Competitive ghosting

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Mid-late February 2017

I am old enough to think the whole idea/concept of “ghosting” is a bad, socially unacceptable idea, but at the same time, I am too old, impatient and tired of nonsense to want to explain myself any more. Or to wait for or want weak explanations from others. My reasons for backing off, backing out, ‘giving as much space as needed’ should be plain and largely self-explanatory to anyone close enough to me that I would see fit to pull a disappearing act, as I don’t have the casual sort of millennial-style “hanging out” relationships to which the term ‘ghosting’ most frequently applies. Actual ‘ghosting’ is more literal. For me, it’s a conscious and deliberate decision to withdraw specific and individual care, put the walls back up, even if a person otherwise remains a part of the ‘coterie’.

This is particularly true when I am not the only one withdrawing, feeling all emotion ebb away. It may never have been an intentional “dual disappearing act”, a race to which one gets sick of this first or finds herself indifferent to it all or wherein he finds somewhere else to hang his hat. With neither one so crass as to stoop to actual ghosting – or aren’t we? – instead it quiets, slows and dwindles down to nothing. Heading it off at the pass, pre-empting any form of bastardized and… competitive ghosting, it is time I go back to being a stranger.

(I know that ‘announcing’ the intent negates the whole concept; it is not really disappearing without a trace, but I suppose I’ve got to preserve some decorum. I am, after all, old. And we will both, after all, be relieved.)

Speedboat

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I always listen to Lloyd Cole in the summer.”

I feel the chill of it – the words, actions and interactions feel like the movement of a speedboat, racing effortlessly over just the glistening surface of the water. I am watching from the firm ground of the shore – he waves as he becomes a remote speck. The interaction is one-sided and fragmented, much like the speedboat’s glide, interrupted by occasional bumps, as it flies across the water.

What feels like a purposeful distance is created, preserved and extended, the boat traveling further out of reach by the second. What is it that makes this so? The not knowing where to take a deeper discussion? Avoiding having an unpleasant conversation? An inability to know where to plunge your anchor? Too many things going on at once? From the edge of the water, I can only wave back meekly, knowing I won’t actually be seen, and anything I could say or ask cannot be heard. And for some time, seemingly forever, standing stock still in the bitterly cold wind, which isn’t much time at all really, I wait and wonder.

Pierced by this whole experience, shockingly brief as it is – I am changed and restored to a better version of my truest self, but this imparts no magical wizardry – I am unable to make anyone else feel the same way as I do or to feel anything at all, really. And am likewise unable to know exactly what it is that another feels because I doubt he even knows with any clarity, or if he does, he’s sailed so far away that he can’t convey it to me. Which is part of why he is out on the lake skimming lightly across the water, possibly going so far out that there’s fishing to be done and lures to cast.

It’s strange how the more, and more deeply, you feel you love someone (and consequently want to be with them), the harder it is to tell them that – or tell them directly exactly what you feel – or talk about it in any way. Especially when you feel certain you bear your feelings alone – there is nothing mutual or shared about it.

In response, I embody a second, separately functioning person from myself, involuntarily splitting into two parts – the one I allow to feel, be open, be vulnerable and to question, and then the one I preserve for logic and analysis. Maybe this is an astrological trait (dual roles), maybe this is, as the New Age book I read cautioned, the “Loyal Soldier” who went to war for me in immature ways to foster self-preservation as a child (and whose tactics continue to drive emotional life in an immature way now that the “war is over”, as the book put it*).

Either way, both identities are paralyzed and don’t say one direct word about real feelings because revealing comes with not only the possibility of being destroyed but also feels like an imposition. Saying things aloud makes them not only real (and unerasable) but starts to force an agenda on the other person, influences them unduly, may pressure or oblige them to take on something they don’t want, are not ready for or even inveigle them into a conversation they don’t want to have. I have no desire to set a trap or inadvertently create an environment in which it’s possible to feel trapped.Thus the whole matter becomes a blizzard in the brain and heart, obscuring the words and actions that should be realized, or becomes something that is haphazardly regurgitated in circuitous, erratic, piecemeal blog posts here or there.

…And yet after some time feeling as though a part of a curious speedboat détente, he, rapidly speeding away from me and disappearing into the horizon, and my daily life returning to normal, one of the parts of the split identity, the non-feeling split, begins to dominate. It becomes a lot like the time I advised a dear Australian friend that if she wanted her American boyfriend to show more interest, she had to pretend she wasn’t interested. To which she replied, “But by acting less interested, won’t I just actually lose interest?” To which I enthusiastically exclaimed, “Well, yes! That’s the beauty and the whole point of it!“At least for the emotionally stunted! You do it initially, ostensibly, on the surface, hoping to be seen, acknowledged and missed (knowing this will not be the yield), but the real underlying and long-term aim is to lose interest yourself so that any outcome is a manageable outcome. Or it will be an outcome that does not hurt, at least not the part of the personality that pursued this savage, self-sacrificing strategy.

The analytical part that remembers and looks at all the words that have been said, all the clues and hints dropped (even if there weren’t really clues or hints – all words once spoken are now being processed and interpreted that way in this part of the brain) ascribes a unilateral verdict to the situation and moves on accordingly. Move on. It feels logical, familiar and comfortable because it pre-empts most possible pain. Move on. It soothes the mind with the casual way it gives birth to an indifference that grows day by day, so that I no longer even look to the water to see the speedboat buzzing, making its rounds, or perhaps no longer even walk to the shore at all. Move on.

Eventually feigning disinterest leads to the promised land of real disinterest and – bonus points – boredom. Moved on. At least the logical half of the self can buy into that, offering itself sterile congratulations for not getting its hands dirty while nevertheless doing the dirty work of crushing the feelings of the other half. It does not matter that it was early days; it does not matter that I knew what I was getting into and that this was always where it could lead or end.

The heart – the crushed part – has no response to this logic. It does not even speak this language, but the heart is not driving, so it has no say.

Ella Mi Fu Rapita! (She abandoned me) – Gavin Ewart
“Die Liebe dauert oder dauert nicht.” –Brecht

Her boredom took her away. So simple.
She just became bored with me. No other rival
experienced the entrancing smile with the dimple
or put down his drink in joy at her arrival
or loved her in taxis that stream like ants
through London, fingers under her pants

caressing her holy of holies. Oh, no,
it wasn’t someone younger, bigger or better.
She went because she had the urge to go,
Without a phone call, telegram or letter.
From our last meeting she just walked out –
a few pretexts perhaps. What were they about?

Nothing too serious. A red bow in her hair,
as she lay naked on the bed, knees-raising,
stays in my mind. I know I had my share.
Love is all programmed, it’s all phasing,
There’s a beginning, a middle and an end.
A lover’s life is not that of a friend,

who by and large is able to take it or leave it.
For love there’s a critical path – it goes on.
It can’t go backwards or sideways, believe it,
That’s all; a dream, a tremendous con,
And when it’s over, you’re out on your own.
Most life, they say, has to be lived alone.

And what can the lover do, when the time’s come,
when THE END goes up on the screen? Yelling,
rush into the street, lamenting her lovely bum?
Get friendly with men in bars, telling
how sweet she was, praising her statistics,
or admiring his own sexual ballistics?

No, that’s no good. Love lasts – or doesn’t last.
And all the pink intimacies and warm kisses
go into Proust’s remembrance of time past.
Lovers must never crumple up like cissies
Or break down and cry about their wrongs
If girls are sugar, God holds the sugar tongs.

It may even feel somewhat comforting to let go of the idea of being in love (“it’s so hard to love when love was your great disappointment“) because I think we all know that when you are in love, no one wants to hear about it. They want your misery. Misery loves company.

Photo (c) Paul Costanich – not quite a speedboat, but it will suffice. (It’s a “ski jet” according to S. Haha)

*From Soulcraft – Bill Plotkin:

“Each of us has a Loyal Soldier sub-personality, a courageous, creative and stubborn entity formed when we needed somewhat drastic measures to survive the realities (sometimes dysfunctional) of childhood. This sub-personality’s primary task was to minimize the occurrence of further injury, whether emotional or physical. The Loyal Soldier’s approach to this task was – and continues to be – to make us small or invisible, to suppress much of our natural exuberance, emotions, desires and wildness so we might be sufficiently acceptable to our parents (and/or other guardians, siblings, teachers and authority figures). The Loyal Soldier learns to restrain another sub-personality we might call the Wild Child, our original, sensual, magical, untamed self that has an essential relationship to the soul and is not interested in limiting itself in any way.

Common Loyal Soldier survival strategies include harsh self-criticism (to make us – the ego – feel unworthy and thus ineligible for Wild Child actions that might bring further punishment, abandonment, or criticism); placing our personal agenda last (so as to not displease or arouse anger or envy); other codependent behaviors (e.g. caretaking, rescuing, enabling) to stave off abandonment; pleasing but immature and inauthentic personas; partial or complete social withdrawal (to minimize hurtful contacts); adopting an unpleasant or downtrodden appearance (to protect us from criticism); restricting our range of feeling by encouraging us to always be in charge, busy, angry, ruthless, withdrawn, and/or numb; and suppressing our intelligence, talent, enthusiasm, sensuality, and wildness by locking up these qualities in an inaccessible corner of our psyches. … The Loyal Soldier’s adamant and accurate understanding is this: it is better to be suppressed or inauthentic or small than socially isolated or emotionally crushed – or dead.”

“The Loyal Soldier did, in fact, keep us safe (enough) in childhood. The problem is that the Loyal Soldier’s strategies become bedrock to our survival and are defended to the death – even after the war is over.”

Au suivant: Fickle

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I never considered myself fickle or particularly doomed to having a short attention span with regard to people. I pride myself on listening even to the most boring, long-winded people. I often imagine that I want to be a therapist for heaven’s sake – what else is that but a whole lifetime listening to intensely self-focused people, many of whom will not be in the least bit interesting? (They don’t need to be subjectively interesting to need help.)

I thought, even though I don’t love “people” in a general way, I had the dedication to individuals, especially after I know and care about them, to dispense with any kind of fickle, “carousel” approach to having them in my life.

But the truth is, I have without acknowledging it fully been like this. I had a few conversations this week about my propensity for indifference and, as one guy put it about 20 years ago, I am a “pro at being aloof”. Indifference comes on suddenly. As soon as one person becomes dull or somewhat unresponsive in the way I want them to be, it’s “Au suivant” (My use of this particular song has nothing to do with the thematic content of the song itself; that is, my situation is nothing like what the lyrics describe! – just the rapid-fire call of “Au suivant” seems most appropriate.)

It’s hard not to be a bit indifferent – a concoction of my stubborn clinging to freedom and independence has made people think I would be single and available to them forever. When the situation changes somehow, either through my indifference or a substantive change in circumstance, these people seem surprised that the “ship has sailed”, particularly when they realize they did not sail it as they should have when they could have, so to speak.

Eventually the ship does sail for faraway places – it’s a cliché, but I certainly have never known when it would happen that I would no longer feel like exclaiming impatiently, “Next!”