This was a joke long before Star Trek: The Next Generation, but somehow it sounds funnier if you imagine Patrick Stewart saying it. The captain is heading down some passageway or other when he hears a peculiar thumping noise, which he eventually traces to a storage compartment. He opens the door, and there are a couple of crewmembers in flagrante delicto. "I trust you can explain yourselves?" he asks.
One of them doesn't matter which one eventually stammers, "Sir, we're engaged."
"Well, disengage," says the captain, and the unfortunate couple are eventually returned to duty.
If only it were that simple. There was a time, before social networking and all this Interwebby stuff, when the lot of the hermit seemed to be something to which I could aspire. There were several advantages I could see to solitude, chief of which was maintenance of my emotional equilibrium: I'd known all along that I was too easily pushed off dead center, and I didn't much like it. I was thirty-five before I came to a two-pronged conclusion: I was entitled to my emotions, whatever they might be, but those emotions didn't entitle me to anything.
Then again, by thirty-five I'd already had one failed marriage and a couple of brief relationships that didn't go much of anywhere. Eventually I managed to work myself into a job with relatively little personal interaction, but "relatively little" is farther from zero than it looks, and after a while, it cost me too much energy to keep the shields at maximum all the time.
And I noticed that there were atmospheric variations, so to speak. On the various World Tours, I was social beyond my wildest expectations, though there were still lines I would not cross. And once home from them, it took me several days of seclusion to reorient myself back to the usual defaults.
There are still times when I want to crawl into a cave. Once in a while I'll say something unnecessarily stupid, or I'll wonder how I got drawn into some situation or other, or I'll curse myself for my inability to cure myself of the occasional crush. (Fercryingoutloud, I'm fifty-six, not fifteen.) I'd like to think I'm doing a better job of keeping the emotions on a leash. And then someone, usually quite unintentionally, will remind me that all the really happy folk, a class to which I do not belong, sometimes manage to break free for a time. This way, unfortunately, lies despondency.
This is not to say that I'm in constant turmoil or anything. I don't have quite the stress levels I had at this time last year, mostly because I've managed to shove the Eternal Mountain of Debt off the front page. (I've even managed to come up with a time limit for it, albeit at a stiff price.) But I continue to see a gap between where I am emotionally and where I think I should be, and I don't really see a way to bridge that gap. If there's some standard level of maturity out there somewhere, I need to find out where it is and how to get there, or at least quit worrying about why I can't find it.
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Copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Hill