Garrett (garote) wrote,

A ramble from a month ago, squared off and posted

The stripey cat just hopped onto the bed, where I'm propped up typing. Her fur is cold under my hand. The night air has a serious chill this month, and she's no doubt feeling it.

So much work, so little time. As usual, so many options to consider. Do we stay in Santa Cruz? Live with Alison, or with Alex, or try to live with Dan, or with Andy? Or nobody but ourselves? What about my other friends and relatives? It feels like we haven't had a single spare minute this month. And as much as I enjoy this job, I do feel the effects of its scheduling.

I found out today that a girl I had a crush on as a teenager ended up marrying a big ol' computer geek. I'd known she was married already; known that for years. Photos from the engagement party were posted online and it was trivial to dig them out. What I didn't know, and couldn't tell from the pictures of the guy, was just how much of a computer geek he was. It raises a lot of complicated feelings in my mind. Back when I knew this woman, she had computer geeks planted firmly at the bottom of her romantic totem pole. She was stuck in that teenage girl mode of fiending for older, independent men, because she was - in her own opinion - clearly too mature to be dating boys her age.

I know; there's a big social precedent behind that feeling. It's "common knowledge" that "girls mature faster than boys". But now that I'm older, and have done my own dating in young and old crowds, I see that girls do not mature faster than boys. They just learn their lessons in a different order. They're just as strongly chained to that hamster-wheel of judging themselves in reference to their peers, racing to see who can act the most sophisticated the quickest. Kids can act well enough to fool their optimistic parents, but deep down, and if memory serves, teenagers - male and female alike - are really just batshit crazy.

Ah, those high-school-era lessons. Some ten years after high-school was over, I began thinking about that time again, and then I had a huge epiphany which helped me understand a lot of what I was seeing in adulthood as well. It came while I was contemplating something I already knew, which was that there was actually no social pecking-order in high school. No pyramid with the jocks or cheerleaders at the top. Instead there was a web of people struggling to find their identities and friends by applying what they knew. That pursuit was highly competitive in some groups. In other groups, competition wasn't necessary. In a few groups, competition was actively discouraged - people expected an atmosphere of support and inclusiveness, and learned how to encourage and enforce it.

My epiphany was this: The people who thought they had social skills in high school, weren't necessarily the people who actually had them. And many people persisted in their delusion, long after high school was over. That is why I keep encountering these people, these full-blown adults, some of them managers and teachers, ... who can't speak in turn, or before a crowd, or can't speak to a stranger without getting edgy, or can't comfort a crying child, or can't tell a joke without botching it, or can't string two words together without saying "like", or can't discuss work without feeling personally attacked, or can't discuss their feelings without making accusations or yelling, or can't carry their half of a decent conversation at all, ... who then turn right around and whine about "all these people with no social skills".

The strategy we've developed to get on in life, the plan that keeps us all convinced that we're truly flexible and charming people even when we're not, has two components: First, we sharply limit the types of people we interact with - keeping it down to a select few who have developed a tolerance for, or learned to overlook, our defects. And second, we sharply limit the context in which we meet strangers - usually avoiding any situation where we feel vulnerable.

In effect, nobody has any right to complain about the supposedly inferior social skills of others. If you meet someone you can't handle, it's your fault that you can't handle them. And here's where my own personal defect becomes clear: I can't stand people who won't admit this. Because every time I hear someone say, "I am so tired of people with no social skills", all I hear is the egotistical ring behind the words. (Note: "I am so tired of people with no social lives" is an entirely different complaint. And after a long work day, I sometimes find myself making this complaint - about myself. Hoohah!)

Yep, I'm a hypocrite. Rejecting and dismissing people is ultimately an indulgence; one that costs something every time we invoke it. But I just can't stand those smug jerks.

So to get back to the point I was exploring much earlier, yeah, this girl I knew got married to a big ol' computer geek. And to me, it is somehow both satisfying and disappointing that the man she married is some ten years her senior. Was she afraid to explore - and risk being judged by - someone from her own generation? I don't know; I'm probably reading too much into it. It's probably just a random event ... She decided one day, after a long blank period or an angry breakup, that she was tired of being swept off her feet only to be dropped on her ass, and now it was time to just pick someone. Maybe it's a case of what my Dad described as the typical social cycle for women: "They just reject and reject and reject until one day they get tired of rejecting. That's it."

I think that fits pretty well, actually. You get tired of dating as almost exactly the same speed as you learn about people, and about what you need. Finally, what you need becomes small enough that an ordinary human being can provide it. So you choose someone who can. And by jove, it actually works.

I love every inch of my ordinary human being, and the life she and I have built and pursue together. And it wouldn't go this well if we hadn't had so much previous experience, to teach us how to judge fairly, how to rely instead of depend.

Dang, time for sleep again.
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