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.

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Are you tired of studies saying loneliness will kill you? So am I!

Another psychological study doing its very best Dick Cheney impression. If you don’t eliminate terrorismloneliness, you’re gonna die!

March 25, 2015 marked the first time I’ve seen a major online publication, Psychology Today, question something that has become, through the power of repetition, a widely held truth.

“Loneliness will kill you.” How many times have we heard some variation of that? How many times do we keep hearing from the media that we are social animals and just aren’t at our best without relationships?

Then after that, how many times do we see any discussion of how we are to achieve the salubrious state of social support? Especially in a way that respects our right to be distinct human beings… and does not try to prescribe a best personality or a best way of living?
That does not assume we have 100% control of the uncontrollable– other people’s feelings, boundaries, and perceptions– and therefore, says it’s 100% our fault if others’ choices do not favor us?
That does not promote a “whatever it takes” attitude to combating loneliness, thereby ensuring we try to coerce others into reciprocating our social overtures?
That actually challenges our instinct to hunker down with people who remind us of ourselves, instead of saying “embrace it”?

Let’s just say, I have more fingers on my hand.

* ~ * ~ * ~ *

Believe it or not, a big part of what holds us back is our relationships.

I’ll restate that: what holds us back are the unspoken rules we follow about our relationships. The actions we take as we go about this socializing thing. The everyday behaviors we engage in to be sociable, be friendly, be likeable.

Too often, in the choices, behaviors, and decisions we make in our everyday lives to attract a social support system (and therefore protect our health, according to the media), we choose conformity with the dominant culture.
We choose to uphold white privilege, for instance, because we just feel safer and more comfortable with white people.
We choose to let sexism slide, because the consequences to our career, reputation and lives are just too steep– ask any man who wants to stay home with his kids. Hell, ask any victim of GamerGate.

Likeability itself seems to require not rocking the boat, because that’s the picture we hold in ourselves of a likeable person– someone who goes with the flow with a minimum of complaint. Someone who’s OK with things staying just the way they are.
Why does the exemplar of the “emotionally intelligent” ideal employee in business come off as so… unconcerned with the consequences of unchecked greed? So single-minded in the pursuit of calm– over any other emotional state? Like solidarity, compassion, altruism and egalitarian outlook?
Why did it take 20 years after the publication of Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book, to see any kind of substantive criticism of it? To see any kind of consideration that EQ might have unintended consequences?

Or to see that positive emotions could, in fact, be used for selfish and even negative ends:

In this single line, “Compassion and altruism are the key to low inflammation and even a longer life,” the presupposition is that compassion and altruism are a means. The end is health and longevity.
…We ought to become more compassionate and altruistic not for the personal good it does for our health, but for the benefits it has for others. The fact that it also may have some benefits for me personally is a nice side-effect, but not the reason for doing it.

If we presuppose that the reason for doing good is to personally benefit… [we] contribute to a degraded society of selfishness and moral decay.

Duff McDuffee, “Compassion Reduces Inflammation, but Saying that Reduces Compassion.”

Love from others, too often, has a hidden price of admission– first, you must make me look good to others and feel good about myself. Then, and only then, will I invite you into my community. The fitting in, the benefit to ourselves, becomes more important than the love and compassion.

Closer to home for anyone invested in social justice: how many times have we all tried to practice activism in our everyday lives, but our friends and loved ones just didn’t want any part of it? They didn’t have time, they didn’t know what to do, or they found it too negative?
And what did we choose to do? We chose the respectful and likeable thing, of course. We backed off. We saved our activism for someone who cared. We toned it down. Because if we kept it up, our loved ones may not have found us so lovable any more. They might even decide to leave us… and sort themselves into a group of more like-minded people. Because more warm and fuzzy feelings.

Oh, and by throwing health concerns into the mix? That all but makes being in a relationship compulsory, in the practice of everyday life. Because of both not enough of us having health care (thank you, Republican governors), and because of the American ethos of “always help yourself before asking for help from others”, the practical effect of saying “loneliness is bad for your health” is to make loneliness taboo.

We trust the media less and less overall. But we still trust them when it comes to messages about our health. And for many years now, we have been getting such a steady diet of uncritical promotion of health through relationship, that we largely accept it without question.
We would rather fit in than stand out, because it has been drilled into our heads that rapport and friendship require that first we make ourselves similar to our would-be friends. That we must have something in common with someone, in order to care about them.
And so we put up with things from our social circles that we swore we never would put up with, when we were growing up. Because we see the negatives as worth being in relationships. We see gender inequality as a small sacrifice for being married and having children. We see emotional abuse and overlong hours as a trade-off for having a good job. We see the pains of the dating game and of possibly having to live beyond our means to fit in, as an inevitable consequence of living a rich single life.

We see ourselves as being realistic about our social world, and doing the best we can.

But what if we can do even better?

What if we do NOT have to choose between having friends, and being our best selves?

What if our social circles were not warm, fuzzy straitjackets… but real bonds of solidarity? Real give-and-take that does not impose a hidden cost on us (except for Don’t Be An Asshole)? Real forces for personal and social transformation?

Loneliness may or may not kill you. But social circles that are contingent on you not rocking the boat, will smother your soul in a fluffy, comfortable blanket.

Note: Cross-posted to Daily Kos.