This post by Sarah, which she says "might be my bitchiest post ever," has stuck in the back of my mind for a week, not so much because it's bitchy or anything, but because it somehow sounds awfully familiar. And since the feeling shows no sign of going away, I might as well deal with it here, a little bit at a time.

The older I get, the more I worry that I'm losing my social skills. I never really had much of a problem in this area I've always been able to maintain one or two close friendships, as well as a group of casual friends with whom it was fun to go out and party. It came fairly easily.

But things seem to be changing. Being around other people, even people I've known for years, no longer feels as effortlessly comfortable. When I'm not busy worrying about saying something that's unintentionally stupid, weird or offensive, I'm busy feeling utterly detached from the experience. I find myself spending more time observing and analyzing other people's interactions than I spend on having my own. I'm always looking at the situation as a microcosm of humanity, trying to figure out the motivations behind the things people do and say, or trying to figure out why what seems so easy for them feels so difficult for me.

It's cold and clinical and a little bit creepy.

What's notable here is that I never really had any social skills to lose, at least at that particular level. I've more or less maintained my friendships, but I've never been one of a small circle of occasional partiers. And close friends don't pay any attention to your social skills, or lack thereof; it's the ones who aren't so close for whom this sort of thing matters.

And as Sarah's comfort level appears to decrease, it begins to approach mine. I have often been accused of seeming to be "detached" during social occurrences, and it's exactly for the reason she cites: behind-the-scenes analysis, eating up just enough brain cycles to make actual interfacing inconsistent, even erratic. And since I'm not particularly efficient at multitasking, I occasionally have to be dragged back to the foreground, as it were.

Worrying about giving offense is a different dynamic these days. While we've always worried about saying the Wrong Thing, whatever it may be, today's environment, poisoned by years of baiting and name-calling and overreaction to years of baiting and name-calling, has made legal imperatives of what used to be social niceties, to the detriment of actual human relations. (The Canadians, poor hosers, have it worse.)

A couple of decades ago, my own emotions were leading me around by the nose, if not by something worse. I crashed, big-time. And I learned two things in the process of being put back together:

  • We are entitled to our own emotions, to feel them, to claim them;
  • This entitlement does not impose any responsibilities upon anyone else.
The perhaps-inevitable result: I am somewhat warier than average in social situations.

Sarah continues:

Most of all, people just seem to annoy me more than they used to. There are really only a small handful of people that I care to spend any significant amount of time with. I'm less tolerant and forgiving than I used to be. I used to be much better about looking past the things that annoyed me, perhaps because of my need to be accepted.

These days, I'm more reluctant to play along for the sake of having people like me. The thought of laughing at their dumb jokes, or feigning interest in their boring stories, makes me want to die. I don't feel like I should have to act like someone I'm not to fit in with them. The problem is, there are very few people who I can, unequivocally, be completely myself with.

Maybe I'm just so scared of being hurt or disappointed that I've gotten a little too good at convincing myself of my own apathy. (I don't care. They're all stupid anyway.) It's all so clichéd, so Goth Kid 101. And it's so completely bitchy.

It took me a long time to catch on to this, but it's true: better a few really good friends than a lot of really average friends. The definition of "good" is surely debatable, and easily devolves into snark ("A friend will help you move; a good friend will help you move a body") or tautology; still, I believe that most of us have the capacity to formulate our own versions.

And if you've gone through an entire lifetime without ever hurting anyone, I submit that no one even noticed your existence: we all rub up against one another the wrong way now and then, and great lovers, we are somehow always surprised to hear, have really spectacular fights. Hence "They're all stupid anyway" is true, because each of us has a tremendous capacity for stupidity.

We also have a certain facility for self-criticism:

Don't for a second think I can't turn that cold, critical eye on myself. If there's one thing I'm better at than judging other people, it's judging myself. I can tell you exactly what I would think if I read this post. What a smug little bitch, I'd think. She thinks she's better than everyone else, but she's even more boring than the people she complains about. She's just mad because she's not getting enough attention or something. And this post isn't even well-written.

Oh, you're just jealous.

This can't be healthy. Maybe I should start making more of an effort.

Or maybe she should watch Mystery Science Theatre 3000, which contains this essential wisdom: "You should really just relax." It's always seemed to me that the most dangerous people are those who ought to be self-critical but aren't. You'd never see Stalin writing something like this.

The Vent

  1 December

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 Copyright © 2008 by Charles G. Hill