Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Love in a Sad, Sad World

After several stupid humor-oriented entries, lacking in inspiration for topics otherwise, it's time to pull out a topic I've meant to muse on for a while now. Earlier in the fall, some vlogger on Youtube drew attention to it, and the GBS forum posters on Something Awful asked themselves the question posed by Miranda July's short film, Are You the Favorite Person of Anybody? (And yes, that is John C. Reilly, Dewey Cox himself.)

It's an interesting question to pose, and for many people, it's depressing as hell. Anyone would like to think that they at least measure up as somebody's favorite. But in this day and age, many aren't any such a person to anybody. In realizing that they aren't anyone's favorite, the next question is inevitable: Does anybody even love me? That question often does not have a particularly cheery answer either. You have to think about why this is. And if you aren't anyone's favorite person, if you aren't loved, it can leave you feeling rather deflated and insignificant. And the question is posed of how you can be sure of any of these things one way or another. In some cases, you can ask. But in most, it isn't that clearcut. Many people - especially in the western world these days - are not quick to announce attachment. I know I'm not. Attachment is often perceived and portrayed as a weakness. Especially if it isn't mutual. And making one's attachment to another public? Through doing such a thing, you expose a vulnerability. People can and will take advantage of your vulnerability. They will hurt you. Not always, and not necessarily. But chances of it happening are very good - especially if the feeling isn't mutual. The more you like - or even love - someone, the more attached to them you are, the easier it is for them to cause you pain.

Love - really being in love with someone - is difficult to explain in words. For as long as there have been means to write, people have tried to find ways to sum it up. But no matter how you look at it, words cannot do justice the experience of being in love with someone. But most people are not acquainted with this love. They may think that they are, but they're not. This is especially the case with young people, who do not yet realize what love is (And obviously, I am not claiming to be any sort of master of or expert in the subject myself, but at least, I think I've got the right idea - that I'm on the general right track here. Even if I'm probably not headed anywhere good or happy, judging by my usual fortune, anyway.), bandying the word about freely and draining it of meaning. To many young people, a relationship amounts to this - having someone you consider your girlfriend or boyfriend, hanging out with them a good bit, and having sex. Sound dull, empty, and listless? Of course it does, as that's exactly what it is. These relationships often do not last, though some end up turning into loveless marriages - especially when an unintended pregnancy becomes a factor, with all the social stigma placed on abortion.

Many people - the young people especially, obviously - don't know what it is to really connect with someone. To feel a spark with them, to experience chemistry, sitting down with someone, having a really interesting conversation, looking into their eyes, and it's magic. The "in" thing? It's being shallow. Not that this is anything new. Shallowness has been a predominant factor in youth culture for a long time. And in our increasingly over-commercialized, materialism-happy culture (And it's only getting worse, without exaggerating. This is a very observable trend.), the shallow is infecting everybody, little by little. Attachment bad! Sleeping with a hot person good! But if you get close to anybody, attachment is pretty unavoidable. College kids hook up because that's just what's done in college - meaningless sex by the boatload. (Or so shallow popular culture has glamorized and pushed as a major linchpin of the college experience. Personally, I passed.) But people are not creatures that can exist alone. We naturally, instinctually seek connections, relationships, with emotional depth to fulfill us. We are woefully incomplete creatures by nature, and without others, we inevitably crumble. (A reality I admit hating having to face, isolated as I tend to be.) After having your cheesy awkward college hook-up sex enough times, unless you have some sort of emotional disorder preventing it, you will inevitably begin to feel attachment to a person. Dude! Stop acting like a chick! That pretty face you liked seeing on her knees is suddenly someone you begin to miss when they're gone. Even if you have little to no chemistry as individuals. Humans are often far lonelier creatures than they realize. Naturally, this only impels them to seek a deeper relationship with others further, as there are distinct limitations to what one can gain from family and friends, painful though a realization that too can be.

No doubt one of the most pleasant things in the world would be to be someone's favorite person - especially if they are yours - and even more so, were you in love with one another. But you still have to think through just what this means, lest it mean nothing, considering how many use the L-word without much thought behind it. Do you bestow your favoritism unconditionally? Do you even love unconditionally? These days, many call out unconditional feelings as damned unfavorable - something to be condemned. And to an extent, they're right, unconditional love, for someone to be your favorite with no strings attached, is absolutely foolish. But without the fools, would not the last of the romance in our already vastly unromantic modern world die off completely? Love - and favoritism - with strings attached seems entirely questionable in and of itself, conversely. Call me the biggest of the fools if you'd like, but I'd call any conditional love into question. Love should come naturally from within, flowing outward and consuming you with its warmth. The sort of feeling that can't come with sets of means by which to immediately kill it completely. It'd be stressful to no end to be someone's proclaimed "favorite" if recognized on some sort of sliding scale where all it'd take is saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong moment to fall from favor. I've harped on it before, but it bears harping upon once more - there's no barometer for one's feelings for someone quite like your capacity for sympathy and forgiveness.

Over at Cracked, David Wong's written an article worth reading as well, "7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable." He discusses, and articulates well, various aspects of the modern world that are only leading to people becoming more and more isolated - I don't need to exaggerate when noting the increasing loneliness of people in this world - I am a part of a pretty damn well documented trend, myself. Studies've even found that roughly one in four people have no one to confide in these days. Telling, that's for sure. And as he notes early on, in the past 20 years, the average number of close friends people consider themselves as having has dropped sharply. Hell, I can believe it. I can probably count my close friends on one hand these days. Maybe even with a finger or two amputated.

Technology's a major culprit in this trend. I know it certainly has been in my case, given that everything just feels off if I'm separated from my PC, there's so much of myself - my thoughts, feelings - recorded on this machine. Far more than I've ever given to other people in my life. Hooray introversion. As he hits on first, tech has certainly made it easier to filter people out of our reality. Keeping a CD player, iPod, or game system on you when you're out and about is a surefire way to discourage human interaction, save for those whom you actively seek to interact with, anyway. (And I don't know if I could could make that sound any more mechanical than I already have here now. Let's talk human-human interfacing! Pardon me, would you care to exchange data!?) We aren't as thick-skinned as we once were. It's not so easy to connect with one another - let alone really meet anybody - when we can't even deal with strangers so well anymore, with all that entails. Being out and about more in college, this was admittedly something I had to adapt to. I'm no small talk prodigy, and I'm sure I never will be, but at least at this point in my life, I know how to develop a repoire with a stranger I may have to deal with consistently - as I did with clerks in all the little stores, food areas, and the post office on campus, in addition to a few classmates here and there who opted to talk to me one day or another. It's pretty sad when people are starting to need to relearn how to deal with strangers. But I find it's best to assume they feel just as awkward striking up random conversation, even if they don't, and try to sympathize with them, even if you don't exactly "click" or anything like that. And it can't be stressed enough - don't be an asshole just because someone's unexpectedly trying to communicate with you! You're still human!

The internet allows us to filter our social circles more as well, with people who share our tastes and interests just a few clicks away. 'Sup, guys? You like forehead-needlepoint too? Hardcore! Screw all those other people. Goodbye variety! I'm fortunate, at least, that despite a number of mutual hobbies and interests as the geeks we are, that my circle of friends from college was pretty diverse overall, and we didn't cut ourselves off from people who weren't much like ourselves, just as I didn't when taking classes and meeting new people. It's all important experiences to have, even if you don't end up making lifelong friends or anything. Genuine lifelong friends are hard to come by in this day and age anyway. Best to enjoy people's company while you can. Odds are, your time with them is limited. But I've harped on this before as well.

Yes, "ZOMG THISE IS AWSUM LULZ" is not high communication either. Chatting online, texting on cell phones, these sorts of methods of communication are replacing, in large part, that good old sitting-down-and-talking thing people used to do, back in the days of yore. 93% of communication is non-verbal. Most of us, stuck in our technology as we are, are only getting 7% of what we really need as human beings in terms of communication much of the time. As such, we're only getting the dumbed down version of communication, connections, and so forth here in cyberspace. It's hard not to long for the experience of real conversation (With someone outside of my family, anyway.) with someone, to be able to sit there and get the whole experience. The internets, they are a cold, cold place.

Without this sort of experience, this sort of connection with someone, odds are you won't ever get comfortable enough to truly be completely open and honest with each other - especially about the bad stuff. As Wong gets into better than I am here, we all need criticism. Someone to sit us down and tell us when we're being stupid, maybe slap us around a little with a frozen trout for good measure, knowing that it isn't going to wreck your friendship or anything. Criticism can't be emphasized enough, both in the capacity of being able to take it as much as you can dish it out. But people are getting more thin-skinned. They aren't connecting like they once did in real life, let alone online. And overestimating when it's safe to criticize someone you consider a close friend, when you have something to say that they really do need to hear, can be easy to do these days, sadly. I've been burned badly for trying to help someone that way. As is made obvious by this blog, I am a master of all that is rambling. And often, this comes off as lecturing. I try not to talk down to anyone, as I sure as hell am not better than anybody else. But the difference between talking down to someone and merely rambling too much can be difficult to discern. In part, of course, thanks to that it's hard to tell how someone is exactly communicating when all you're going on is internet text.

People are unhappy. Frequently depressed. Negative feelings feed on further negative feelings. And the internet is, far more often than not, a thoroughly negative environment. Enough said.

Our self worth drops as we become more and more digitized, as there's less depth to online friendships. Less expectations from one another. We mean less to one another, and so, all things considered, we really are much more worthless in that capacity. Self-esteem is lower and lower on average, and suicide rates are on the upswing while we desperately try to push self-esteem on people when they can't develop it when you just tell them to have self-esteem, confidence, and all. That only makes them feel worse. It's all about doing things for others worth noting. Actually striving to be a good person, not just a neutral one. To be likable for a reason, and not just for the sake of wanting to be liked. Whatever it yields, positive or negative, I'm going to finish this book I'm dedicating to the woman I've been in love with for all these years, and I'm going to get it published if it kills me. I'm not expecting anything for it, and I don't think I deserve anything for it either. But it's the grandest gesture I could ever figure out to make for someone, whether it falls flat on its face or succeeds in meaning something. It's all about the attempt - making the gesture for the sake of making the gesture, regardless of whether I reach her heart and she ever feels anything for me like what I feel for her, or I only touch her heart just enough that she knows how loved she is, and nothing comes of it. It's all about breaking out of the daily melodrama and misery and living life. Doing something for someone you care about.

People, however, rarely take the healthy, honest approach to facing these issues. Instead, we see things often as sad as people seeking out cheesy-bad internet advice on how to get women. Even when written by women, it seems to always be black and white, shallow and oversimplified, and harping on the same old theme - be confident! But most people aren't confident. Those who genuinely are? More likely than not, they're pretty damn dense. Confidence does not flow well with thinking through what you do. With questioning yourself. Which is certainly important to do as a person. It's far too easy to be overconfident when faking it. And that's not attractive. But at best, that's all confidence really does - attracts someone. Confidence and charisma only go so far if you're looking for more than just a bed-partner for the night at a local bar or club. These things are not the meat of who you are, after all. And if they are, then there just isn't that much to you, sadly.

It's a conundrum - love, attachment, and all that comes with it in this modern world. If you're someone's favorite person, don't take it for granted. And don't take them for granted, whatever you do. I'm certain that I'm nobody's favorite person. My family loves me, sure, and that's cool, but we're fairly disjointed and dysfunctional in our own ways. I'm thankful for that in my own twisted way, as I don't consider myself all that close with my family overall either. I may still live at home - though I won't for too much longer - but I'm off in my own world most of the time, alone. I don't think I've ever been anyone's favorite person. But if I have, I always gave them a reason to change their minds. I, however, do have a favorite person, as I've mentioned her in here before often enough. I haven't spoken with her in a couple of years now, and am sadly stuck facing the question of whether I'll ever be able to tell her that she's my favorite person, after years of missed connections and no clue if we'll ever see each other again. Losing her is my biggest regret in life. And this book, the gesture I'm making with it and the long-standing feelings I'm finally giving a voice, it is my absolute effort to reach out to her. To speak to her, and to her heart, in hopes that she'll yet see the book on a library or bookstore shelf, read it, and in the least know how much I've loved her all long, and how much I miss her now. Even if, for all I know, I'm long gone and it's far too late by the time she finds out about it. This is my grand, foolish attempt at romance. Where for all I know, it's probably not wanted. Not from the likes of a fool like me, anyway.

Hopefully all of this made some modicum of sense. I'm going to sleep. I need to get up in a few hours to start my Xmas shopping.


Rose said...

So that was by far the best piece of writing that I've read on here. Truly spectacular beyond words.

You have managed to put into words feelings I have struggled to put into words myself. The feeling of being loved is, I'm sure, the best feeling in the world. And the fact that a person could go through life never feeling like they have been loved is one of the most tragic facts of our world today.

Thanks for showing me that being eloquent and breathtakingly honest in writing is still possible in today's world.

Tamahome No Miko said...

weird thing is... the only other personality type I checked out besides mine *ENFP* was yours ^^ *coincidence* nah I don't believe in those, it's called... FATE ! ^_^

I loved your blog, want me to design it up for you ?

I love your way of writing, I can see my own feelings in some, altough, I think from my heart ^^

Benjamin Fennell said...

I'm glad this entry at least drew a little notice, late as I am to reply to comments.

Thank you, Rose. I put a great deal of effort into this one - it was not easy writing, to be sure - so I'm really glad to see it touch someone. It's always a challenge, getting myself into the mindset to write like this, since I have to be willing to make myself feel at least somewhat vulnerable, particularly when it comes to reflecting on my past at all. And that's never easy to do. Love is rough. I'm in my own rather hopeless situation as is, with no expectations that my novel will necessarily touch - let alone help to win - her heart. But I have to try. I'm definitely in a strange, transitional period in my life at the moment as is - as most are, getting into their mid-20s. Everyone who goes is generally done with college by then, so it's either time to adapt to the working world or head off to grad school. The nature of relationships definitely changes by then as well, it seems. In the late teens and early twenties, the hook-up seems to be the ideal - less emphasis on emotional connection and meaningful relationships, more on physical gratification without attachments. People seem to start moving away from that by their mid-20s, not being quite as young anymore and realizing that. So there seems to be a lot more lasting relationships forming then, sort of that median starting point where a lot of people start getting married. It's an odd feeling, having married friends at this age when I still haven't had a single relationship that wasn't a disaster. Kind of depressing, really. Makes you even more acutely aware of how few real connections we make as human beings, how precious those connections are, and the importance of valuing and holding onto them. Which is certainly part of what my book is about. "Coming of age" is such a cliche. I think of writing on matters like these as more "coming to terms with the additional complexities and difficulties of the adult world that coming of age stories don't tend to focus on so much." That odd space in young adulthood where you've really taken that first huge leap away from teenagerhood, post-college.

Haha wow. Definitely always nice to meet an ENFP, Tamahome no Miko. NF personality types seem to get along particularly well, despite the introversion/extroversion gap, I've observed. I'm really glad you took a liking to my blog. I'd certainly appreciate any advice you could give in making it more visually appealing. I know I need to start using more images with my posts, but it's hard to find ones I'm certain I can safely use - worries about copyright issues and all that. And while I'd like to keep the blog itself a relatively simple, minimalistic gray, it'd be nice to give it a gray look that'd be more appealing to people than it is now. Visual aesthetic design has never been my forte. I'm really glad I was able to give you something to read that you can relate to. It's always a good feeling to hear readers have enjoyed my writing that much. :)