Sunday, 30 September 2012

Some random thoughts on relying on others to validate your reality.

I've really come to recognise in the past couple of years how much I value being able to check in with my friends. How often I go to certain specific ones and say "This happened and I thought this..." or "I feel this..." or "I'm considering doing this..."

" that ok? Normal? Human?" being the implicit question to that. I'm seeking validation on my own perspective.

And I know that (or I feel that) I do this more than the people around me seem to. I dunno, mayhaps I'm comparing my insides to their outsides and labelling what I do one way and when they do it, I call it  "conversation". I know at least one very close friend who uses me for this function (which I'm extremely happy to perform).

I do think, though, that doing this to some extent is a fundamental part of human socialisation. We watch what others are saying and doing to tell us what we should be saying and doing. Hell, I use this tendency at work - the students at my school are trained to stand behind their desks until invited to sit, but they've yet to be trained that I always 100% expect that, so typically 1-2 will forget and sit down. And I will look at them and wait for them to look at me or around the room and jump back up again.

Asch (1951) had a bunch of folk in a room, showed them a question with a clear answer, and had several stooges give the same, wrong answer before the participant was reached. And the participant would go along with it. Because that's what we do. What I'd be really interested in is whether the participant actually distrusted their own reality in that circumstance.

It reminds me of two things. I'm only going to discuss one here - the other's the focus of its own post at some point.

I used to be friends with a woman. We met at the very beginning of doing the same double-major university course. She gave me a Hell of a lot of guidance on social interaction... I think. I feel like she did. I'd never felt particularly socially competent before I knew her and she certainly gave me lots of instruction. I valued her opinion massively. I don't clearly recall ever having other friends [I did when we both had semesters abroad, seperately - I had several friends just for those few short months]. I think I had it in my head that I didn't need other friends, if I had her. I was extremely attached to her, and I know that I put her on a pedestal. I had a view of her as extremely socially astute, and extraordinarily good at telling what others were thinking or feeling. 

So when, 3 years ago, she started saying that I was acting in a way that indicated that I didn't respect her, I had some serious cognitive dissonance. Because I didn't think that I did respect her less... but if she said that it was so, then how could it not be? I spent a lot of time and emotional energy trying to unpack my feelings towards her. In the meantime, the arguments that we'd always had were getting to be a higher proportion of our conversations (these arguments were always overlaid strongly with a sense that I didn't know the way out of this conversation. That I didn't know what to say to make things better). And, for the first time, I had LOTS of friends that weren't her. Intimate friends, friendly acquaintances and everything in-between. I was getting along better with my family than I ever had before. I was having dozens of conversations every day, and never feeling that trapped, "what the hell do I say now?" feeling that I did with her. My disagreements with friends were civil. My boundaries were respected.

She said, on a trip we took to Bristol together at this time, that there were so many things that she "wasn't allowed" to talk about with me. That I would cry if she wasn't careful enough about what she could say.

I cried a lot in my friendship with her.

She'd always said that she didn't have these kinds of arguments with anyone else in her life. For the first time, I was able to say: I have lots of friends who I talk to about lots of things, and neither do I!

And, in truth, I do have some arguments. I remember one with a girl I was friends with my one year in junior college. I remember a few I had with a friend when I was in teacher training - the friend who looked at me with distrust when I said my hair needs washing daily, who said that she doesn't believe that men can be expected to stop having sex partway through at their partner's request. I've certainly had several with my boyfriend. But in none of them did I feel like there must, somewhere, be an invisible hoop that I need to jump through for this to be over.

Maybe I'm making it sound worse than it was. I found a lot about the friendship deeply rewarding. She was the first person I found that I could have abstract, philosophical discussions with (and I crave that). We enjoyed a lot of the same things. She was important to me.

But then maybe the friendship was always fucked up and unhealthy.

My point is: I'm never going to know now. My memories are too scattered and too weak (from my POV) to deconstruct the entire affair. I don't have a third party to check in with. And I'm out of contact with her now - likely permanently - so I couldn't ask her if I wanted to. I'm never going to get that information, and I have to deal with that lack.

But I can say, with sureness, that I am the ultimate arbiter of what I am thinking and feeling and what I have thought and felt.

Was her life off-course from what she wanted, three years ago? Yes.
Was my life going suspiciously well? Yes.
Did I respect her less at that time?

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