When you’re in a relationship of any stripe (business, personal, intimate, etcetera) and the other person arbitrarily and without notice changes the rules of your engagement, to my mind that gives you license to change the terms as well, or at least to renegotiate them. Maybe you’d like to make a few changes your own damn self. I have found though, that the others don’t typically see it this way. They seem oblivious to the reality that their action doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that you might see their behavior as an opening or opportunity for a reciprocal move. They will act surprised and inconvenienced even if it’s said to them just as I have here.
I just finished reading In the Land of Men: A Memoir by Adrienne Miller, an account of the writer’s time as the very young literary fiction editor at Esquire, which coincided with her professional and intimate relationship with writer David Foster Wallace. “DFW” was ten years her senior and already famous, and Miller’s account paints him as brilliant, deeply troubled and misogynistic, even if she doesn’t use those exact words.
Although it isn’t framed that way, I came away believing that Miller wanted both Foster Wallace’s desire and his approval. She doesn’t reveal much about their sexual relationship but I got the idea his desire was more readily available than was his approval. While a ten year age difference isn’t always germaine to power dynamics, it usually is when one is in their twenties and the other in their thirties. I think Miller wanted David Foster Wallace, the famous, genius writer – who people were falling over themselves to “court” – to validate her intellect, to find her, a woman, worthy. (That she was young, tall, slim, and attractive, she never addresses as undoubtedly being of significant interest to him, certainly as much as her considerable intellect and conversational skills, which seems either short-sighted or deliberately obtuse on her part. The man comes across as an admitted horn-dog, despite the author’s efforts to share his sweet, vulnerable side.)
Quite awhile ago I knew a man whose approval I wanted. It was only after I got it that I realized it wasn’t worth having. It was a lesson I won’t forget quickly. I do not believe, as some say, that only our own approval is necessary in this life, but I damn sure believe if you want approval, you best do everything you can to first learn if it’s worth having.
Do you ever think less of someone after you see or meet their spouse, significant other, or partner? I do. I’m equal opportunity judgmental, thinking to myself, “You married her?” or “That’s your boyfriend?”
There are those who KNOW their partner is bad news so they apologize for the person or try to mitigate the other person’s behavior. It doesn’t help, not really.
Who a person has chosen to share their life with speaks volumes, revealing what they value and how they see themselves, among other things. It influences their life’s trajectory. I bear this in mind myself.
This week I was thinking about my recent interactions with people, some nice, some not so nice. I thought, on the one hand, there’s thoughtful, sensitive people, and on the other, there’s pushy, self-centered people. These were the two terms or labels that came to mind. I’ve given it a bit of further thought and in my time I can’t recall anyone I’ve known who was both, that is, sensitive & thoughtful AND pushy & self-centered. They seem like two poles on a continuum. Maybe a rare individual could theoretically harbor stripes of both personalities but it seems unlikely. Thoughtfulness and pushiness are such opposites. One seems to cancel out the other and if someone was sensitive half the time, say, and self-centered the other half, well, I’d start to suspect they had a personality disorder and that’s not what I’m considering here. (I’m also not contemplating when someone has the occasional “off” day or when a person acts “out of character” once in awhile.)
I realized though, that my two distinctions aren’t really the two poles. the two poles are further apart. Here’s what I imagined instead:
I’m not religious, hence the quotes on “SAINT” but I think most of us have a shared idea of what a “saint” is, someone of exemplary character who lives their life to the highest standards, basically a person whose existence makes the rest of us look bad in our shabby, little lives.😁 I have never personally met a “saint.” I do believe, as I have discussed on occasion in this blog, that sociopaths exist, and I do believe I met at least one in my life ( I expect that I probably encountered more but ran for the hills rather than stick around and confirm it). That said, I’ve met far more narcissists, a category I’d place somewhere in between “pushy, self-centered person” and “sociopath” on my simple line graph.
I don’t believe I’m exactly making earth-shattering discoveries here but rather that I’m not sure I’ve thought about people and personality types in quite this way before. It’s a useful way to consider people to me. I need to consider, or perhaps remember, when I encounter pushy, self-centered people, where they are on my own little line graph. It’s not insignificant that they fall closer to sociopath than saint. I’d like it if ALL my dealings were with people on the LEFT side of my continuum but I realize that’s beyond my control. However, when I DO have a say in it, that’s the side I want to pick from.
It’s not like I hold a grudge. Give me two, or twenty years, and I might get over it.