalued in general. This argument was made by Emma Watson to the UN in a recent presentation on women’s rights, but even this is not the whole story. We humans need to be complete and to live complete and full lives that accept, cherish, and nurture all aspects of ourselves. A man who has been forced into a mould that does not fit is an unhappy man just as a woman who has been squashed into a box that cannot contain the whole of her being is an unhappy woman. Yet man and woman will seek each other out and seek happiness in each other. But how can we find happiness in another when none of us know happiness ourselves?

The suppression of the yin in our world is a form of socially expressed self loathing. It is a hatred for the acceptance of the Way Things Are and a willingness to find happiness in one’s current circumstances. It is a disgust for our personal weaknesses and our inability to change the things that hurt us. It is a denial of the pain we experience on a daily basis, pain which defines us and brings us life even as it hurts us. I will even go so far as to say that the love affair with yang is a form of hubris, believing that man is superior to the nature that created him, and the nature that still defines him today. It is the belief that we as humans know better than the environment that carved out our existence so many millions of years ago and that our power to control is greater than the power of Nature to destroy, to kill, and to rebirth again.

Man can no more live without woman than humans can live without the earth. I believe that the future of humanity lies in our ability to restore the balance of Yin and Yang in our society and in our world.

Love

When I entered college, I cheated. I did two things that were technically against the rules.

1. I applied as a transfer student because I had missed the deadline to apply as a freshman. It got my application a lot of attention.
2. Instead of a statement of purpose, or an admission essay or a cover letter, or whatever those things are where you say why they should admit you to their school, I wrote a two page essay on how love can save the world.

Out of 900 students applying for admission to Yale university as transfer students, my tricks got me one of only 25 available slots.

Today I wonder to myself how I got so far from those beliefs. I wonder to myself how it was that ten years passed and I forgot the power and the audacity I had as a teenager when I bucked the rules of admission at the top university in the entire country — and got in. I wonder to myself how I ever got so tame.

There is another thought that plagues me these days. Love can save the world. I love passionately, wholly, unreservedly, and more often than not, one sidedly. I have asked myself here on this blog on more than one occasion: If I have this paradise to offer, why does no one take me up on it?

Today, I think I have found this answer, too. I have not actually invited anyone.

Often I feel desperately alone. I don’t think it’s because no one cares about me. I think it’s because in our world we are raised inside invisible barriers that separate us from one another. These barriers take the form of propriety, manners, ettiquette, and respect. The only times we are allowed to breach these boundaries are in romance, and we are only allowed to be in love with one person at a time. This is a recipe for perpetual isolation in no small part because we cannot even see that the cage that holds us is of our own making.

So, why have I not invited anyone to my paradise? My paradise is built of infinite, unbounded love. It is love for myself, love for my fellow humans and love for the awesomeness of the earth that holds me. I have not confessed my love to anyone, not in earnest, not openly and plainly, and this is why I am alone in my world.

It’s scary to confess your love. We are taught that confessions of love must be met with reciprocation or refuttal, but nothing in between. We don’t know that it’s possible to be loved by someone without that person requiring anything from us, so we don’t know how to respond when unconditional love is offered to us. Most of the time, we mistake it for infatuation, romance, or sexual attraction. If we don’t feel this way towards the person loving us, more often than not it spells the end of our relationship with each other. That’s why it’s so scary to offer your love. It’s not because we fear the other person might not feel the same way, but that we fear we may be rejected as humans, that our most precious gift will be scorned, and this is no trivial fear.

But I am a trailblazer. I am an alpha, a loner, a wild beast and a goddess. I listen to all, but take counsel from my heart alone. I shall declare my love! I shall do this honestly, openly, and without hope for reciprocation. I shall take steps to guarantee that my confessions do not manipulate or pressure the humans that I love, and I shall declare my love only to those who I know I am ready to accept immediately and whole heartedly into my paradise.

This frightens me. But I have learned most recently that fear, deep, smouldering fear is my surest sign that I am traveling the path I have been seeking. We only fear when we know what we have to lose. Fear is replacing my anxiety, a kind of nervous unease that all I did and all I am is worth nothing. Fear burns.

Fear wakes the beast and the beast is in love with life.

Baltimore Violence

Living in Japan means I am often late to hear news of events in the US. A friend shared the below article with me and, while I am saddened by the death of this young man, I do share the bafflement of the public. Real life violence is ugly, uglier than the most graphic movies can ever suggest, and the story of this man’s death is tragically not unique.

An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead.

The police were in enemy territory from their perspective. Gray showed fear by running in reaction to making eye contact with the police. Also in a state of fear themselves, this primal interaction triggered the balance of fear in the officers’ favor, sending them into the tunnel of violence from which the only exit is exhaustion or physical restraint.

The true ugliness behind violence, particularly of the police brutality kind, is that there is no rational explanation. Moreover, we like to believe that this degree of viciousness is restricted to a select few, evil members of society. If we could only punish them hard enough, or predict and thwart them consistently enough, we could erase it from our collective existence. But the potential for violence is in all of us and if the circumstances are just so, each and every one of us is capable of murdering our own best friend. 恐ろしいでしょう。

The “non-violence” this article calls out may come from the wrong side of the fight. However, we all must keep our eyes on the goal and our hearts in love. Mr. Gray would be better honored if peace could be found between the police and the people. The city of Baltimore would be a better place to live if a conversation could be had where all could be heard. No doubt the police did a terrible thing, but to punish without mercy is to start a war. To forgive and remedy is to have peace.

The choice before the people of Baltimore is not riot or not riot, it is a choice to grow or to fester. To grow is difficult and requires love, but it is without a doubt the more beautiful path.

Continue reading “Baltimore Violence”

My Brain

My brain

It recently dawned on me that my brain doesn’t organize the world the same way most other people’s brains do. Where as most people tend to simplify the world around them into predetermined categories, I have a tendency to look at the parts that make things up and draw similarities on a more basic level. For better or for worse this seems to be an obstacle that I need to overcome when I communicate with people.

The most common area where my brain gives me difficulty communicating with people is most surely in human relations. Most Americans, as well as Japanese, tend to view human relationships as being in one of the following stock categories: professional or personal, family, friend, neighbor, acquaintance or romantic partner. There may be some finer categories that people use, too, such as “sex friend” which is a kind of sub category of romantic partner that includes the sex but not the romance or love. For the most part, however, these categories are distinct. Rarely will someone find themselves fulfilling more than one of these roles at a time. For example, your mother might also be your friend, but you wouldn’t call her to go “out with your friends,” which puts her firmly in the category of family. At the same time the characteristics of each of these relationships do very much overlap.

Family and romantic partners are expected to love you. Sometimes friends love each other. Only romantic partners and sex professionals can satisfy your physical needs, though. In fact, hugging members of the opposite sex (among straight people) borders on a violation of the implicit exclusivity of the romantic relationship. On the other side of the spectrum, professional contacts are expected to refrain from emotional interaction. There are many other rules and characterizations of the many types of human relationships as well.

The way my brain works is on the level of those characteristics. My brain looks at a human relationship and asks whether or not there is love, or sex, or an exchange of goods or services. Sometimes the answers align well with the standard relationship categories; sometimes the align less well. For example, what does one call a relationship where there is love and sex and an exchange of market services? Can it be possible to be friends with your boss?

The most difficult for me is trying to communicate about any relationship that involves sex. Most people are quick to drop it into the sex friend category, or the romantic category. The difficulty is with the love factor. Sex friends are not normal friends in the sense that they are expected to not have strong feelings for each other or to be particularly involved in each other’s lives. So if you add love to a sex friend, do you get a romantic partner? No, because romantic partners are for the most part expected to be preparing for a long term monogamous relationship, such as marriage. People who believe in True Love find this conclusion natural because if you loved each other Truly, there would be no reason not to marry. However marriage is a very different relationship than friends or lovers and involves its own set of expectations both within and from outside of the relationship. So what does one call a loving sexual relationship that never moves closer towards marriage? The answer is that you don’t, really. So far I have found no word to communicate that concept.

If you break down human relationships into their critical components, it is quite obvious that a relationship with sex, friendship, and love can be different from a romantic partnership with its expectation of exclusivity. The difficulty I think most people have is that they aren’t looking at the pieces, they are looking at the whole item. This pattern isn’t limited to human relationship categories either.

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine who is quite passionate about politics and who is mostly self taught on the subject. At some point in our conversation I found myself very confused because my friend is also devoutly liberal in his politics, but he was violently attacking economic policies that would help the liberal agenda because he thought they were republican propaganda. I would open my mouth to comment, only to close it again in confusion as the conversation took what seemed to me like a 180º in its ideology. What I realized after having let the conversation settle for a few hours was that my friend’s approach to policy was from a different starting point than mine. He sees policy as a battle among competing political forces whereas I see policy as a collection of changes, each affecting a different piece of the population in its own way. Because I look at policy as being good or bad for the population and not as part of a political agenda I have often been stumped when people ask me what my political leanings are. I simply don’t understand how the divisions are drawn.

Some people say that I am smart. I am not sure if that’s the right word. I know that my brain’s stubborn insistence on seeing the world as a collection of trees rather than a forest has enabled me to see striking patterns among its leaves that others may overlook. At the same time it also complicates my daily life. Categories are helpful in a complicated world that insists on changing faster than any human living in it can manage to adapt. For many of us, it’s enough to know if we are friends on the left, or professional acquaintances on opposite sides of the spectrum and for that categories are infinitely easier to work with. My greatest hope is that perhaps one day I will meet someone who is really good at seeing the larger picture and who will take my hand and guide me through the forest as I spend my time inspecting all the myriad beings inside it. I know I have a lot to offer the world, but I also know that if I spend all my time seeing patterns that I will have no energy to share those insights with others. Ultimately both skills are necessary to achieve change.

Let’s be Friends

I know why relationships that end with “let’s be friends” are both infuriating to the dumpee and also never actually turn into friendships. The reason is simple: most relationships of the romantic sort actually skip friendship entirely and go straight from bare acquaintances to intimate lovers. In other words, friendship and romance do not exists on the same continuum of human intimacy. This is why the concept of “friends with benefits” is so hard for people to grasp properly, and also why it makes for a very appealing movie.

Friendship is something that many of us think we understand from a young age. Ideally, a friend will accept you the way you are, know your quirks and triggers, help you out when life punches you in the face and celebrate with you when things are going well. At the same time, in order to be able to do these things for you, a friend should be their own person with their own hobbies and interests that don’t depend on you. They should have their own life and their own family and be flexible enough to spend time with you when you are available, but to also be able to carry on without you when your life becomes overwhelming. Most importantly, perhaps, friends should like each other.

Romantic partners are different. Romantic partners exist inside coupledom with each of their identities being dependent on the other. A romantic partner is an object of affection into whom we pour our love and our angst. To our partner we share the part of ourselves which we believe is worthy of love and in doing so attempt to embody the role of partner ourselves. In a very real sense romantic partners “complete” each other. One of the side effects of romantic partnership is that, unlike friendship, we sometimes feel the need to hide the parts of ourselves that we feel our partners would not approve of, or that we consider unbecoming of a proper romance. Take the husband who has to go out with his guy friends in order to relax and get away from the wife. Or consider the woman who habitually chooses boyfriends so jealous of other men that she ceases contact with her male friends whenever she enters a new relationship.  Romantic partnerships, unlike friendships, do not leave room for others. We can have unlimited friendships, but only one husband.

When you understand that a Relationship is different from a friendship in more than just degree of intimacy, it is not hard to see why so many efforts at friendship post relationship fail. For one thing, a boyfriend has never had to accept the priority of other relationships over himself whereas a friend knows that sometimes he is first and sometimes he is not. For another, a girlfriend who is accustomed to defining herself as “my partner’s girlfriend” no longer knows who to be or how to act when her ex is around, but is no longer her partner. Had they been friends they would have known that it is possible to be temporarily out of communication with each other without it being a death knoll on their relationship. Finally a romantic partnership, perhaps exactly because of its closed and intimate nature, suffers from its own finitude. Whereas a friend can be one of many and be loved just the same, a romantic partner is one of one and therefore any changes in the personality, goals, or desires of the other partner is a full force affront on one hundred percent of the relationship status quo.  There is simply no room for a partner to think that perhaps “it isn’t me.” So simply being around an ex and seeing how that person is happy and growing without you can be very painful if you have never experienced a friendship with that person outside of your relationship.

I will be honest with you, I believe friendships to be superior to Relationships. However, I think that Relationships that include friendship can be strong and enduring. I have friends who are married and whose spouses are brilliant beautiful beings. Some of them, when I think about it now, are clearly friends in addition. They tend to have an air of calmness about them when they are together and of course their personalities tend not to differ all that much from when they are apart either. Of course we are all different people in different circumstances to some degree or another. Even at work we behave one way when at home we would not, so to be always and everywhere the same is not a necessary requirement. But some people I feel different around when they are with their spouses and I wonder if perhaps these people are more in a Relationship than they are friends, though I never ask. Ultimately it is a personal decision. My grandparents were never friends, but they were iron-strong partners in over fifty years of marriage. Even today my grandmother, though she has finally given voice to her discontent and struggle during those fifty years, would probably not have chosen a different path. To her, what they had was marriage and the idea of being “friends” with your husband was just not something to consider. This is ok. My hope in writing this short piece is not to criticize and say that one is better than the other, but instead to bring some level of enlightenment to our suffering as we flow in and out of relationships. Perhaps simply knowing that romance and friendship are two different animals, we can afford ourselves and our loves a level of kindness that we couldn’t before.

All the Same Humans, Sort of

I said to a friend of mine about half a year ago that boys are really all the same. She was itching for some sexy time with a local and was having difficulty reading the Japanese. I had just bedded the most ostentatious man in the entire gym and had discovered, much to my dismay, that he is terribly broken. He was a free spirit and a romantic, of sorts, and had suffered a breakup of the worst kind. He confessed to me on our first night together that he had tried to kill himself. In a matter of moments the image that I had of this man as strong and self confident, if a little obnoxious, crumbled into the reality that he is, like all of us, just a human suffering through a world that never taught him how to find his own happy.

At first things seemed to go incredibly well. Now in hindsight I can see that this honeymoon period was due entirely to the honeymoon effect*: when you are on your honeymoon you don’t have to work or take care of children or attend to other responsibilities, it’s just you, and so you are able to experience a period of uninterrupted, artificial bliss. Certainly there were differences in the way we preferred to live our lives, but he verbally acknowledged my boundaries at the same time as I was emotionally willing to try doing things his way, so it seemed like it was working. Everything came crashing down the day he was forced to acknowledge that my polyamory was not just a theoretical personality quirk, but a reality that involved at least one other man besides himself. It was at that point that he and I were called to employ our respective Relationship Skills to either forge on ahead, or die in the fire.

Well, it would not be much of an essay if the story ended with us just talking through our feelings and renewing our intimacy through shared understanding. The man folded in on himself, exploding at me while imploding emotionally. I used every trick in my box. I tried to listen to his perspective and to ask him what his needs were, but he refused to tell me on principle. I tried taking his words at face value, but he repeatedly failed to be honest with me. I tried talking to his friends. I tried getting his friends to talk to him. I tried getting him to talk to his friends. In the end I tried just avoiding him and cauterizing the emotional wound. This seems to be the only sort of relief I can get.

In my frustration I talked to my friend who had, months prior, looked to me as a role model in her own struggles. Why, I asked. Why is he so stubbornly unwilling to do any of the standard activities necessary for relationship maintenance? How is it that he can be content to turn his back into the storm of my frustration, waiting for it to blow over, and then just say “sorry” without actually listening or attempting to fix any of the problems that caused the blowout in the first place? My friend said to me simply, “he likes it that way.” Immediately I knew what she said was truth.

We humans are in many ways all one being, and in as many ways we are all unique. At a most fundamental level we all desire to be loved and to feel safe and secure in our lives and our community. We need to eat and we need to play and we need to feel respected as the individuals that we are. This is true. Life, however, does not put all of us in the same starting position. Some of us learn to ignore our own needs to take care of others first. Some of us learn that the world does not care for us and so we must protect ourselves from it emotionally and physically. Some of us learn how to appreciate each other as individuals and some of us learn that looking with clear eyes at our own reflection is petrifying.

So in the end, I have to accept that while it is beautiful to believe that we humans are all alike, on a practical level it is not as useful a paradigm as I had hoped. Some of us want to be open to ourselves and to others, and some of us want to plow through life just the way we are, never updating and never truly seeing the world around us. I suppose we can find commonality in that we all make this fundamental choice, and perhaps that commonality makes it more palatable when our choices clash with each other. But I think it is also important to remember that some people really are different and that smashing your head against a wall trying to get them to see the light is a futile endeavor. They choose not to change and in a way, you choose not to change, too. At this level I suspect the choice becomes one of who do you want to surround yourself with more than how do you make it work with who you are surrounded by.

And, I suppose, knowing that this is the choice I have to make does provide me with some peace.


*I coined that term just now ^^

On Love and Risk and the Things that Matter More

I have a new roommate. He was evicted from his home two weeks ago for non-payment of rent. He owes over $3000 and when he was informed of the necessity to vacate, he didn’t clean the apartment, thus effectively forfeiting his deposit as well. Now he lives with me. He doesn’t pay me rent either. It’s ok, I don’t want him to.

My roommate didn’t simply default on his rental obligations. Not too many years ago his wife left him. She told him he didn’t love her and walked out. He almost didn’t survive the rejection. In the divorce, he gave her everything, including all of their mutual savings and furniture. He spent the next three years living in an apartment big enough for two, but with barely more than a table and a pair of mismatched chairs to furnish it. Every moment spent inside those walls reminded him of his wife and the memories were torture. He spent his rent on a golden salve commonly sold in bars and known to work wonders in the moment, but to wear off quickly. He took out loans and spent those in a similar way. Torturous as it was, though, he couldn’t leave. This is the state I found him in.

Happy Weasel Sleeps
With weasels, there’s always more room.

Eviction may have ended the accrual of his financial obligations, but it also wrenched open the growing crack in his wall of protection against reality. It broke my heart to see. I actually saw the moment he said goodbye to his past life and his past love.

Many would say to me I’m crazy. They would tell me that I open myself up to financial and physical loss by allowing this man that I hardly know into my home. At least charge him some kind of rent! He wouldn’t stay if I did that, though. It doesn’t matter how much I charged him, or how little, he would stay only as long as his pride could bear it, and then he would disappear into oblivion too ashamed of the mess he’s made to ever pick himself up again. I would become to him another landlord to tolerate and pay lip service to until he could find a safer place to hide. I know this even without him having to tell me, and so I ask nothing of him other than a little help with the chores.

What I get in exchange for a little, indeed hardly noticeable, financial investment on my part is indescribable. I was writhing in anguish from protracted loneliness. I could barely move in the mornings and I would come home exhausted from four hours of work. I would give myself pep talks, building mental hoops and carrots and sticks and cookies and slides and all sorts of complicated psychological apparati just to be able to empty my mailbox. I wanted to quit my job and run away into the wilderness because the overwhelming pressure of being successful all alone was killing me. Certainly I’ve looked in the past for someone to help me in this struggle of living in civilized society, but as a woman with a Bachelors and a PhD. both from Ivy League institutions, one who walked out on a marriage many would envy because it suffocated her sense of self determination, it’s been difficult for me to find any partner both willing and capable of carrying me when I fall apart.

Money has never made me happy. After experiencing a childhood where I fed myself on barely ten dollars a week at school and never having an allowance, I somehow found that I attract money. Not knowing how to spend it myself, it’s hardly even a sacrifice to give it away to someone else. So in exchange for something I have in so much excess that it simply piles up outside the edge of my conscious awareness, I receive enthusiastic and selfless help with all the things in my life that were weighing me down. It isn’t just housework, it’s comfort. It’s knowledge that I’m ok because there’s someone else who thinks that I’m ok. It’s instruction in the things I don’t know how to do (where do you buy a trashcan in Japan?), intense interest in things I do know how to do, and fierce defensiveness against anything he sees as a threat to me. In exchange for a little bit of money, something so useless you can’t even eat it if you’re starving, I have a life partner whose every intention is to make my life as happy as possible.

At first I was afraid. I didn’t know how things would work out. I still don’t know. He drinks a lot still and has shown an eager willingness to give the world the finger when he thinks it’s shitting on him. However, it’s been two weeks now and my life feels fuller in these two weeks than it has in months, maybe even years. We have trouble communicating precisely because my Japanese is still only mediocre, but our feelings are quite clear. I can see his gratitude and I can see his protectiveness. It’s so sincere and genuine that I find myself growing defensive of him, too. The world shit on him for real. He got dealt a nasty hand and in making the best of it he hasn’t grown cynical or cold, but instead he’s learned how to smile through all sorts misery. He has a way of not worrying about the future that inspires me. He gives me the courage to face the uncertainties in my world because I know that if I make a mistake and things go to hell that there is someone I can go to for guidance who knows exactly how to navigate the lowest dregs that society can dish out, and who can do it with no credentials, no recognition and no insurance of success.

How powerful it is to let go! My roommate is proof that the world does not operate on the basis of selfishness, competition and control.

When I heard of his eviction I was presented with a choice and no time to deliberate. I could operate within the rules of reasonability and self preservation. Inside this narrative my roommate’s fate was in my hands and I was in a position of power over him. Helping him meant hurting myself and should I be unfortunate enough to land myself in his position then I would have to hope that there was some human out there who would find use enough in me to make his or her risk worth the return on investment. Alternatively I could operate inside a wholly different Story of Humanity. Inside this other story people are fundamentally good. When in need, they help each other even if there is no benefit in it themselves because that’s what people do. This Other story is so much more beautiful, hopeful, and even comforting because suddenly none of us is alone any more. Our success obliges us to help those who lack it, and our failures need not be borne alone. My choice was not whether or not to admit a broken man into my home but rather whether or not I wanted to live in a world without hope or love or forgiveness for a bad draw. Viewed from this perspective the choice was easy.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑