By and large, I think that I’m a better person than I used to be. With age and experience comes wisdom, temperance, and understanding. Beyond simple experience, I married someone that brings out my better qualities and whose strengths are often my weaknesses and compel me to become stronger. I’ve learned many of the errors of my ways and am more open than ever before about being perceptive of the errors that I am making now. I look at the ways that I used to see the world and I just shake my head. Sometimes I wonder of course if the me that I become ten years from now does the same.
Despite firmly believing the above, I sometimes wonder what I lost along the way. Yes, I lost my destructive temper, but I’ve also lost a lot of my passion. I’ve become more understanding of shades of gray, of other points of view, and of life’s ambiguity in general… but I can’t always find my ability to just call a situation as I see it. I’ve learned to change, though I sometimes don’t know exactly where my core is.
In the end, I am better than I used to be. Just not in every way.
One of the aspects of myself that I lost periodically teleports into my mind and waves at me. I remember when my best friend Clint and my then-girlfriend Julie first talked about me, one of the things that they mentioned and agreed upon was how expressive my face was. What they meant — at least what I think they meant — was that I had the ability to make a face that would almost perfectly sum up a situation or at least my role in it. An “oops, sorry!” face or a “what are you talking about?” face.
I don’t think that I really do that anymore and I’m not really sure when I stopped. I’ve learned to laugh and to smile — two things I often forgot how to do when I was younger — and many other more conventional American (perhaps human) expressions, but I guess they came at the expense of my ability to do those things that were purely me. It makes me think a bit of how I used to sing atrociously… but now have mostly stopped singing altogether.
I guess as we grow up (in the earliest stages, anyway) we learn to become self-conscious. We become more aware of how others perceive us and why it matters how they do. We find out that our individuality is misinterpreted as arrogance, goofiness, social retardation, or worse.
For my part, maybe one of the contributing factors is that I found out how awful it is to try to be funny and fail. If I had to guess, I’d guess that I learned it from my former roommate Hubert. It used to be that when Hugh was in a group, he’d “turn it on” as my friends and I would say. He would try to become the center of attention. The funny guy. The entertaining guy. The guy that everyone wanted to talk to. Sometimes it worked. He had the ability to frequently make a great first impression. When Clint or I would say something negative about him, they’d ask “What do you mean?” Within a few months, they’d be rolling their eyes with us.
Hugh and I, it’s worth noting, had a lot in common. We were both smart but socially inexperienced, hot-tempered but sometimes eerily quiet, introverted but with the desire to be liked, expressive but contemplative, reflective but utterly oblivious to certain aspects of ourselves, and many other things. One of the reasons that our lives became so inexplicably intertwined was that we saw a fair amount of ourselves in one another whether we liked it or not. Sometimes it lead to rivalries that brought out the worst in us (his victory was my loss and vice-versa) or the accentuation of our differences that put us at one another’s throats. Years later, it’s one of the reasons that despite our tumultuous history he’s become of the easiest people for me to talk to despite my previous belief that it would never happen.
When he and I were living together, I watched him alienate everyone around us. He was going through a rough patch with his college fund drying up, his mother getting a divorce, and a change in majors. He was pretty depressed and tried to mask it my ramping up his extroversion. So when he was in a bad mood he was fuming or loudly sulking. When he was in a good mood he was purely manic… and we were waiting for the shoe to drop. He would try to be funny and we were all too uncomfortable to see the humor in it.
I mention all of this because as I watched him socially self-destruct I know that a part of me resolved never to let that happen. Remember what I said about accentuating differences. That’s totally what I did. I could write a post on this subject alone, but I think a part of me resolved to simply become not-Hubert. I can’t say with any certainty that it was out of this motivation that I started becoming a lot more stone-faced. The timing coincides, though it also coincides with the rocky start of my tenure with Evangeline wherein I had to play every card I had as close to my chest as possible to the point that I’d forget what kind of hand I was holding.
At any rate, it was sometime around then that I “learned” not to let them see you try if you’re not sure you can succeed. Don’t tell a joke unless you know that it’s funny or you know that they won’t think less of you if it isn’t. Don’t draw attention to yourself and how you feel. Go with. Go with.
There’s certainly utility in not drawing excessive attention to yourself and being aware of how something might be misinterpreted or giving yourself away. After all, I recently had a job interview wherein my ability to put so much of what I was really thinking and feeling aside quite possibly landed me the job.
On the other hand, I don’t have to worry about the dating games anymore because I’m married. Those that choose to be in my life socially have obviously made the decision that they like me enough to stick around. I don’t live in fear of being disliked or disregarded (though of course, like everyone, I do want to be liked). My self-esteem, howevermuch it may suffer from certain blindspots, is not the black hole that it once was.
I wonder if this is the sort of thing that can be changed. Seems likely that it can be. I remember on dates post-Evangeline and pre-Clancy where I was oddly able to fake being my more expressive self when I determined it might be effective. If I can fake being engaging in the more conventional way (and I can, though not as well as can a person to whom it comes more naturally of course), surely I can fake being engaging in my previous unconventional way until it comes back to me.
Anyway, food for thought.