Tuesday, July 21, 2015

On Relationships, Meeting New People, and What Really Happened Last Summer

I've been meaning to post about what happened last summer with a certain person, and now seems like a good time.

Let me start this post by sharing my priority list, which is relevant to what happened:

Level 1: Close Family and Friends. This includes maintaining my relationships with the people I'm close to and being there for people when they need me. It also involves lots of talking, spending time together, and doing fun things together. Events that involve spending time with close friends automatically fall into this category.

Level 2: Central Passion. This includes whatever my primary passion is. In the past it has been theatre, and my passion right now is writing. An interest has to be an obsession, something that can completely consume my life and leave room for nothing else, in order to count as a Level 2 passion. Individual projects within this category can alternate in terms of what is most important to me, but they are not interchangeable with things that are not related to my central passion.

Level 3: Other Fun. This includes anything I like to do for fun that does not fall into the category of spending time with people I love or being part of my central passion. This mostly includes fun things I do alone other than writing. I have goals in this category, but they are less important than the goals related to my passion. There is a lot of variance within this category about what is most important to me at any given moment, which is fine. This is an unfocused, free-for-all category, and it is meant for me to choose what matters most in a given moment.

Level 4: Everything Else. This includes - you guessed it - everything else I do that does not fall into the first three categories. This would include school, work, chores (not that I ever do chores), and basically anything I do that doesn't fall into the other categories. I have often behaved as if schoolwork came ahead of the other levels, but that was only because I was forced to. Fun activities - both organized extra-curricular activities and free time to myself - have always been more important than school.

(Note: I am an introvert, so there is a limit to how much time I want to spend with other people, even though being with close family and friends is my top priority. When I first wrote this priority list several years ago, there were 5 levels:

Level 1: Relationships
Level 2: Central Passion
Level 3: Fun by Myself
Level 4: Fun with Other People
Level 5: Everything Else

In this version, Level 1 only involved maintaining my relationships with my close family and friends, and included staying in touch, being there for people when they needed me, and a lot of talking and sharing intimate secrets. Going out and doing fun things together was Level 4, so an event with friends would have come after my passion and doing something more fun by myself. There was a lot of variance among individual activities within Levels 3 and 4 - it came down to that fact that I preferred to do activities I enjoyed more by myself than activities I enjoyed less with my friends, and I would never do an activity that I didn't really love just to be with friends. The reason for this was that while I was in school, I had more social interaction than I wanted at school alone and hardly ever wanted to see friends outside of school. School was not quality time spent with friends, but it still maxed out my limit on the time I wanted to be with people. I did not have enough alone time. If I were currently in a situation where my friends wanted to see me more often than I wanted to see them and I was saying no to a lot of invitations, I would alter this priority list further to explain when alone time was more important to me than seeing friends. But currently, I have plenty of alone time, which is why any activity with friends falls into the Level 1 category. So, if my friends and I are having a beach party together, that beach party is my number one priority, more important than my writing, more important than anything else I might like to do, and waaaaaaaaayyyyyyy more important that my job, or than schoolwork if I were still in school.)

I have a LOT to say about this priority list, but in this post, I'm going to focus specifically on the issue of meeting new people, and where that falls on the list.

First of all, I want to be clear that Level 1 refers only to close family and friends. It does not include just being social or being around people in a general sense. I do not like just being around people unless I have a relationship with those specific people, so "being social" is nowhere on my priority list because it is not something I am interested in doing.

Then there's the more complicated issue of meeting new people who will potentially become close friends. Again, Level 1 only includes people whom I already have close relationships with. Meeting new people whom I can potentially become friends with ranges from a top priority in Level 3 to a bottom priority in Level 4, depending on whether I'm in a transition state where I "need" to make new friends (like entering a new school), and how much of a bond I feel with a person I've met. For example, when I began high school and began college, making new friends was a much higher priority for me than it normally is, but it was still only at the top of Level 3. The process of meeting new people is not important enough to be at Level 2 and will never ever ever be a part of Level 1. If I feel a bond with someone and want to see them again, I *might* pursue the relationship, but it is still only a top Level 3 priority. I can meet someone new and make friends with them so that spending time with them becomes a Level 1 activity, but until I feel like we're close friends, seeing them will never be a higher priority than the top of Level 3.

(Just to be clear, I don't rank individual people within my close friends. It's just a matter of whether or not we are close friends that determines the priority level, and, while I don't always know where I am on other people's lists, I can tell how I feel about someone based on much I'm interested in hanging out with that person compared to my other choices. If we are already close friends, you are definitely at the top of my list, and that's not going to change.)

Sometimes activities that involve meeting new people are high on my list, but they are high on my list for reasons other than meeting new people. For example, if I am invited to a party where I can meet lots of new people, that party is also an opportunity to be with people who are already my friends (I would have to be friends with someone at the party in order to have been invited in the first place). The amount of time I'll get to spend with my close friends at the party is the biggest deciding factor in how important the party is to me and whether or not I'll go. There's also the fact that I might like the activity that people are doing, such as swimming, dancing, or playing board games. How much I will enjoy the activity itself is the second deciding factor in whether or not I'll go to the party. If I would not have any close friends at the event and the activity itself is not something I really love, I would probably not go. I would much rather stay home and do something by myself than be out meeting new people, if meeting new people is the main thing I'm doing. Now, once I'm at the event, I might end up meeting new people, spend a lot of time talking with them, and eventually become friends. But the potential of that happening would not be a reason for me to leave the house in the first place. That potential is a Level 4 priority since the process of talking to new people is rarely fun. I would need another reason - like seeing close friends or doing a fun activity - for going out to be preferable to staying home.

Now, this might seem strange since you've probably seen me get excited about meeting new people that friends were going to introduce me to. Let me explain why that happens. See, when a close friend of mine wants to introduce me to a close friend of theirs because they think we'll really like each other, that is something that I get really, really excited about. First of all, if a close friend is introducing me to someone new, that means that I'm doing something with my close friend, which automatically puts meeting the new person as a Level 1 priority. If I were meeting the new person without my friend there, I would be much less excited and it would be a Level 3 priority at best. But beyond that, there is something extremely intimate about meeting a new friend through an old friend. I can't quite explain what it is, but if I do click with the new person, I feel an incredibly strong bond not only with them, but with my already-close friend who introduced us. It makes me feel even closer to the close friend who introduced us. It's a bonding ritual with my old friend and the new friend, and it only happens this way if the three of us are all together. Some of my happiest memories with friends do involve on friend introducing me to another friend, because of this intense bonding experience. The potential of this intense bond happening is why I get so excited about meeting new people in this way, and is what makes it a Level 1 priority.

I always refer to the year 2013 as being such a great year for me because I made so many new friends that year. I want to emphasize that the key word in that statement is "friend," not "new." Two of the new friends I made were friends whom I had already known for years, but we really, really connected on a deep level in 2013, became much closer, and started hanging out with each other all the time, rather than just at big group events. One of the people I became closer with that year was already a close friend, but they had been away at school for three years, and we became much closer once we could spend a lot more time together. The two new friends that I met for the first time ever in 2013, I met in very intimate circumstances. We weren't at a party or a big event with lots of other people and stimulation and distractions. We weren't even doing a mellow activity like bowling. We met at our mutual friend's house, and we just talked. We talked and got to know each other for seven and a half hours straight. THAT is the reason that I felt like we were friends after our first meeting with each other, and I immediately wanted to Skype and stay in touch and pursue getting to know each other. If we had met at a big party, or if we were doing an activity together other than just talking, I would not have bonded that quickly because we would not have been talking about as many intimate personal things, and I would have been distracted by the activities or environment. (I'm a one thing at a time kind of person). If we had met in these less intimate circumstances, it definitely would not have been a high priority for me to stay in touch and pursue the friendship. When I meet someone in a setting with more distractions and we don't talk about deep personal stuff right away, I don't usually feel an instant connection to the point that pursuing the friendship is a Level 1 priority. I would need to meet the person several more times before I would feel that close to them, but before we reached that point, other things that I liked to do would come first.

In terms of meeting new people, 2013 did not involve a lot of meeting new people compared to other years of my life, I wasn't in school, I didn't have a job for most of that year, and I had already met all of my boyfriend's mutual friends. It wasn't about meeting lots of people, it was about making friends with a lot of people. The number of people whom I would drop everything to see just soared through the roof that year, and that's what really matters to me.

When I talk about being clingy and latching onto people like bubblegum, I am talking about people whom I am already close with. I am talking about wanting to only do Level 1 activities, which means being with close friends and family. I am not looking to have this kind of relationship with someone I don't know well. When I don't know someone well yet, I have a very large number of things that I would prefer to do before hanging out with them. Most important to note: being lonely does not increase my desire to meet new people. When I am lonely, I want to be with people who are already my friends. I can’t talk about the intimate things I want to talk about with people I don’t know, and I can’t feel warm and cozy and cuddly with people I don’t know. When I'm feeling very, very clingy, I am desiring time with people I am already friends with, and time with other people does nothing for me. If I'm not friends with someone, then I would normally prefer to stay home and do something by myself than go out and hang with them, even if I am lonely at the time.

So, having said all that...

Last summer, we met through a text conversation on Facebook – ONE text chat. We didn't know each other before that. Technically we did meet before, but I have no memory of talking to each other. We chatted for a little bit and seem to have some things in common. You were more excited about me than I was about you. I could see that right away. You felt like we had something deep, while it still felt superficial to me. I linked you to my website, and you wanted to link me to yours but couldn't find the link. Eventually I told you I was heading out of the house and ended the conversation. As I was running out the door to meet my friend, you finally found the link and sent it to me in a Facebook message. I felt my phone buzz and opened the message because I always open messages to see what they are even if I'm not planning to respond at the moment. I was on my way out, and I had already told you I was leaving and was done talking, so I did not respond.

I spent the day with my friend, and we had a very nice time together. When I got home, I was exhausted. I found another long message from you on Facebook, telling me that you felt such a deep connection with me and were glad that we had started talking. I was tired and did not feel like writing out long reply to you. I wanted more time to think about what to say - how to be appreciative while also making it clear that I did not want a boyfriend, and without leading you on to think that I was as excited as you were about being friends. There was also your website, which I hadn't looked through yet. When someone shares something like that with me, I feel like I should put some time into looking at it so that I can give honest, insightful feedback. It was a big task, not like just saying, “Sure, I’ll meet you at the park tomorrow!” I did not feel like doing this on Saturday night, and I had no obligation to. We had only started talking that morning, and I do not assign myself that level of responsibility to people I don't even know. I planned to respond the next day or whenever I got around to it.

The next day I was meeting another close friend. My friend came over to visit me, stayed all day, and we also had a very nice time together. After they left that night, I was exhausted again and just felt like relaxing and doing something by myself. I went to Facebook to read the message again. I was sitting on the couch, debating if I wanted to start looking through the pictures and write a reply, or just relax for the evening, when I got a phone call from our mutual friend. You had called her to say that I was ignoring you. My friend asked if something happened between us. I don't know what you said to her on the phone, but nothing "happened." I had other plans that weekend and I had never said that I would respond to you within any specific amount of time. I NEVER would have spoken to you in the first place if I thought that I'd be entering into some kind of contract that I had to answer within 24 hours. When I went on your Facebook page, there was a message about feeling betrayed because you had been ignored. It sounded like a very deep betrayal, like someone who had known you much longer than the one Facebook conversation we had, someone who actually had some kind of responsibility to you, but it was clearly directed at me.

This was not okay at all. I am a clingy person, and I *do* want to be in constant contact with people who are my close friends, but I am NOT willing to accept any kind of responsibility or obligation to respond to someone who is not a close family member or friend. If a close friend had told me that they were upset that I didn't answer them, I would have explained why I didn't respond, apologized for lot not letting them know that I was busy, and told them that next time I would tell them that I had other plans and let them know when they could expect a response from me. But you were not my friend, and I am not willing to owe this kind of treatment to someone who I don’t even know.

I felt like throwing up when I got that phone call on Sunday night. I was done with you at that point. I honestly never wanted to hear from you again. Honestly. But when I wrote you a Facebook message saying that this would never work for me, you apologized and made it sound like a simple misunderstanding and said that you did still want to be friends. I still didn't want to be friends. My intuition was SCREAMING at me to run the other way. I didn't trust what you said in the message. The reaction to me not answering you fast enough felt more real to me than what you said to try to get me back.

The problem was that I didn't have any good options. My normal response when someone I don't know rubs me the wrong way is to simply not pursue the friendship. I would have been perfectly content not actively pursuing any kind of relationship with you through lots of talking and messages, but still be friendly to each other at big group events and have fun together. But you didn't give me that option. With you, I either had to be friends, or else I was doing something really horrible to you and we were going to be enemies. Since we had mutual friends, I didn't want to be enemies. I also assumed that I would come out looking like the bad guy for ditching you after one teensy-weensy incident that you could easily play off as a misunderstanding, and, having not yet thought deeply about my priorities in relation to loneliness and meeting new people, I thought I'd look like an idiot ditching you for clinging to me when I was constantly announcing my own clinginess to everyone I knew. So I figured the better choice was to try to be friends. But I didn't really want to be.

You wanted to meet me very badly. I didn't care much about hanging out with you. Remember, we weren't close friends, and I didn't feel a click with you, so seeing you was a Level 4 priority, meaning that almost anything else I liked to do was more important to me than meeting you. But you wanted it very badly, and I felt like you were going to keep asking and asking until I agreed to hang out. I don't feel comfortable going on and on forever making up excuses about being busy. I agreed to meet you on the upcoming Sunday at the mall, not because I was excited to meet you, but because it felt like something I had to squeeze into my schedule at some point, and I wanted to do it on a day when I didn't have any specific plans, rather than tying up a perfectly good beach party day in the future.

So we met at the mall and talked for a long time. I told you that I did not want a boyfriend and that I didn't see us being compatible anyway and that I didn't think of you in that way. I didn't see any change in your behavior or how much you wanted me to like you after informing you of this.

I know you felt something really deep. And maybe it seemed like I felt that way too because I was being nice and listening to you. But that's the thing - I was listening. I didn't feel like you were listening to me. I didn't feel like our conversation had a basis in reality.

When I really like someone's writing, or something that they’ve done, I’ll talk to them about that thing and tell them specifically what I liked about it. That's what you do when you actually like something. That's what it means to have a "deep" conversation about something. Repeating the fact that you are a deep person who appreciates deep things such as my writing, while saying nothing about the writing, is not a deep conversation. It's pseudo-deep. It's trying to be deep, but it's not. It's probably one of the most superficial conversations I've ever had. More superficial even than the college conversations about people wearing spandex, because at least that's grounded in reality. At least people had consistent opinions about whether or not they thought it was okay to wear spandex.

Sometimes if you don’t know someone well, or you're not stopping to talk for a very long time, you might say something simple like, “That’s cool that you love to draw!” or “That’s awesome that you write your own songs!” without talking about these thing more in depth. That's fine. But when it came to you “liking” my writing, your enthusiasm was that of someone who had a lot to say about it, but “It’s cool that you write so much!” was the extent of it. And the fact that you are a deep person who appreciates such things. I didn't understand how you could be so enthusiastic about my writing and not have a single word to say about anything specific that I had written. This scared me a little bit. It made me wonder if you even understood what I was writing about, or if you were just blindly obsessed with me, without regard to anything that I was actually telling you. I saw us being completely incompatible, but you didn't seem to notice that most of the things I wrote about were directly against your views. I predicted that this would all come crashing down once reality hit and you actually stopped to notice what I was writing about. I predicted it long before it happened.

When I say that our conversation had no basis in reality, I mean that I might say, “My favorite color is pink.”
You’d say, “Wow that is awesome! I love people who love pink, and I really can’t stand all these people who like blue. My last girlfriend liked blue and it really bothered me, so it’s great to meet someone who loves pink.”
Then I’d say, “Actually, I love blue as well. Blue is my second favorite color, and pink and blue together is my favorite color combination."
Then you would say, “See, that is just awesome! I can’t believe I met someone like you who likes blue!”

This may seem like a silly conversation, but it was honestly scaring me. I felt like things were going to turn very bad once you came to terms with reality. I kept throwing everything I could at you so you'd realize how incompatible we were. I told you I was a hedonist who was just out to have fun and that my life goal is to be untamable. I told you I had a sex blog and later sent you the direct link. I threw every anvil I could think of at you in an attempt to shatter that warped glass you were looking through when you saw me, but nothing I said got through. Nothing. I tried everything.

And the strange thing was, it didn't even feel like a warped perception of me. It was like, when you spoke to me, you forgot your own views. You forgot what you were about. You claimed to think everything I said was awesome, but I kept replaying what you were writing on your own Facebook wall and thinking no, this can't be right, you can't possibly think this is awesome.

Most of us go along with things we disagree with just to be nice sometimes, but to quote Arthur, you don’t quirt and entire strawberry milkshake out your nose just to be polite. It's one thing to say, "Oh, cool," when someone tells you they're doing something that you don't agree with, but it's another to go on about how it's so awesome and you're so glad to have met someone who does that thing. It’s one thing to go along with something when you’re physically with someone because you don’t have a choice not to respond, but it's another to *like* Facebook posts you don't agree with or write long responses to things that you don't even mean.

Most of us have some cognitive dissonance where our crushes are concerned, but it's one thing to say, "I’m neat and you’re messy, but I love you, so I’m going to tell myself that it won't matter without really thinking about what it will be like to live with you." That I can understand. What I don't understand is how you can go on and on and on on your own  Facebook wall about how being neat is the most important thing in your life, and in the same day - often within the same hour - *like* my posts about not only being messy, but actively trying to be messy, and trying to shut down anyone who pushes people to be neat. How can you believe so deeply in being neat, but also write me comments about how great it is that my life goal is to make the world into one big mess. It just didn't make sense, and it always scared me. It scared me because I knew the illusion had to shatter at some point. And yet it was a strong illusion. Nothing I threw at you had any effect. It scared me how powerful the illusion was and how devastating I knew it would be when it finally shattered. I was scared that whatever feelings resulted from the illusion being shattered would be directed at me, even though I was trying to break the illusion from the start.

Referring back to my priority list, I never felt like you were a close friend. Since I didn't feel a true connection with you, seeing you would be a Level 4 priority for me, even if nothing else were wrong. But things were wrong.

If a close friend called me a bad name on purpose, I would be willing to let them apologize and hear what they had to say. But when I get called a bad name on only my fifth or sixth interaction with someone, I am done with them. Meeting up with someone I didn't click with is not any kind of priority for me anyway, even if absolutely nothing is wrong, so there is absolutely no reason that I would pursue a friendship with someone I don't know when one of our earliest interactions involves them calling me and one of my friends a hurtful name on purpose, which can in no way be misconstrued as you just being in a bad mood that day because you weren't even fighting with me.

This only lasted a month, but you decided to ditch friends who've been your friends for three years and six years. For the record, no one was taking sides. I didn't talk about this problem with our mutual friends until after you started treating them badly. I kept most of this private for the sake of your friendship. I never even told our friends what you called me. I never pushed anyone to stop being friends with you.

That night when you were upset that I didn't answer you right away and my gut told me that I didn't want to be friends with you - if you and I had didn't have any mutual friends at the time, I would have cut off contact and never talked to you again after that incident. The only reason I tried to pursue a friendship with you was because you and I had the same best friends. You didn't leave me the option of just being on good terms, and I didn't want to create a conflict for other people by being enemies. But more so than that, something told me that I shouldn't be treating a best friend of a best friend like some random creep. Something told me that I owed you a second chance because you must have been a good friend to my good friends. But I was wrong about that. The next time my intuition is screaming at me, I'm gonna listen.