This post by Sarah, which she says "might be my bitchiest post ever," has stuck in the back of my mind for a week, not so much because it's bitchy or anything, but because it somehow sounds awfully familiar. And since the feeling shows no sign of going away, I might as well deal with it here, a little bit at a time.
The older I get, the more I worry that I'm losing my social skills. I never really had much of a problem in this area I've always been able to maintain one or two close friendships, as well as a group of casual friends with whom it was fun to go out and party. It came fairly easily.
What's notable here is that I never really had any social skills to lose, at least at that particular level. I've more or less maintained my friendships, but I've never been one of a small circle of occasional partiers. And close friends don't pay any attention to your social skills, or lack thereof; it's the ones who aren't so close for whom this sort of thing matters.
And as Sarah's comfort level appears to decrease, it begins to approach mine. I have often been accused of seeming to be "detached" during social occurrences, and it's exactly for the reason she cites: behind-the-scenes analysis, eating up just enough brain cycles to make actual interfacing inconsistent, even erratic. And since I'm not particularly efficient at multitasking, I occasionally have to be dragged back to the foreground, as it were.
Worrying about giving offense is a different dynamic these days. While we've always worried about saying the Wrong Thing, whatever it may be, today's environment, poisoned by years of baiting and name-calling and overreaction to years of baiting and name-calling, has made legal imperatives of what used to be social niceties, to the detriment of actual human relations. (The Canadians, poor hosers, have it worse.)
A couple of decades ago, my own emotions were leading me around by the nose, if not by something worse. I crashed, big-time. And I learned two things in the process of being put back together:
Most of all, people just seem to annoy me more than they used to. There are really only a small handful of people that I care to spend any significant amount of time with. I'm less tolerant and forgiving than I used to be. I used to be much better about looking past the things that annoyed me, perhaps because of my need to be accepted.
It took me a long time to catch on to this, but it's true: better a few really good friends than a lot of really average friends. The definition of "good" is surely debatable, and easily devolves into snark ("A friend will help you move; a good friend will help you move a body") or tautology; still, I believe that most of us have the capacity to formulate our own versions.
And if you've gone through an entire lifetime without ever hurting anyone, I submit that no one even noticed your existence: we all rub up against one another the wrong way now and then, and great lovers, we are somehow always surprised to hear, have really spectacular fights. Hence "They're all stupid anyway" is true, because each of us has a tremendous capacity for stupidity.
We also have a certain facility for self-criticism:
Don't for a second think I can't turn that cold, critical eye on myself. If there's one thing I'm better at than judging other people, it's judging myself. I can tell you exactly what I would think if I read this post. What a smug little bitch, I'd think. She thinks she's better than everyone else, but she's even more boring than the people she complains about. She's just mad because she's not getting enough attention or something. And this post isn't even well-written.
Oh, you're just jealous.
This can't be healthy. Maybe I should start making more of an effort.
Or maybe she should watch Mystery Science Theatre 3000, which contains this essential wisdom: "You should really just relax." It's always seemed to me that the most dangerous people are those who ought to be self-critical but aren't. You'd never see Stalin writing something like this.
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