Four White Horses
On to the next movie
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I got up this morning and worked on a social dynamics post for the Dance Class section of TWR for a while. I saved the draft and checked my email, which I do more than I should; it’s been a while since I had any kind of conventional social life, and a lot more of my friends are online than has been true in years past.
(I’m okay with that for right now, BTW. Getting over drugs is getting over drugs, regardless of whether it was your choice to take them in the first place. Certain rules that apply to addiction don’t apply to enforced dependency, but the trajectory of recovery is similar in both cases.)
My chest went tight when I saw there was something in my inbox from The Girl. I’m not going into what it said; I told her I wouldn’t post any identifiable details about her on this blog. But the email wasn’t an easy read.
Not because it was mean, or vile, or intentionally manipulative; it was none of those things. She’d found a ‘stack I commented on, and it was the kind of thing she also reads, and she had something substantive and pertinent from one of our old conversations to add, because she misses me and she wants my attention.
It was a hard read because I’ve done this dance before. Both sides, for what it’s worth. I’ve sent emails like it myself, the ones where I’m all excited to have found something I know someone I care about is really into…
…but I’ve forgotten that I spent the last six months dynamiting the pillars that held up that friendship or romantic relationship. I haven’t taken a minute to consider that some old friend or romantic partner has told me in no uncertain terms to take a few years before getting back to them. They like me, even love me, but Jay, man, you’re a lot right now.
And I’ve almost always sent the email anyway. And in so doing, I’ve added one more name to the list of people I love more than anything who genuinely love me back, but who, regardless, also genuinely never want to see me again.
We all do it, people like The Girl and me. We’ve learned all the tricks. We make you love us, because we know how love works.
What people don’t understand is that it’s genuine, on both ends. We really do love you too, also because we know how love works. We know all the benchmarks you have to hit, all the requirements, all the little tells that let us know we’re doing it right. And they work on us, too. If anything, they work better on us than they do on you.
The human body and brain are a two-way feedback mechanism. If you smile, you get a little happier, just as when you’re happy, you smile. Making someone smile makes them feel happier, whether they want to feel that way or not. That’s true of everyone.
The realization that there is a level on which human beings work much more mechanistically than most people believe and more than anyone would like to admit is crushing. The realization that you’ve got the schematics to people’s brains and there’s no oversight but God above is worse.
There’s a point at which you have to be good to others. You don’t have a choice. You see how people work, and then there are ways you can’t treat anyone anymore.
Over on the comments section of Knowingless by Aella, a user named WillWorker had this to say:
…Without taking regular inventories, goal seeking behavior (be it for sex, relationships, employment, possessions, etc.) will turn in upon itself. People will begin to mask their own wants and desires to project outwardly what they believe is needed to achieve the goal. They fail to connect that the masking may be a sign that they actually are no longer truly interested in the goal. Then, when they achieved said goal, they will wonder why they are still dissatisfied and fail to connect that the person they are internally was not the person they had to project...
I fucking stared at that comment for a good five minutes.
People learn to be who they are for any number of reasons. One of the most poignant motivations to change is the need to overcome our deficiencies. I’m an autistic sexual abuse survivor. I needed to overcome social obliviousness, the fear (and the experience) of being physically and sexually victimized, and the fear (and the experience) of having other people control my emotional state.
Did I manage to do it?
This morning I went into an unfamiliar Mexican restaurant for a late breakfast. My Spanish is rudimentary at best, but within five seconds of entering, I knew what everyone inside’s relationship to every other person was, several interesting psychosexual facts about a number of the people eating there, who was armed and who wasn’t, and who had a criminal record and (roughly) what for. Inside of a minute, I was aware of what levers I’d need to pull in order to make friends with anyone in there, how I could establish social dominance over the group or specific individuals if required, who I’d need to hit first, how I’d hit them, and what I would hit them with if they decided to get aggressive, which of the women were interested in sleeping with me, and what I’d need to do to interest the ones who weren’t if I wanted to sleep with them. (I knew anything I’d have to do, I’d have to do without relying on my ability to communicate verbally, mind you, because I didn’t know how fluent everyone was in English, but I knew I could do it.)
This process, which was based on body and facial language, was largely unconscious, and knowing it was happening in my head, and that I could do these things if I needed to, made me feel wretched and mean. I found the quietest corner I could, kept my head down, ate my food, and went home.
I’m writing this knowing that there are people who will read it who know me socially. Guys, I’m not manipulating you. If I’m a nice person, I assure you it’s genuine. This is just how I learned to see the world. If you’ve noticed the exaggerated levels of transparency I engage in, all the relentless encouragement and boosting of people who write on this platform, it’s in no small part because I really don’t want anyone to think I want to be a supervillain. I’m not tempted to be, understand, but there’s a point at which social fluency becomes unnerving, and I know people occasionally worry. I reached that point a little while ago, and it’s fucking with me.
Autistic people don’t have as much trouble remembering certain kinds of information as people who aren’t on the spectrum. We have much more trouble with forgetting, and filtration. It’s not that I want to do this. It’s that I don’t know how to not do it.
There’s a lot of information in a smile. When there are too many smiles, you either have to leave the room or do something to distract yourself so you can function. Some people on the spectrum have fidget toys to focus on so they can manage stressful situations. That’s never worked for me; I can’t bear to be distracted in public. Instead, I learned to do things so I could stay engaged.
Here’s what I want to know. I did what I set out to do. I’m tough enough that I don’t worry about getting hurt by anyone, and I know the secrets of the human heart. What do I do with my life now? This isn’t the direction from which I expected my existential crisis to come, but it seems to have arrived regardless.
I know I need to move on, I just don’t have a fucking clue how I’m supposed to do it.
Comments are open.
1. That part about the Mexican restaurant is impressive. When a Jason Bourne-type character reads the scene like that in a movie, I sit there and think, "this is where I willingly suspend disbelief--no one has skills like that." But for you those scenes must be boring, like, "they made a movie about this kind of mundane skillset?"
2. Here are some verses to ponder--I think they apply regardless of your religiosity (I think they are more or less universal, which is why they get quoted at most Christian and quasi-Christian weddings even if the couple and/or most of the attendees aren't Christian):
"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:1-13 [NIV].)
It's a strange thing to care about people so much that you always pay attention to them and attention to yourself as you do so. It has taken me three posts of yours to conclude this about you, starting with the Shimmy. I wouldn't say that I'm the opposite, but I can remember the moment in the 7th grade that I began removing that sensitivity. Catholic school can do that to you, but what I remember was that I was counting my position crossing the schoolyard and ranking myself according to which place I would get as I headed for the door to room 7. And I felt supremely vulnerable to the judgement of people and of God and of circumstance and I realized I was trying to please all of the people, and God, and the bus driver who got me there late. I felt sad that I was not going to care any longer, but I didn't get angry. I remember telling myself that I was never going to have another best friend. There was nobody there in that tiny school who came close. So I wasn't going to care any longer.
Later that year I got chicken pox. I was out for a week. When I came back, they told me that Danielle asked the class to pray for me every day. I was floored. I thanked her, but I cannot remember what happened next. Nothing. Not enough of anything. What should I have expected? Maybe she felt obligated. Maybe it was just Christian sympathy. When I first got to that school, she was my perfect homeroom angel. Everyone from there disappeared from my life. I bump into people 40 years later who knew the same people. But they are all gone.
I am a dumper. I am never a dumpee. Everyone is on trial. I cannot imagine the circumstance under which I care enough to be heartbroken again, but these days I am thinking about the days when I was still vulnerable to care about every soul every day, more than they cared for their own souls. When the world was full of wonder, I knew every word to every song in Godspell, and the Russians might kill us all tomorrow.