I discovered Neil Strauss’ blog today. Here is my first response, on approach anxiety.

Here is his entry from earlier this year, “Is Your Mind Your Worst Enemy?” It talks about approach anxiety and the little voice inside our heads that tells us “Don’t bother” when we want to approach others or try to form a relationship with them.

It’s a great rallying cry for social courage. But there’s just one teensy weensy problem with it… and it starts with a B.

It’s a very specific kind of insecurity that fuels the Don’t Voice. Insecurity about boundaries.

Because what good is conquering your approach anxiety if you still end up stepping on boundaries? Only when you succeed at both, when you can approach without violating boundaries, do you stand a chance of being attractive. Otherwise, all your outgoingness may matter for nothing, because you’re being a creeper.

But here is my problem with boundaries: everything I read about them seems to reinforce the Don’t Voice. There is such a theme of “one and done”– you come off as creepy once, and you’re forever cooked with that person. Is that not what “move on” means? “Move on” is something you see all the time in any discussion of boundaries.

But what I’ve found must frustrating about boundaries in that I feel they put me in a position that’s dependent on others’ approval. I know intellectually this is not true, but emotionally I can’t trust in any behavior of mine being attractive, unless I see other people saying yes to me as a result of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a positive behavior like smiling or conversing– if others don’t want it, it becomes negative. It doesn’t matter anymore what I feel about my self, my needs or my values… if the boundary keeps them out, they’re worthless in any sense that matters.

Basically, in order to be boundary-safe, it seems your default mode should be NOT to be look for love, or think you’re going to be attractive to anyone but yourself. Curb your expectations. This is where I really HATE all those studies saying humans are social creatures and we’re healthier when we’re in relationships and blah blah blah, because it makes us have all these expectations for our lives and our support systems. Because you can’t have a relationship– ANY relationship– without being said yes to. And you never have control over whether someone says yes to you.

I don’t think most people realize how many ducks have to be in a row for relationships to he successful. Because “we’re social creatures”, we think it should happen easily and magically. When really, if we’re going to fully implement a consent and boundaries model, we’re going to have to accept that a lot fewer relationships are going to happen. That our default mode is, in fact, “alone” unless someone else makes the free choice to let us into their boundaries.

Which means we have to stop shit like measuring our social skills based on others saying yes to us. Because it doesn’t matter if we have all the personal skill in the world, if someone else’s boundary stops that skill from reaching the outcome it was intended to reach.

Most of what I’ve read about boundaries takes this cautious approach. Better not to approach than be creepy. “Move on” is forever. When someone in your life sets a boundary with you, that’s forever too.

And it’s hard to convince me of the value of self-confidence, when impact matters exponentially more than intent. You really don’t even know how positive a personality trait, behavior, or choice is until you see its impact on others. Anything you think of as positive can be transformed into something negative this way.

So please, stop telling me how important relationships are. Because what you’re really saying is, “you’re a failure as a human being unless other people want you”. Which is about as beneficial for you as arsenic.

Why we should be VERY careful what we’re conflating with emotional intelligence.

Anyone who has caught my postings elsewhere on the web knows that I feel a bit cautious about emotional intelligence. To name a few reasons:

    • The way it enjoyed universal, unquestioned approval for many years;
    • The way it, indirectly, holds up status-quo seeking as the most emotionally healthy attitude;
    • The way it, even if unintentionally, pathologizes criticism of society and social dynamics;
    • The way, corollary to the previous two points, it ends up boosting privilege.

We already have enough of society propping up privilege. It would be very dangerous indeed if being privileged became reframed as emotionally intelligent. Because so many of us believe emotional intelligence is an unalloyed positive good. We all want to have good emotional and mental health, and to take whatever actions are necessary to get there.

So, forgive me if I have a problem with so many of the people who are held up as examples of great EQ. They, quite frankly, look to me like the privileged.
As if it doesn’t matter how destructive the prosperity gospel is to both our spiritual life and our economy– all that matters is if it gives some of us self-confidence– which has long been held to be a necessary ingredient for high EQ.
As if nothing could matter more than calm. Notice how much mental health advice is all about accepting your lot in life and not trying to make it better. (Even right down to the famous Serenity Prayer.) Notice how much of it frames thinking as a problem, inferior to emotion and intuition. (Thinking is not superior OR inferior to feeling. They are equal co-partners.)

My intuition tells me that who you hold up as an example of your concept, speaks much louder than your description of the concept. So you can tell me all the time that EQ is not all about lulling yourself into bovine complacency. But if that’s the main emotion of all your high-EQ exemplars– if there’s no dissenter, no social critic, no– well, emotional person with high EQ that you can point me to– then I will feel less than enthusiastic about getting on board the emotional intelligence train.

UPDATE 7/13: My response to No More Mister Nice Blog’s discussion on the politics of punishing the poor. Why do the poor have to be punished? Because they fail the marshmallow test, of course. *facepalm*