This was a joke long before Star Trek: The Next Generation, but somehow it sounds funnier if you imagine Patrick Stewart saying it. The captain is heading down some passageway or other when he hears a peculiar thumping noise, which he eventually traces to a storage compartment. He opens the door, and there are a couple of crewmembers in flagrante delicto. "I trust you can explain yourselves?" he asks.

One of them — doesn't matter which one — eventually stammers, "Sir, we're engaged."

"Well, disengage," says the captain, and the unfortunate couple are eventually returned to duty.

If only it were that simple. There was a time, before social networking and all this Interwebby stuff, when the lot of the hermit seemed to be something to which I could aspire. There were several advantages I could see to solitude, chief of which was maintenance of my emotional equilibrium: I'd known all along that I was too easily pushed off dead center, and I didn't much like it. I was thirty-five before I came to a two-pronged conclusion: I was entitled to my emotions, whatever they might be, but those emotions didn't entitle me to anything.

Then again, by thirty-five I'd already had one failed marriage and a couple of brief relationships that didn't go much of anywhere. Eventually I managed to work myself into a job with relatively little personal interaction, but "relatively little" is farther from zero than it looks, and after a while, it cost me too much energy to keep the shields at maximum all the time.

And I noticed that there were atmospheric variations, so to speak. On the various World Tours, I was social beyond my wildest expectations, though there were still lines I would not cross. And once home from them, it took me several days of seclusion to reorient myself back to the usual defaults.

There are still times when I want to crawl into a cave. Once in a while I'll say something unnecessarily stupid, or I'll wonder how I got drawn into some situation or other, or I'll curse myself for my inability to cure myself of the occasional crush. (Fercryingoutloud, I'm fifty-six, not fifteen.) I'd like to think I'm doing a better job of keeping the emotions on a leash. And then someone, usually quite unintentionally, will remind me that all the really happy folk, a class to which I do not belong, sometimes manage to break free for a time. This way, unfortunately, lies despondency.

This is not to say that I'm in constant turmoil or anything. I don't have quite the stress levels I had at this time last year, mostly because I've managed to shove the Eternal Mountain of Debt off the front page. (I've even managed to come up with a time limit for it, albeit at a stiff price.) But I continue to see a gap between where I am emotionally and where I think I should be, and I don't really see a way to bridge that gap. If there's some standard level of maturity out there somewhere, I need to find out where it is and how to get there, or at least quit worrying about why I can't find it.

The Vent

  1 July 2010

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