What I learned in 2012

Every year has its lessons. Rather than look at the big events, here lie smaller lessons that make direct changes in human interaction, or at least in routine thoughts.

A photo of a pizza with peppers
A photo of a pizza with peppers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The pizza test

Jezebel’s 2012 rant “Fuck You People that Don’t Understand How to have a Good Conversation” could well have been written by me – the only major difference is where I’d place the f-bombs.

Narcissism happens in almost every country that serves pizza. Not sure why the two cultural phenomena pair, but pair they do like anchovies to pepperoni. The problem of utterly unempathic, self-involved people trapping me with their monologues has followed me from hellish family dinners with my sister ((there is no dinner conversation wherein one sibling in any way needs to know the penis size of the other sibling’s boyfriend let alone over mom’s really bland cooking)) well into adult life. A recent encounter with two such people in the same very small room also revealed a fantastic way of screening for this behavior: bring up pizza.

Food makes for an easy conversation topic – and pizza is a surprisingly revealing one. First of all, everyone in the US has a food thing. I thought I had food allergies for a long time – and a lot of people really do. It’s easy to go on about all those digestive, allergic complications. You can reveal yourself – or over- reveal by monopolizing conversation with a list of your ills.

Veganism, vegetarianism, gluten-free choices all come up. The favorite food in the US? Still pizza. With this topic of food complications and America’s favorite food we can reveal ourselves to each other while sharing something that usually has at least one pleasant and one unpleasant story attached to it. The range runs wide: beloved neighborhood pizza joints, gluten free crust recipes, weird toppings, the way Italian pizza in no way resembles American pizza – it’s all there. For people with relatively functional empathy and listening skills this makes for an easy ice-breaker conversation.

My first encounter with narcissist pizza fail: I mentioned a pizza joint in my own neighborhood. The narcissist frowned. “Oh, I don’t know the neighborhoods that well.”

A person able to talk about something other than him or herself would mention a favorite pizza place from childhood, crust styles, anything. An engaging/curious person might have asked questions about the pizzeria I’d mentioned. But this was a narcissist. She made it about what she did or didn’t know, and made it clear that like most narcissists, she has no curiosity.

This person could only talk about a subject in terms of herself and her worldview, so much so that she could not handle not controlling a conversation about pizza.

From there, she dug herself many a hole in other ways, and that’s a story under a lock on my Livejournal. Perhaps in a year I’ll trot that out – this year it violates my snark policy.

 

Verbal fluency does not equal social fluency

This lesson doesn’t apply until sometime after age 25. First of all, the frontal lobe has not developed fully. So until age 25-27 a person who can use words to communicate effectively really does have a social advantage. After that age, it’s mistaken for an indicator of social ability based on rules that no longer apply because of aging biology. I think a lot of people are finding relationships derailed in some crazy way because the person “seems intelligent” but ultimately lacks necessary emotional intelligence.

This disaster repeated so often in the past ten years that I actually went so far as to check out those embarrassing books on pop-psychology, friendship, body language/kinesics and emotional intelligence. Even though my degree should have covered this ((I minored in speech communication with emphasis on intercultural and nonverbal communications)) I went back and read up. Boy was there a lot I didn’t know, and a lot of stuff taught me proven wrong or just outdated. Society’s body language has morphed. There was stuff I’d forgotten along with rules that have changed because of the uptick in autism and the additional distancing of electronic communication. Also, because the vast majority of my online friendships become real-world friendships my experience is almost the complete opposite of what people have come to expect from Internet formed relationships.

No matter how socially fluent you think you already are, it’s a good idea to update those skills at least once a year. If I knew a good blog to follow on the subject, I’d recommend it.

English: Diane von Fürstenberg at the Vanity F...
English: Diane von Fürstenberg at the Vanity Fair party celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Diane von Furstenberg, an unexpected guru

“A woman can do it all, she just can’t do it all at once.” I so get it now.

 

Empathy

Empathy is not innate to many of us but to some extent it can be learned. My big problem with teaching empathy is that in most cases, we focus only on teaching them to male partners who go into “fix it” mode. ((This also contributes to the myth that women’s brains operate in ways different from men’s – they don’t. The weird frontal lobe difference is an operation system for our reproductive hormones. Beyond that, we still get to the same math answers the same way. We still recognize bullshit. We still feel social pressures to buy into bullshit, like the idea that male and female brains are wildly different.)) While this is common, this is a way men have been taught to demonstrate empathy. This means there’s a lot more women running around minus empathy who can hide this violence-creating flaw behind female-assigned social norms.

At this point in my life, the friends I want already practice empathy. My broken friendships over the years all have either a complete absence of empathy or a certain selective-memory hypersensitivity that amounts to refusing empathy to others. I have no room for that anymore. I shouldn’t have to explain, at my age, why “My father died,” should NOT be followed with, “Can I have his stuff?” or why introducing me with “This is Diana, she’s a total witch!” is a dick move no matter who I’m being introduced to. (Yes, this is a public blog – read by about ten people a week. So the public knowledge argument pretty much fails – outing someone sans permission is shitty. I have fucked up and done that and learned not to.)

We don’t just have taboos on discussing divorce. We also have taboos on discussing ended friendships and making friends over 30.

There’s some good stuff that came out that makes it clear that I am not in some way broken, that the short relationships are as normal as I thought they were, and that I am far from alone in these concerns.

The New York Times article on friendship over 30 spoke to a lot of my own wounds. I also voraciously consumed MWF seeks BFF and What Did I do Wrong? almost as soon as I knew these books existed.

I am coming to accept that I am to taboos what a bull is to a China shop.

 

Time – still an inert force in our linear understanding, no miracle healing powers within

Time does not heal all wounds. Work heals wounds. Time is necessary to do the work of healing. Time is the room where the tools are stored – it is not a tool itself.

 

The Information Diet

While I consider Clay Johnson’s diet analogy an unfortunate example of the very confirmation bias against which he rails, the concept itself proved valuable to me this year. I’ve read less news, ignored more squabbles in Pagan and fan communities, and have kept more of my own headspace free. Not only am I getting better at realizing I need to slow down and get all the facts before I form an opinion, by consuming less media I’m doing a better job of just that.

As a corollary lesson, a lot of people are quite conscious of their confirmation bias and in some situations visually and verbally cling to it. This is especially true in how people want to view romantic relationships – I’ve seen some interesting, very narrow reactions in response to the book I’m writing on divorce. The reactions only confirm that the divorce rates likely aren’t going down anytime soon – few people are prepared for the self-honesty necessary to either make a marriage work or to put off getting married until all frontal lobes involved have properly cooked.

 

Writing a book – definitely as hard as I thought it would be.

I’m far from a perfectionist, so even with my at-times lax attitude, boy howdy has this last year been a lot of work. I had expected to have the book to my publisher in June. It’s almost January and I’m only now getting it to the point where I’m willing to let an editor look at it. The documentary I initially pitched also looks like a possible no-go because people are so weird about marriage and romantic failure.

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