21:01 - Sunday, May. 24, 2015
I don't want to call it 'society' because that makes it seem impersonal, and this is an intensely personal thing, but I'm not sure what else to call it. Calling it 'people' is wrong for more reasons than just calling people 'it'. It's wrong in a generalizing way. Anyway, I'll leave it be for the sake of not getting embroiled in definitions before I even start.
At no point in my life (save for a brief six month period when I was 8) have I been popular. When you're a kid, though, and when you're a teen, and even up into college if you're particularly slow to mature, being popular is a goal so strong it's a given.
I spent lots of time trying to figure out how to be popular even though I did not understand popularity. Even during those brief times when I was 'passing' as popular by doing things popular people did, I always felt like an impostor, and for some reason it never occurred to me that feeling like an impostor probably meant I was trying to be a member of a crowd I wouldn't like becoming a member of, even if I succeeded. I don't just mean middle school/high school stuff like going to secret night gatherings at the houses of people whose parents were out of town, or getting asked to homecoming and/or prom. I mean later, in and just after college. Things like trying to enjoy loud bars where I couldn't have a conversation, was cold the whole time, and was spending tons of money on sodas I wouldn't be drinking otherwise just to fulfill some drink minimum without actually drinking alcohol.
At some point in my mid-twenties (OK, maybe late twenties) it suddenly stopped bothering me that I did not enjoy some of the things that other people enjoyed. It's not like I suddenly started enjoying them or seeing the value in them; I just continued to not enjoy them, but became less, I don't know, existentially stressed out by them. I stopped telling people I'd meet them at bars or clubs and didn't RSVP to house parties unless I intimately knew many people that would be there or there would be some other purpose to the gathering other than drinking, like board games or hot-tubbing or karaoke. If people were meeting on a freezing beach, I'd leave early before the night wind got to me. And I did all these things without feeling guilty that I was (somehow) 'missing out on' something that I didn't even like. That was the bizarre thing about how I used to think - I'd go home early from some place at which I was miserable or bored and then hate myself for the rest of the night because I was missing out on some integral being-twenty (or whatever) experience.
Lately - very lately - I think I've put a finger on what I like, and I am completely comfortable dedicating my time only to things that I actually like, irrespective of what I am 'supposed to' like. I like gatherings where there is some sort of physical activity, preferably competitive in nature. I like any event that will have board games. I like karaoke, but not if they change the key songs are in - if they change the key I no longer like karaoke. I like to be outdoors if it is warm and do not like to be outdoors if it is not warm. Extra layers and blankets make no difference. Paying lots of money for mediocre food will always make me grouchy even if the company is good, so I can be inflexible about where I am willing to meet for group dinners. I like going to restaurants with people who are not picky eaters. If I am going to be having a conversation with a new person, I prefer we be in a car or in some other situation where we're facing the same direction so we don't have to look each other in the eye. I like outdoor concerts much better than indoor concerts, but will attend any concert where I don't have to wear earplugs. I do not like to talk or dance at concerts. I like traveling, full stop. Well, except if it's a place so touristy that a whole separate infrastructure exists for the tourists alone (a la Ha Long Bay, the only example I can think of from my own experience - but I even liked Ha Long Bay to an extent).
There's still a lot of stuff I don't like, much of which is hinted at above. I don't like any event where alcohol or drugs are The Point. I don't like being sensorily overstimulated; I can either listen to music or talk to you, but not both, and if I have to wear earplugs then it's stupid loud. I don't want to have small chat at the dinner table with strangers about what we do for a living. I want even less to be interrogated by family members about what I've done since they last saw me. If it is cold, I will be miserable no matter what else is going on. I could be receiving a deep tissue massage with a plate of Vietnamese shellfish in one hand and a toro handroll in the other and I'd still be miserable if I was cold. I could go on. But I won't.
The point is, ever since I decided to do the things I like doing and not do the things I don't like doing (even if everybody else likes and is doing those things) I have both become more comfortable, and somehow, more popular. It's not called 'popular' anymore, as an adult, but people are more interested in me and what I have to say, and ask after me at the end of the night when I've become suddenly overwhelmed and have headed home before everyone else. They keep inviting me places - even when I decline over half the time because over half the time those places are places I don't like to go. It doesn't really make much sense. It's possible that I'm more at ease in social situations because I know that I won't guilt myself for leaving when I am socially finished, or am happier when I am in these situations because they are necessarily situations where I feel more comfortable.
I don't feel like I fit in any better than I ever have. In fact, the rift seems wider now that it did when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I always felt that if I just tried harder and did the right thing, the space between them and me would narrow and disappear and I would blend into them and understand their thought processes. I don't feel that way anymore - or even want to feel that way - but I can tell that the rift is permanent. It goes deeper than alcohol and loudness and temperature. I don't understand a lot of social norms, and have a completely different concept of conversation and its ideal form than most people do. I am interested in others in a way that does not come across well. At its best it comes across as flippant and at its worst as stalkery. The back and forth of conversation comes more easily in text than in speech. I literally cannot look people in the eye and use my brain at the same time, unless we have reached a level of intimacy achieved only by having had sex.
This type of fundamental rift is not going away. I will never fit in exactly or understand people, really. And I think it's been just in the last year that I've become completely OK with that. And as I've become more OK with that, people have become more OK with me, even though they may not understand me and I may not understand them. I think they're just OK with me being OK with things.