Please do F-Off, Kind Sir

British Politeness

I grew up in British colonial culture, and my dad used the phrase “F-Off” when it came time to suggest that someone who’s annoying might well be able to improve a particular social setting by leaving it.

I’m not writing this euphemistically; it was truly pronounced “eff-off” … I rarely heard my dad say anything more harsh.

It’s a nice phrase to use, or even think, when the more commonly used variant is not yet justified. Two examples are an insect buzzing around me, or someone being ostensibly nice in a social setting when really it’s just a pretext for him jockeying to start a conversation when I really want to be left alone.

Absence of Politeness

That’s a lot more polite than what sometimes happens.  For example, just this week I took a pretty girl friend (as opposed to girlfriend) to lunch. I’m gay, she’s straight but the friendship works. While we were walking in an elegant hotel casino towards the restaurant, a group of guys walked past us, and one guy told her openly “I wanna screw” except that he didn’t say “screw” — he was more crude yet.  Another example that still irks me from some years ago was when my stepdaughter was in her early 20s, doing grocery shopping.  Some random guy walks past her and said “nice boobs” except he didn’t say “boobs” — he was more crude yet.

In contrast with that, someone at least trying to wrap a some politeness around the process of hitting on the girl … it’s a major step up, but that still doesn’t generally make it a welcome event in my book, anyway.

Today’s Example

Today was a good example. I nowadays schedule my appointments in a way that leaves me  some free time in which to enjoy life in a leisurely way while still being productive too. This afternoon, I was sitting at a table in a sparsely-seated patio at Mimi’s Cafe in Reno, in the shade of a lovely tree with just barely enough sunlight dappling through. The two cups of coffee were perfect, the omelet was perfect, the waitress was professional and the view of the green slopes of the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains was spectacular, with some dramatic clouds boiling over the mountain-tops in ultra-slow motion. I enjoyed the meal very much. I enjoy high-quality like-minded company (and yes, feel free to read between the lines) but sometimes solitude is just fine too.

Seated at a table that was sort of next to me and slightly behind me sat a gentleman wearing a cowboy hat and making the sort of comments that I consider clumsy conversational foreplay — being obsequiously nice to the people at the table beyond mine, being abundantly witty and charming yet with sexual innuendo in conversation with the waitress including commenting loudly on how sexy his glass of beer is … I know the routine. I was sitting half-turned away, hoping I was mistaken as to his mind-set.

One nice thing about having a large mane of naturally curly blonde hair is that it makes a nice curtain when I want to be shielded from view. Sitting turned away from someone helps too.

A few minutes later, the gentleman loudly mentioned that my food smells so nice all the way over at his table and he repeated (this time ostensibly to empty space) how sexy his beer glass is. (In guy culture, the same witticism can be repeated again and again with no perceived decline in humorous effect).

Inwardly, I groaned. I was never a submariner but as I heard somewhere, there’s something called “action stations” that’s the step before “battle stations.” It’s a state of readiness.  So, after hearing the last two utterances I started getting ready for him initiating a conversation that I didn’t want to have. From then on it became difficult for me to just relax and enjoy the view, because I kept expecting a cowboy hat to loom over me and then someone would introduce himself and … I really didn’t want to deal with that, so I planned how to avoid it.

Yes, it’s a passive-aggressive approach but “escape and evade” is indeed a legitimate part of combat tactics.

Having social anxiety tends to make a girl very aware of the eggshells she’s presuming she’s walking on. For example, about twelve years ago, when I was working in an open-plan office, I would be continually aware of the breathing patterns of a co-worker in the same software team, even though she was sitting on the other side of the room.  From her breathing patterns, I could tell when she was about to have a melt-down, and I would preempt it but going over to her workstation to try to defuse the next blow-up before it happened.

I continue to automatically apply these skills though nowadays I avoid pacifying someone who’s becoming agitated, unless it’s someone I care about.  Early on, as the guy was making overtures, I could hear how he was being gentle with his silverware.  As time went by and I continued to ignore his witticisms, I inferred her was becoming ever more surly in how he used his silverware more and more aggressively — and how vastly less nice he was being to the waitress.

In guy-think, assuming he was still planning to approach me, the perfect time would be as I was getting up to leave, with very predictable timing, after I went through the check-paying ritual. For that reason, I expedited my exit by getting up quickly and going to the waitresses’ station inside the building, then paying my bill there and leaving through a side door.

Guy Culture

Cynical insights are one massive benefit of being a trans girl and having lived in guy culture from an early age. I still can’t think like a guy but I can recognize and predict patterns in guy behavior.  Whatever I had learned in guy culture, as a trans girl in stealth mode, I also validated during exposure to guy culture in my role as a girl openly. Being an escort gave me a large sample of guys on which to test my premises of “and now the guy will probably do this next.”  I can’t read minds, but I’m rarely mistaken.

Not that I dislike guys — some of my best friends are guys.  However, most guys tend to not be all that socially endearing, in my estimation. Besides, I’m not just the fourth letter in LGBT but also the first letter. So, for many reasons, I tend to not respond warmly to guys hitting on me.

The Plight of a Public Persona

Today’s experience got me thinking how I can learn from it, and apply this practically.

A professional musician of interest to me posted with a slightly wistful and frustrated air, on social media some time ago, that she’s ready for more fun in her life. The type of fun she can have solo, such as reading, writing, watching movies, playing on the computer, being artistic in her visual-arts studio, writing music, playing music, thinking, going on solo walks … she probably excluded that from the scope of her comment. She had all that already. Her current set of friends and family, with social matching activities … she probably excluded that as well since she had all that already, too. She probably meant she’d like to do something additional to what she was already doing — perhaps go out and have fun.  What would be her idea of fun?

She’s a shy cerebral girl, with probably some social frustrations, so it was an interesting mental exercise for me to imagine what she might enjoy. Perhaps she’d enjoy a road trip through lovely scenery, with the itinerary nicely flexible, and not set by a rock band’s concert tour schedule. Stops along the way would include museums and landmarks.  Nights would be spent in comfortable hotels, not in a bunk in a tour bus. Meals — ah, there’s the problem.

I can imagine this girl sitting at a table, enjoying lunch, when she becomes aware of social tension building up nearby, in the way I noticed it during my own lunchtime experience, today. She might most likely be approached due to her being a recognizable public figure. I can imagine her privacy being interrupted by someone wanting a photo taken next to her, or wanting her to autograph something. Based on what I know of guy culture, many guys would also want her to then write something that implied an intimacy or affection that never was. With these artifacts, the guy would have bragging rights with his drinking buddies, and loot from having met this girl would have about the same guy-culture credits as having bought a new and expensive shotgun or a new and expensive riding mower.

It’d be nice if she didn’t need to stress out about such things.

Thinking Protectively

One solution would be to choose the table or booth carefully, or to choose restaurants that have a small seating capacity so that the odds of a fawning fan being present are reduced by simple math alone.

Often, the prettiest girls are cerebral shy girls, for reasons I explain in other articles on this blog. So, in dating cerebral shy girls, I also thus sometimes end up in the company of lovely girls who find the riches of modeling, professional club dancing or escorting to be too tempting to refuse for a few years.  For example, a few years ago, it gave me a secret smile  to know the girl who was my lunch date was also the featured calendar girl at an elegant men’s club in town, and also a brilliant paralegal, and also someone who could pick up a set of mechanic’s tools and fix her own Honda Civic. No surprise, my dates get hit on a lot — by guys at neighboring tables, by waiters, by people at work, etc.

Until recently, I was self-conscious about being a trans girl and I generally focused on having as unobtrusive a social look as I could. It worked. Guys left me alone and instead bothered the girl I was with.  That’s how I came to automatically choose restaurants and tables and seating positions that minimize the chances of the girl being bothered by guys — I was being protective and trying to make things as low-stress for my date as possible.

Nowadays I’m finally in the aesthetics category where I get bothered too.  I found myself wondering how I’d phrase “eff-off” in a nice way, had the guy approached me today. For me, when I was working as an escort, a stranger hitting on me would be a welcome event, sort of like a gold miner tripping over a rock and discovering it’s a gold nugget.  However, even now, if a guy offered me several hundred dollars to be his lunch or dinner date, I’d probably still go, and be pretty and charming besides. In that sense, I suppose I haven’t stopped doing escorting work. I have just not worked as one since 2014 because I no longer seek out opportunities, i.e., my sales & marketing activity is zero.  I toyed with the idea of smiling and saying “I’m an escort but I’m not working right now; off duty, at lunch, on my break. So, not now. Not soon either; I have the afternoon off.” That would probably end most advances.

A dancer I dated had this approach. When a guy hit on her, she’d brightly hand out a business card with her club name and dancer name on it, and said “come visit me there” and then look at the guy with an attitude of “that’s that, yes?” He’d typically mumble something and shuffle away.

A professional musician, especially one whose public image is solidly in the “nice girl” quadrant, essentially does her sales and marketing by fostering that image. This includes having her picture taken next to grinning strangers and signing her name on random objects that are placed in front of her. That is, essentially, her working.  I wonder if the girl has tried saying “I’m not doing publicity such as pictures and autographs right now; off duty, at lunch, on my break. So, not now. Not soon either; I have the afternoon off, but here’s my card with my website, with autographed products for sale.”  As I understand guy culture, that typically would end the lunchtime interruption.

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

My guess is that as the guy was walking away, he’d already be planning what he’d email her via her website contact info — an email to which she might or might not ever respond. As a rule, she would be prudent not to.

The black hole protocol (things go in, nothing comes out) is an effective way of handling social media attention from fans.  It prevents things from beginning and then escalating, and then finally ending in a way that’s invariably messy.

I have so many times regretted being nice to guys who hit on me. Typically I did so against the weird feeling I had about it, and then things escalated and I had to extricate myself — and by then the guys were emotionally involved and their exits were hardly ever gracious after having been rebuffed. I tend to be very vague as to whereabouts I live, and very few people know my actual address though my official address is easy to find.

The dancer who handed out business cards used to be more approachable too. That rewarded her with a guy, of course, getting a crush on her, her not being interested, and the guy vandalizing her car so badly it ended up being junked even though it was almost new. In another situation, she went on a date with a guy and he did such dumb macho stuff that he ended up starting a fist fight, leaving her unprotected and vulnerable, at which time she was attacked and beaten by others in the same crowd. She was hurt so badly that her parents didn’t even recognize her when they saw her in the hospital bed.

One of my own situations went off the rails not too long ago. I was driving around Sparks, Nevada a few months ago when a guy in another vehicle started following me — blatantly.  I turned into obscure but well-populated places, drove in peculiar patterns that somebody would be extremely unlikely to coincidentally also happen to have …  and this kept going on and on. I’ve seen the movie “The Peacemakers” and I’m up for defending myself even if it means using my nice car’s butt as a battering ram, but I really didn’t want to do so if it was reasonably avoidable. At some point this sort of vehicular dynamic becomes primal, and that’s when it gets dangerous.

My favorite park in Las Vegas is right by a desert mountain, and there are mountain lions in the vicinity. I’ve been told that were I ever to come face to face with a mountain lion, then if I turn and run, I’m as good as dead. Similarly in this sort of automotive slow-chase dynamic, if I turn, it cedes the primal high ground to the other party. It implies fear and can trigger a “chase the prey” response.  So, I resisted the impulse to try to outrun the guy. I just calmly drove on and on, trying to bore the guy into leaving, while avoiding places where I’d be stuck in traffic or where I’d be without lots of onlookers.  By then I’d also called a friend so she was well aware of the guy’s description and his truck, in case things needed to escalate.

I knew where the local Police Department was — which wasn’t all that reassuring since many law enforcement facilities are hardly a welcoming safe haven in situations like this.  In one case a violent crime was committed literally right outside the local Sheriff’s Office — and the bad guy got away.

In this example, my driving finally bored the guy into leaving, or perhaps he was running low on available time, or fuel.  Good …

Adulation from guys is, directly or indirectly, a great source of revenue for many girls, but it needs to be managed very carefully.  Privacy is only part of it; it’s also a major safety issue.

 

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Depression plus Guilt Besides

serious

A professional musician, on whom I’m focused, conveyed via her lyrics that she’s basically depressed. To my amazement, the announcement seems to not register with the vast multitude that’s focused on her two-dimensionally. She is someone attractive for her fans to look at and to fantasize about. She’s a source of good rock music. They like her when she’s smiling. Beyond that, any material personal depth seems to be irrelevant.

A girl has to earn a living, and given the demographic of much of her fan base, it’s probably good business to project the cheerful, superficial image that her fans adore. That’s well and good, but a girl also has one life to live, as a person.

On that aspect is my focus, and to her intended benefit, I write. I’m taking her seriously. After looking at the context, I conclude that she doesn’t mean she’s sad – she means that she’s depressed in the serious sense of the word.

Can I relate? Can I help? Do I even want to help? Does she even want help?

This article explores these questions.  I hope she reads it and that it’s a step toward fundamentally improving things, for her.I  understand that it’s not politically prudent for her to provide feedback, hence this mode of communication for lack of a better alternative.

Then again, for now, this IS a public document — and if it’s read by other girls, who also get a significant benefit from it, I would be delighted.

As to: Can I relate?

In the mid-1980s, I was depressed even though my life ostensibly was peachy. I was in my 20s and my career was doing well. I was living in the west part of LA, in the Del Mar area around Culver Blvd, near the Marina. I could bicycle to the beach, and I often did. Life seemed grand. Internally, however, there was turmoil. At 2 a.m. I’d go for long walks around the neighborhood, thinking. I was troubled about something major that was bothering me though I didn’t understand the issues down to the root cause. I was depressed about it but I knew only generally what “it” was. Had I known precisely, I might have done something specific to resolve the situation.

One day, I was crossing Culver Blvd when a LA Rapid Transit District bus was approaching. I suddenly realized how conscious a choice it was to keep walking. I kept walking, and anyone watching wouldn’t have noticed anything unusual. By the time I’d reached the other side of the street, I realized how close I’d come to stopping in the middle of the road, with the intent of being taken out by the bus.

I felt guilty about not having considered how traumatic this would have been for the bus driver, the passengers, and the people in the vicinity. Probably there were some more urgent things to think about, but I didn’t. I felt stumped as to thinking about myself. It seemed easier to be concerned about other people.

One day, I felt done with things. It wasn’t a day when I was particularly sad. It’s a funny mindset. It’s beyond sadness. It’s a sense of calm that an onlooker might find reassuring as if maybe I’m having a good day. However, I was only having a good day in the sense of having decided and accepted that it was going to be my last day. I didn’t even consider it dramatic. I don’t even recall what made me choose that day. I just decided, that day. I didn’t write a letter. I didn’t say good-bye to anyone or anything. It was a totally private thing, for me.

I didn’t want anyone nearby to come rescue me or be burdened with being near me. If I were to vanish, I’d vanish without traumatizing anyone in the process. I’m not a bathtub or pills or messy type of girl, so I thought things through.

Part of the reason for planning it so considerately is, that when I was 19, I was married (yes, in a state that doesn’t recognize gay marriage, but whatever) to a girl who was depressed – seriously depressed. One day, she chose to end her life but she did so with me being close by and thus intercepting, which is the sort of experience I don’t wish on anyone. Seeing someone I love come so close to the very edge of life or death, and knowing it’s up to me to tip the scale – that was a stark experience. If I was going to check out, I would spare my loved ones that particular type of close-perspective anguish. I’d simply be gone.

I used to windsurf in the Marina. That seemed an appropriate way to go.  So, that day, I methodically rigged my windsurfer and headed out the Marina, past Venice pier, northwest. Away. Eventually I’d get tired, fall off the board, and either drown or be shark-bait — and that’d be that. I didn’t really care about the details as to myself.

There I was, out in the ocean, or to be more precise, in the middle of Santa Monica Bay, and headed towards … I don’t know. Nominally, geographically, probably Japan.  The plan, however, was to sail into Davy Jones’s locker, as a figure of speech.

Eventually, I reached a point of mental stillness. I felt at peace in a way I hadn’t felt for a long time, if ever. I stood on my windsurfer, looking back at the city I loved. I made a decision about my decision. If I decided to go back, I wasn’t going to simply go back physically. I’d go back and resolve the cause as to why I was seriously depressed — and then I’d live a fundamentally happy life.

There was a certain optimistic presumption, there.  At the time, I assumed (correctly, as it turns out) that my depression was caused by something that could be resolved.

In subsequent years, as I learned more about serious depression, I came to understand that sometimes it’s not a problem that can ever be completely resolved — yet at the very least there’s still a range of feeling basically much worse or basically much better. Progress is possible toward the latter, and from that improved perspective, sometimes new opportunities arise for yet another step up.

Fortunately, sometimes serious depression does have a removable root cause, and in such cases, the serious depression can come to an end, completely and permanently.

At the time, out in the ocean, these complexities didn’t occur to me.  I simply decided to go back, and address the root cause as best I could.  In my case, that meant resolving one major issue, and then also making changes in my life.  These were so dramatic that they seemed wildly unrealistic to how I used to live, but I didn’t care. Once I knew what I needed to do, I didn’t want to live any other way.

Ironically, the girl whom I’d helped out of her serious depression, some years before – she ended up helping me out of mine. Depression gone, I became a fundamentally happy girl. Although even a happy girl sometimes has difficult times, this happy mode lasted for the next 25 years or so.

Another issue had been bothering me too, with a similar effect, just more long-range in weighing me down until eventually I was seriously depressed again with a new root cause, in the 2010 time-frame. With the help of three wonderful girls, I overcame that too – and made more life changes, dramatic ones yet again.

Am I done with literally depressing issues? I don’t know. Probably. I feel fundamentally more at-peace and happier than ever, and it’s endured for some years now. That bodes well. But, by now, serious depression is an issue that I have personally overcome twice, already. It’s not a simple or easy process.  Even so, two victories give me hope for a third, if I ever need to fight that battle again, for myself.

The Live-In Partner of a Depressed Girl

Having experienced depression from both sides, I know the empathy that someone deserves who’s in a serious relationship with a girl who’s depressed. When I lived with someone who was depressed, the issue weighed heavily on me, too.

When I was the one depressed,  I could see the effect on my romantic partner, who was living with me at the time. She was wonderfully patient, nice and kind — but I knew it was wearing her down … indeed, how could it not?

A serious relationship with a seriously depressed person is very different from normal life, and so normal priorities go out the window. The depression is by far the biggest factor in the dynamic.

On top of everything else that I was feeling, I also felt horribly guilty about making things difficult for my romantic partner, who was living with me. Of course, she wanted to help, but there was only so much she could do. I had to help myself, fundamentally, but as before, I knew generally what was wrong but my insights were not exact enough to be able to use them so as to resolve the depression.

If the depressed person were simply a horrible human being, probably their romantic partner could develop a sense of emotional detachment. For someone who really does need to leave, the worst type of depressed person with whom to be in a relationship is someone who’s so wonderful that it seems wrong to ever give up on her.

I’m not sure that I’m all that wonderful — but at the time, my live-in-romantic partner thought so. I recall a difficult conversation in which I begged her to go away, to move out, to break up with me to her own intended benefit. She refused my every argument or attempt. I fleetingly considered being artificially mean or doing something to overturn her love but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it nor justify that, ethically. Plus, being brilliant, she’d have seen right through it anyway.

As to the blend of issues that I’d glimpsed as to being a key to understanding and solving the problem – I didn’t feel comfortable burdening her with that too. She was carrying enough as it was, and she’d been through enough what-if scenarios that ended up being disappointing dead ends.

I’m poly-amorous. A girl with whom, at the time, I also had a relationship … she had a fresh perspective on things, and she helped me pinpoint the issue and work through it: mentally, conversationally, even with play-acting and real-life what-if scenarios. Her involvement tipped the scale, for me.

The girl who was living with me welcomed the involvement of the other girl. When you live with someone who’s depressed, you’re so exhausted that any outside, insightful help is supremely welcome.

Ironically, each of these two girls had known serious depression too, first-hand. Perhaps that’s in a subtle way why I noticed each of them initially: the relationship dynamic with each of these two girls began when she was depressed. I helped her through it and beyond it. As an ironic consequence, each girl knew how to be supportive to me. Without their combined help you might well have needed an Ouija board to read this article.

The fresh-perspective girl left, and another fresh-perspective girl signed up. She helped me a lot, too. She and I are still in a good relationship dynamic, four years later (and no, she’s not depressed nor has ever been).

The gratitude I feel toward all three girls is off the scale — but it was different for me as to the girl who lived with me and endured the worst of it, first hand, close by, year after year. As to her, I also felt horribly guilty.

Whatever she needed from me, she could have. It’s good she didn’t need a kidney donated because I might well have. Guilt does funny things with me. It puts me on autopilot. At the time, I didn’t recognize it as guilt. I thought I was just saying “thank you.” Only recently did I realize I’d crossed the line, and was acting out of guilt.

Due to the guilt, I would probably never have left this girl if that meant I’d be letting her down. As I saw it, anyone who had endured me when I was depressed – she deserved my infinite allegiance. It was only in the context where she was leaving for her own good that I was OK with the breakup, and I was cheering her on in spite of some ominous practical consequences to me.

As for the girl who inspired this article: as I follow her on social media, I read adulation from her fans, such as flippant marriage proposals or mention of how lucky a man her husband is. I can’t read her mind, but if it works like mine does, she might well feel a glacial sense of detachment under the banner of “if you only knew.”

The live-in partner of a girl who’s depressed – that person is a tragic figure in his or her own right. It’s a very hard life. The partner might be so burned-out on the girl being seriously depressed that it’s easier to accept her depression as the status quo and just deal with it as if it were normal life, rather than to keep pouring vast amounts of energy into assisting her with resolving it.

As to this specific girl: I think she’s a good person whose way of thinking, as I understand it,  I relate to. My intent is for her to experience deep and fundamental, ongoing happiness — otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this article primarily for her to read.

I’m not implying that the issues are simple or pleasant. Since she used to value one day owning a Bentley, I’ll use the analogy of a Bentley with a misbehaving fuel injection system. Fundamentally great, yes — but vastly complex as to the challenges involved.

As to: Do I even want to help?

Yes, I do.

Why do I even want to be involved? Isn’t this the sort of experience that I’m happy to have far behind me?

Isn’t me focusing on this a bad idea, like an escaped prisoner climbing back over the wall into captivity again? Ostensibly, yes — but it makes sense if my intent is to bring down the prison walls.

Can I help?

Over the last three and a half decades, I have at close range seen five girls overcome serious depression. Each was seriously depressed by the time I came into the picture, though for each girl the specifics were vastly different.

Depressed girls fundamentally have to help themselves, but I played a positive role in the life of each of these five girls, to assist her in resolving her serious depression. I consider this to be one of the most personally rewarding category of things I’ve ever done. To see someone simply be happy and to live her life with those dark clouds gone forever, year after year – it’s wonderful.

I’m not a counselor. Certainly, a skilled counselor is part of the solution – yet in my experience, only part thereof. The other part is someone like-minded who cares and is willing to get energetically and enthusiastically immersed in the underlying mental complexity. It’s important that the depressed girl not be, or feel like, a burden during the process, otherwise she might well withdraw.

As I write this, I feel awkward about realizing the extent to which depressed girls seem to be a recurring theme in my life. Perhaps it takes one to know one. Perhaps it takes one to help one. Even so, I don’t seek out seriously depressed girls, any more.

As to the girl who inspired this article, I have come to feel resonance with her way of thinking as best I understand it. Subsequent to that, I came to realize she’s seriously depressed. I’m enthused to enact whatever causes I can, so as to have the effect be that she’s no longer seriously depressed.

By now I might actually have a fairly good set of insights with which to begin to be able to help. If things go as I intend, I get to help her break down the prison walls once and for all. I’d like that very much. Five now-happy success story girls whom I’ve assisted as such might then be joined by one more, if things go as I intend.

As to: Does she even want help?

It’s complicated. In my experience, depressed people desperately want help yet also desperately want to be left alone. There’s a reason why in the music video “Raining” the friend’s phone message implies that the depressed girl has been reclusive for a while. Even though the depressed girl seemed to benefit from being out and about, it’s not as if she exercised all the initiative in the situation – as I understand the video, the friend’s involvement no doubt made the pivotal difference, to inspire her to get her out of bed and out of her house.

I’m all for anything that can help, even temporarily. For me, a friend who cheered me up occasionally was welcome. However, there are millions of people in LA, many of whom could cheer this girl up temporarily. That’s not my particular intended role.

My focus is long-term: on exploring, with her, the fundamentals so that she can get at the root causes of her serious depression, and resolve them as much as is possible without the benefit of time travel or superhuman powers of persuasion. It’s the type of process whose complexity makes a Rubik’s cube simple by comparison but it’s also an interesting and — eventually — deeply rewarding journey for me.

My particular basis for presuming that I can actually add pivotal value is my own experience plus my track record, plus my assumption that this particular girl and I have fundamentally similar ways of thinking about things.

Seriously depressed people typically require many invitations before responding. When the girl is ready to communicate, she is welcome to contact me.

 

 

Empathy and Boundaries, Part 2

This short story fits as a dramatization of the point that the Huffington Post article makes, the article mentioned in Empathy and Boundaries, Part 1.

* * *

Imagine that in the late 1970s, a good witch appeared to a teenage blonde girl, held aloft a crystal ball and said, in the same cheerful tone as someone selling Girl Scout cookies:

“Would you like to have a preview of yourself and another girl almost drowning? It’s for a good cause.”

Thousands of miles away, a brunette was asleep in her University dorm room. She saw this scene in a dream. She felt a peculiar benevolent connection with the blonde girl, and a sense of foreboding, as if somehow her own future depended on what she was seeing.

The teenage blonde girl thought about the offer for a long time. It seemed most odd, yet likely to be useful.

Her visitor waited calmly. The blonde girl tried to figure out the witch’s motives. The witch seemed nice, was allegedly endowed with magical powers, and had alleged insights about the future.

In her dream, the brunette saw the pensive look in the eyes of the blonde girl, and warmed to her even more. Most other people might have responded without trying to think it through as much.

“Would seeing this jeopardize my future?”

“No. It might help you — but mainly it is likely to help you help another girl. You will either prevent her from drowning — or not. After you see the preview, you’ll be more likely to try to help her.”

“You must be very fond of her,” the blonde girl ventured.

“I am, and she needs all the help she can get.”

“Why?”

“The wicked witch has cursed her. This girl is a good person and has an immense capacity for intense joy. Yet she will experience very little of it. Anything that counteracts the wicked witch, I encourage in any way I reasonably can – but I’d especially enjoy helping this particular girl. Problem is, witches can’t act directly. We have to work through others.”

“Then, were I to prevent this girl from drowning, it would reconcile well to your agenda, yes?”

“Yes. Unfortunately, you’re not very likely to succeed. I’m hoping that you will, but the odds are not good. This other girl is already on a downward spiral. It got started by the curse by the wicked witch and continues with her self-imposed isolation. Maybe she’ll reach out to you so that you can help her. Maybe not . You’re simply the person with better chances than anyone I know.”

“Why me?”

“You two have very similar thinking patterns, and once you’re motivated and you understand the issues, you’ll pour a vast amount of energy into helping her fundamentally turn things around forever.  Better than most, you’re also a skilled writer. This is an effective way of communicating with her — you write, she reads. Writing to her is how you start. Not that the story ends there — you’ll need to become much more involved, to help her as dramatically as she needs. The intent of my visit here is: to enable you to be highly motivated when the time comes. Helping this girl won’t be easy, even for you. It’d be easier to break into a bank vault.  To make the analogy fit: it’s a bank vault with this girl locked inside.”

In her dream, the brunette tensed. She sensed that she was the girl to whom the witch was referring.

“So my future consists of helping people?”

“Not people in general – but a few other shy girls, like yourself, during the course of your life; always girls who are unappreciated and who project a type of benevolence that gets used against them, to hurt them — so they go and hide in a safe-seeming room, not realizing it’s a solitary-confinement prison cell. Then, the door swings shut.”

“That sounds so very sad for them.”

“It is,” the good witch smiled ruefully. “Now, let’s talk about this particular girl.”

In her dream, the brunette felt anxious. Was she in a prison cell? She had several deep frustrations as to feeling shy and unappreciated but … did that symbolize a solitary confinement prison cell?

The blonde girl asked, “Why the uncertainty? Doesn’t your crystal ball show you what happens?”

“Only up to a point, beyond which it gets nebulous. Also, it shows the future only after I, or the other witches, have committed to an action, since those influence the future. We can’t play with a variety of what-if scenarios.”

The blonde girl nodded, trying to process all this. The good witch continued: “Helping this girl will entail much work. The more you value her, the more likely you’ll want to invest the effort. My appearance today will help entice you to do so.”

The blonde girl frowned. “I mean this nicely, but why would I want to help especially this particular one girl? Not that I like the idea of anyone drowning, but why would I be so focused on her?”

“Remember, you two are, as best I can tell, cognitively very similar. That’s why you’d care. You’d be helping someone like-minded – very like-minded.”

“How did we get so similar?”

“How are two diamonds formed, thousands of miles apart? Carbon under intense heat and pressure so … the same basic substance undergoing the same basic processes, yes?”

The blonde girl nodded, looking puzzled. The witch hurried to explain:

“Same with you two. You started as having a similar basic mindset and underwent similar formative processes.”

The blonde girl frowned, and asked: “How do you know all this?”

“I don’t. I’m making intelligent guesses. I can’t read minds, just extrapolate from observation. But on that premise, it seems to me that you two think fundamentally alike. That makes for the greatest sense of intellectual allegiance, mutual empowerment and intimacy, doesn’t it? Two people can inspire and help each other if they think in very similar ways, and if they know of each other – but even more so if they communicate. Imagine the effect on the morale of two prisoners in adjacent cells who can communicate by tapping Morse code on the wall between them. It would be very different than feeling alone, wouldn’t it?”

The blonde girl nodded.

“Then again, imagine you’re in one cell, and the neighboring cell contains someone who doesn’t speak the same language, doesn’t think as you do, doesn’t have similar values and is from a totally different culture that abhors the things you do.  Communicating with such a person would be a lot less positive, wouldn’t it?”

The blonde girl nodded, again. The good witch continued:

“Now you see why I’m trying to enable you two interacting benevolently. At the rate you’re going, you’ll learn about her, and ironically you’ll benefit from learning about her even without her trying to help you.”

“How?”

“She’s interesting to you, and in trying to understand her you also come to understand yourself much better.  Her helping you is good. That’s already half the battle. However, she has to benefit too. That’s the hardest part.”

“Why?”

“You’re very approachable whereas she’s very much not. Meanwhile, things are not static. They’re going from bad to worse. She feels more isolated, and becomes harder to reach, with every passing day. Ideally, you two would meet today, even before her 19th birthday.  You’d become friends right away and influence each others’ lives greatly, for the better. You would both avoid much of the pain that I can clearly see in your respective futures.”

“Just meeting and communicating would help her? What would I tell her?”

“You’d help her figure out what drives her thinking and what can undermine it. Right now, she is benevolent and trusting in a way that isn’t a good reflection of people in general. Her benevolence and trust go unappreciated again and again, until she feels the need to close herself in, in psychological self-protection. At the rate she’s going, in ten years’ time, she’ll have counteracted many of the essentials she values today. That in turn hurts her even more, and it becomes a negative spiral. Perhaps the worst aspect is that she is shy and she (accurately) realizes that she’s so very different from the people around her, so she feels isolated. Socializing with others makes her anxious because they’re so different. Imagine you’re on a mountaintop and there’s a huge chasm between you and, as far as you can tell, the rest of mankind, whom you see on another mountain. That sort of describes it. Now, imagine you’re trying to discern from that distance which mountaintop is relatively higher. It would be hard, yes?”

“Yes…”

“She’ll continue evaluating herself as lower than them, and she will keep doing so even though actually she’s the better type of person, objectively.  Imagine a  world in which everyone is as trusting and positive as she is, loves so passionately and so benevolently, is so intense  – that would be a SO much better world.”

“Either way though, she’s alone and feels lonely, yes?”

“Yes, but the psychological effect is very different between feeling inferior vs. not.”

In her dream, the brunette felt saddened. That sounded like a miserable future when today she’d felt so especially hopeful and so connected with those around her.

“If we’re so similar, how can I help her? Why is she the one who’s needing help? Why not me, instead?”

“You two are fundamentally similar but starting today, you do grow in different directions. Most importantly, you figure out the nature of the issue whereas she internalizes the negativity. As a person, deep down, she’s wonderful but she doesn’t realize her own value in the way you do, nor does anyone else in her peer group. Her own mom to a large extent appreciates her daughter’s complexity and does much to help, but that’s not enough to fundamentally help turn things around for the girl.”

“If her own mom can’t help, how could I?”

“Her mom can and does help, but yours is a different type of message. Also, remember: I’m not saying you will succeed. I’m saying you have a chance. That’s as good as it gets.  By the time you reach out to her, she’ll have many layers of self-protection built around her, and they make her harder for you to reach. Anyway, let’s get specific. What’s the date today?”

“January 15th, 1978.”

“Remember this date. From here on, you two grow apart even while having the same fundamentals.”

“What’s all that special about today?”

“She was at a Sex Pistols concert, yesterday. She was drawn to this type of music on the foundation of 1960s music in general and the free-spirit, socially rebellious tone of the Beatles and similar musicians. Until now, her everyday social life has been personally conservative even in the face of the free-spirit, open-minded culture that has been surrounding her.”

“Yay that she had a breakthrough, then.”

“Yes, but she reverses it. The Sex Pistols show was music, but music is art, and art is a distilled representation of the fundamental life view of the artist, yes?”

“Yes…”

“So which three main cultural aspects would you say the Sex Pistols emphasize as a fundamental view of life?”

“This feels like circular logic but … music?”

“Yes? And?”

“Rebellion  … “

“One more …”

“Candor? I mean, that’s understating it. Have you read their lyrics?”

“Yes, they’re intense.”

“Due to their name, I’d also say ‘sexuality’ but romance & sexual celebration of that … that’s not what leaps out at me from their lyrics.”

“I agree. Even so, we can add ‘sexuality’ to the list of things since properly it’s an over-arching celebration of one’s values. Anyway, she needed that sort of primal wake-up call. Being at that concert changes her life.”

“How?”

“How a person responds to art shows you her true nature. I’m not saying she dissected the lyrics during the concert, but she responded to their view of the world. Her being inspired by the Sex Pistols tells you a lot about who she is, deep down. She comes across publicly as personally conservative and sweet as pie, but down deep in her soul she is a very intense person. Similar to how you are, today, actually.”

“Yes, wow. Those two aspects are so hard to reconcile. I mean, where do I even start?”

“It’s hard for her too, which is why she lives in stealth mode. She tries to connect the two and it’s almost impossibly hard for her too —  so much so that things don’t play out well for her in any of these three … make that four … aspects.”

“Why not?”

“I’ll explain with an analogy. You play chess, right?”

“Yes.”

“So you understand how someone can make one reasonable-seeming move after another and yet end up in a bad situation, yes?”

“Yes …”

“That’s what she does. She plays benevolently yet other people play in ways that undercut her.”

“Wow, that seems so sad — and wrong.”
,
“It is. Want to see?” the good witch pointed sadly at the crystal ball. The blonde girl nodded.

“Let’s start with music. Here’s a scene about ten years from now. The band she co-founded has had many hit records, and is popular and famous.”

“Wow, is that her? She’s playing a huge concert — rock band style. Yay!”

“Yes, but a few hours later, there she is, all alone.”

“She looks sad.”

“She IS sad – very sad. She feels unappreciated, isolated, miserable, mistreated, misjudged — and her music is tied to the source of all this.”

“That’s horrible. Why?”

“Let’s not get into that right now. Bottom line, as to her music: the more success, the more unhappiness. So as to music, that’s not a good situation for her, and that’s number one of the four aspects, agreed?”

The blonde girl nodded.

In her dream, the brunette felt like she normally does when she’s in a nightmare though this one seemed extra vivid.

The good witch continued. “As to rebellion and candor, fundamentally these resonate with her at a deep level otherwise it wouldn’t be specifically this band that she’s emotionally responding to so strongly.  These two things are basically the core values of the Sex Pistols.  However, as to personal interaction, she is sweet, accommodating and nice. Yet, in doing so, one thing leads to another and she keeps finding herself in situations that are not that happy for her.”

The blonde girl nodded pensively.

“She ends up nominally succeeding in the music industry — but she feels like a pawn being moved around by corporate interests. She dislikes that, but doesn’t know what else to do and she puts up with it. Isn’t that the exact opposite of the sort of rebellious independence and candor that the Sex Pistols personify?”

The blonde girl shrugged, thought hard, and nodded.

In her dream, the brunette felt like she would feel in a maze, unable to get out. She felt anxious and bewildered.

“So that’s three out of four. Now, as to sexuality & intimacy … what’s your own love life like? High-school romances?”

“Zero.”

“Same with her at the time. Does your situation bother you?”

“Very much. I have, in my heart and soul…”

“… much passion and intensity and yet nobody to appreciate it? … Same with her at the time — and it bothered her too, very much. Even long after high school, the memory still bothers her.”

“Doesn’t she eventually date people?”

“Yes, but let’s just say that ten years from today, it’s still not as if her passion and intensity have been appreciated. So that’s item four, of the four things.”

“Wait, what happens beyond the ten-year mark?”

The witch shrugged, not looking happy. “It’s complicated.”

The blonde girl wanted to ask for clarification, but the witch continued:

“Anyway, so as to the four aspects that the Sex Pistols stand for … by the 10-year mark, relative to today, even while taking reasonable-seeming steps and being intelligent, diligent and a good person, she ends up missing the mark as to all four, true?”

The blonde girl nodded, sadly.

The brunette woke up from her dream. Her pillow was soaked. She hoped to forget that nightmare, and the sooner the better. She tried to stay awake, thinking about something else, anything else … but she fell asleep again, and dreamed some more.

The blonde teenage girl was saying: “So can I prevent any of this sadness for her?  Or does it get better by itself?”

“Not for the next forty years or so.”

“Forty years?!”

“Yes. This is a long-term plan.”

“This is crazy. If she and I don’t interact for forty years, I can’t help her prevent any of that, and so what’s the point?”

“It’s good that you understand her history, to help you tailor what you do when the time comes.”

“Why? Does anything even matter any more, at that point in time?”

The good witch gave her a stern look. “Very much so, although I can understand it’s hard for you to imagine, as a teenager. Remember, when someone is in her mid-to-late fifties, she might well be only at the half-way mark of her life, and much smarter besides. She can focus wisely on this second half of her life, and live it in a way that makes her happy.  For most people, the first half of their lives is pretty bewildering and they feel out of control.”

“Yes … I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude. So … what’s the solution to the problem?”

“The specifics are for you and her to figure out. Problems cannot be solved until they’re deeply understood. Essentially, though, the four things derived from the Sex Pistols premise. She had it right all along. Your role is to get this across to her, somehow. Assuming she eventually buys into your reasoning, she’ll end up with music, rebelliousness, candor and intimacy as central to her life and a good foundation for her happiness.”

“Oh, yay! Wow, that sounds intense. But, how does all this fit with your original offer?”

“At the time you notice her, she’ll be drowning. If you know what to look for, you could spot it and go reach out and help. On that premise, do you agree to seeing those future scenes?”

In her dream, the brunette was watching all this, as if she were present. She felt tense, awaiting the answer. Much seemed to depend on it.

The blonde girl nodded. “I agree.”

The good witch smiled and pointed to the crystal ball. “First, let’s have a look at you almost drowning.”

The blonde girl peered into the crystal ball and saw a happy sunlit beach scene with many cheerful people around. They were relaxing, playing and enjoying themselves. She recognized herself, looking slightly older, enjoying the surf. She noticed that being older hadn’t helped her become any curvier. She frowned slightly at the realization. A signpost read: “Manhattan Beach.”

bigwaveThe blonde girl smiled as she watched her slender, toned body play in the ocean, in water that came up to her middle. Suddenly, the surf knocked her down. She vanished from sight. Seconds passed.

The scene changed to an underwater view. Sand, water and surf were swirling everywhere, in a twilight murk that even the bright California sun could barely illuminate. The slender blonde girl was struggling fiercely. She rose and almost broke free, then was pulled under again.

“Ironically, although this entire scene actually will happen, it’s also a metaphor for your life and how you deal with issues. It’s good that you survive that day but not all that surprising.”

The scene in the crystal ball showed the blonde girl finally getting her head above water, taking in a deep breath of air, and then shooting upward, free.

“Wow, intense. But why did we watch this?” the blonde girl asked.

“It shows you that this is your paradigm for drowning. If you saw this other girl drowning like that in the surf, you would recognize it as drowning. Key point: before you can want to go help her, you must first realize that she’s drowning. Right now, what you just saw is your limited paradigm. I’d like to show you another way. Agreed?”

The blonde girl nodded, and said, “Agreed.”

The crystal ball showed a group of friends in a similar beach scene, although they were in chest-deep ocean water. One girl, a brunette, was a few feet away and slightly behind her friends. She seemed to be treading water, unable to stand due to the depth of the water. Her friends glanced back now and then to make sure she still nearby and safe.

The blonde girl scrutinized the girl’s face. Her head was tilted back, so her facial features could not be seen clearly.

“That’s the girl whom I prevent from drowning?”

“No. This is fictional — though the two girls do have the same slight stature.”

“I see. Why are we watching this other girl, then?”

“I’m trying to make a point. If she were drowning, which typical signs would show that?”

“I suppose … waving or crying for help or bobbing.”

The witch shook her head: “That’s the stereotype. Unfortunately, that’s very much naïve. Often, that’s not at all what a drowning person looks like.”

“What does she look like, then?”

“Like that,” the witch pointed, sadly. “She’s drowning, right now.”

Even as she spoke, one friend looked back, seemed reassured and looked calmly back at the beach scene again.

The blonde girl peered into the crystal ball. The girl in the ocean was not waving, not crying for help and not bobbing below the water line. Her head was tilted back so that her face was barely above the water line. She seemed fine, though her facial expression was hard to read.

The witch explained, “Her energy is focused on staying above water. She’s in primal survival mode, mentally. She’s not consciously choosing to act like this. She’s coping, drawing on whatever psychological survival mechanisms she happens to have as part of being human. Was she rationally dealing with the situation, she would recognize the problem and announce it out loud, and things might well improve immediately. Instead, she is silently struggling alone — and drowning. “

In her dream, the brunette suddenly felt as if she were in the ocean, and was the one drowning. She felt powerless and desperate. Silently, she struggled to stay afloat but she felt her strength steadily ebbing. The reassured-looking glances from those around her made her feel more alone and isolated and misunderstood yet.

The witch continued: “Everyone nearby, including those who are right by her and who care for her, presume she is in a happy situation, and enjoying it. Isn’t that so ironic? Anyway, here comes the heroine to save the day. I love this part. …”

The scene changed to show a slender, blonde girl — evidently a lifeguard — on a light-blue elevated beach tower. She was holding a pair of binoculars to her eyes, staring at the drowning girl. Being able to recognize the true symptoms of drowning, she realized how desperate a quiet crisis the girl was having. She put the binoculars down hurriedly, said something to her companion, and raced toward the ocean. She plunged in and made her way toward the drowning girl.

“The life-guard looks a little like me.”

“Oh good, you noticed. You’re never actually a beach lifeguard; that’s just a happy coincidence. Anyway, look closely, here. The life-guard is going to have a difficult time,” the good witch pointed.

The lifeguard arrived next to the girl just as her face finally sank below the surface. She   proceeded to raise the girl up, but was thwarted by an angry friend. An argument began … “I know what real drowning looks like. She’s drowning. I am here to help her” vs. “ Leave her alone. She’s fine. You’re unwelcome. Butt out. Get lost.”

The drowning girl was no help in the dialog, because she had barely managed to stay afloat and certainly didn’t have the energy to participate in the argument. However, she finally reached out to the blonde lifeguard. This one, small-yet-clear gesture changed everything. Her friends saw this, and realized that something was indeed wrong. The lifeguard took over. The girl survived. Soon, they were all on the beach. The bewildered friends tried to explain how they had been utterly unaware of how dire the situation had been; the girl had shown none of the symptoms that, to them, had suggested a crisis. She had seemed to be fine.

In her dream, the brunette felt as if it were her lying on the warm beach sand, hearing the protestations as background noise. Her focus was on the strong girl standing next to her, while she lay still, resting, regaining her strength. She looked up at the blonde girl towering above her. The brunette had seen movies about super-heroes and super-heroines. Lying there, she felt the same sort of admiration as she’d felt in those movies. She looked up at the blonde girl’s toned legs, strong arms, firm jaw line and resolute look. It was like looking up at a tall building or a tall oak tree. She relaxed onto the warm sand, and felt at peace — and quietly happy.

The blonde girl was standing politely as the girl’s friends spoke at great length. She didn’t seem to be paying much attention to what they were saying in their lengthy self-justifying verbal barrage — protestations that most audiences would, by then, have tried to cut short. The brunette realized  that the blonde girl was buying her time: some peace and quiet in which to recover, while the blonde girl was shielding her from the not-so-soothing attitude of her friends.

She looked up, trying to see the blonde girl’s face more clearly. The sun was right behind the blonde girl’s head, so that strands of already-dry hair stood around her like a halo. However, this meant that her face was in the shadows. Her face seemed to exude strength but the details were hard to discern.

The brunette realized that the blonde girl was standing like that intentionally, so as to shield the brunette from having the sun in her eyes. She realized that the blonde girl was protecting her in that respect too. This realization moved the brunette to tears. She lay back and let go, sobbing.

One of her friends saw this and moved to yank her upright. As he moved her away from where she lay, the sunlight hit her in the eyes and blinded her. He didn’t notice. He kept trying to pull her upright. Whatever she was saying was being drowned out by his loud platitudes. She finally wrestled free from his grip and faced the blonde girl, who was standing there calmly, watching. The brunette held out both hands towards the blonde girl, as if to ask for a hug.

The blonde girl had expected this, and moved towards her, then held the brunette gently but tightly in a long, warm embrace. The brunette had stopped sobbing but was still crying, yet seemed at peace. Seconds went by. The friend who had yanked her upright seemed ever more awkward. The brunette was facing away and not looking at him. To cover his own embarrassment, he started beseeching her to let go. She ignored him.

“Come on,” he urged her. “Let’s go. You can’t hold onto her forever.”

“Oh, can’t I?” the brunette thought defiantly, continuing to hold on.

The scene faded. The witch continued: “This scene, in a great many ways, is a metaphor for what you will experience when you are aware of this other girl, recognize her situation and try to raise her up.”

“Do I succeed? What happens?”

The good witch shrugged.

“I don’t know. If I did, I would not be here. My crystal ball can’t reach that far. Obviously, my preference is that you try and succeed spectacularly but… time will tell. At least, now you understand that someone can appear to be just fine, in an idyllic-seeming situation, and yet she’s secretly in a desperate struggle, wherein she doesn’t reach out to those around her, so they have no idea of her desperate predicament. Perhaps they wouldn’t have taken her seriously anyway, even had she been able to say that she’s been quietly drowning. Such an announcement would seem so incongruous in that idyllic-seeming a context. Everything about the scenario looked fine to ignorant observers, who don’t know how to recognize that someone is drowning. Starting today, you’re excluded from that group, though you still have to figure out how to recognize her, reach her, reach out to her and inspire her to reach out to you. That’s just the start. Your involvement should truly and significantly help her, long-range.  Of course, an ongoing interactive dynamic with someone so like-minded — that greatly enriches your own life, too.”

“Since you’re using drowning as a metaphor for what will really happen, I have a lot to figure out.”

The good witch nodded.

“How often does this sort of story have a happy ending?”

“Often enough. At some point, shortly before you meet the girl I’ve been telling you about, you will be drowning and a girl who’s very much like you will see that — and help you.  And yes, I’m still using drowning as an analogy.”

“Thank you for showing this to me. I intend to find this girl, reach her, help her, have her survive the process – and thrive as a result.”

“I hope you will.”

The blonde girl smiled confidently as if to say “we’ll see.”

Their eyes met in a calm, mutually encouraging way.

In her dream, the brunette saw this, and felt joyous and hopeful. She woke up, trying to make sense of it all. The sun was up. It was hard for the brunette to reconcile the two dreams. As she tried to focus on the latter dream, she looked for pen and paper, to write down whatever she could still remember.

By the time the pen was in her hand, poised to write, she could remember nothing except a sense that she’d just witnessed something of dramatic and crucial importance to her.

Empathy and Boundaries, Part 1

ggg2015-12-16-02-38-41Empathy

I would not last long, as a counselor. I would get so wrapped up in empathizing with a client and wanting to cheer-lead her towards a happier life, that I’d soon cross proper professional boundaries. However a counselor gets told to quit the profession, I’d find out pretty quickly.  Maybe the State would ceremonially burn my license in a sacrificial urn, or officially come and take the couch out of my office … something like that.

Fortunately, I’m not a counselor. So, I have more leeway to care and to act accordingly, within the bounds of social propriety and healthy individual boundaries.

Focus

When I notice someone who (as best I can infer) is struggling, then I try to understand her situation, and to empathize and be supportive.  With billions of other people on the planet, that would be a full-time activity, so I focus on girls to whom I can relate well.

As to guys, I have some wonderful male friends but it’s very rarely a deep emotional connection; we typically interact as to mutually helpful physical things like cars or websites, and that’s about it.

As to girls, as best I can tell, I have a fairly unusual mind-set so that limits the scope to, as it turns out, very few individuals indeed. It’s difficult to be formulaic about it.  During a window of time when I’m not already juggling enough other things, I might notice something about the demeanor of a particular girl, and then I look more closely.  Assuming it’s a mind-set match, then the more I look, the more I see — things that others don’t seem to notice about her.

If she’s struggling and her mind-set resonates with mine, yet she seems to be handling it well enough to where my involvement probably can’t add value, then I typically wish her well and I stay out of the picture as to trying to be helpful. In such a situation,  I might instead try to socialize with her since much of my idea of fun is to spend time with a like-minded girl.

Over the last x decades, I’ve noticed that these two paths sometimes overlap — I notice a girl struggling, I empathize with her, she struggles and prevails while I’m there for her, and a good friendship comes into existence.  Sometimes, the friendship  becomes much more than just a friendship.  That’s reason #1 why I shouldn’t be a professional counselor.

Observing

How do I know how well a girl is handling things? If she’s not talking to me yet, I observe and I try to draw reasonable conclusions. Typically, I only focus on girls who (as best I can tell) think in fundamentally similar ways as I do, so empathy helps me connect the dots, and make sense of things, too.

Sometimes the issues are very subtle — a girl might be in a boxed-in situation where she feels troubled and isolated yet it’s personally and professionally inappropriate for her to openly announce how much she’s struggling.

Struggling in Private

An example is a 1989 interview of a rock band on the Arsenio Hall show. The band he was interviewing was commercially at the sort of career pinnacle that most musicians can only fantasize about.  For whatever reason, Arsenio Hall inquired about jealousy issues and then he zoomed in on one of the band members and used her as a hypothetical example of perhaps being the focus of others’ negativity. That was a very insightful question to ask, if the band was indeed in the middle of a complex interpersonal crisis — and indeed, it was. “Jealousy” would really be too simple a word for the complexity of what was occurring, yet if one had to choose one candid noun, to explain the situation to a five-year old, that noun would indeed be the one to use. Arsenio was more insightful yet, in selecting that one girl as the focal point.

The problem is that sometimes the observation and question are so good that a candid answer would typically be wildly inappropriate. In all fairness to the focal-point girl, what was she supposed to do or say?

I can relate to being asked the perfect question at the wrong time. I was intensely bullied in high school. I was cerebral, shy and I had started school early, so I was one of the smallest and youngest girls in my class. Plus, I had a small stature anyway.  These factors didn’t help make school any easier for me, nor did some other physical issues (e.g., being a trans girl).

Even when someone asked me point blank, for me it was hard to say “Yes, they’re picking on me, and it’s not right, and I hate it, and I’m miserable since it’s having a significant effect on my morale.” I’d just prefer to sweep the entire issue under the rug, a technique that was a bad habit and quite counterproductive in subsequent years, as to me confronting issues introspectively or otherwise.

It’d be very ironic if this girl had a similar high school experience so that perhaps she’s spring-loaded to react as such. Regardless, in response to the question, the band generally reacted by making light of the issue — yet subsequent events showed that the question had been insightful, and would have been the right one to have asked in a very different, private, gentle context such as a conversation with the relevant girl, not for publicity but focused on empathizing with her.

Another example is a VH1 interview not too long after she was married. Maybe she was happily married, maybe she wasn’t. I honestly don’t know. However, purely as a hypothesis, let’s imagine she wasn’t.  She could hardly choose the VH1 interview to say so.  So she made some subtle and humorous comments about the process of adjusting to married life, but she emphasized that after the period of adjustment, everything was great and remains so. Even if that weren’t the case, what was she supposed to do?  Announce it there? Hardly.

Complicating Factors

As a public persona, the issue gets much more complicated especially if commercial success depends on projecting a sweet and cheerful image– which is the niche this girl has chosen and has utterly perfected.  I have a good friend in the music business, and thanks to her, I’m clear as to how hard it is to make a living in that industry.

For a musician to be commercially successful for decade after decade, with her fan count in the tens of thousands on social media … that’s no coincidence. It’s the work of her being a sales & marketing genius. Although she does show some candor when she’s not having a good day, it’s not exactly soul-deep stuff unless one reads between the lines.  Taking things at face value, she posts precisely what resonates with her fans. Their responses underscore the premise resoundingly.

[Note: the following section I’m leaving in, as written at the time, though I’ve italicized it.  I should comment that as of late 2017, much of it has been overtaken by events, such as the relevant girl being ever more candid and commendably open about her emotional struggle with — as far as I can infer — depression.  She does this even though it’s irreconcilable to the cheerful bubblegum pop image she had in some highly successful mid-1980s songs].

Imagine, as a hypothesis, that the girl is actually seriously and fundamentally glum and has been for so long that she might well by now also be glum about being glum.  What’s she supposed to do about it?

Some years ago, Ellen came out as a rainbow girl. That was dramatic. Some of her fan base departed, and a new fan base came along.  Other Hollywood figures have come out too, to similar effect.

However, coming out and saying “I’m glum and really have been so much of the time” is likely to decimate this girl’s fan base much more than it’d be likely to help things commercially. “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone” might well be relevant.

Part of the problem is that this girl has figured out the male psyche like no public persona whom I know to exist. The amount of intense male adulation that she has on tap always makes me smile as I glance at comments from her fans — most of whom seem to be male and in their 50s or so.  Right now, they’re cheering her on.  Whatever she posts, she tends to have dozens of male voices howling in adulation: protestations that she’s lovely, that she’s ageless, that her husband is the luckiest man alive, pleas to do concerts in  some or other location, questions intended to lure her into a private dialog, marriage proposals … for someone who didn’t have a boyfriend in high school, if she could take her fan base back in time with her, she’d have tens of thousands of boyfriends, and each would worship the ground she walks on.

Assuming that the actual reality is such that it doesn’t fit the fans’ general mindset, it’s not all that hard to imagine the adulation turning into animosity with much of  that energy suddenly directed negatively against her.  It’s something she has to keep in mind as she chooses how open she is about herself

Even an interim situation (between being adulated vs. disliked) would be problematic. If she conveyed any signs of distress then she’d be inundated with guys wanting to rescue her, and with each guy reassuring her that he knows exactly what she needs: this guy as the new man in her life.  Multiply that by several thousand guys, and social media would no longer be a happy place for her, since guys tend to not respond well when their advances have been rebuffed.

If her commercial success were winding down, perhaps at some point her personal concerns would simply outweigh the commercial considerations.  However, as far as I can tell, things are only getting better.  For example, her Twitter follower count keeps ratcheting ever upward.

Her husband is a public persona too, so whatever she does also affects him, which adds yet another layer of complexity to her image management requirements.

If indeed she feels depressed and yet also boxed in, I relate — even though the specifics are very different.

[Comment from late 2017: It turns out she might well feel boxed in but not due to hiding how she feels, from her fans.]

Two Causes

I have friends who are depressed due to brain-chemistry reasons. Nowadays, there are chemical ways to improve things. It’s not as simple as taking meds and then everything is perfect, but still — if the problem is mainly chemical then the solution tends to be mainly chemical. As I understand fields of study, psychiatry focuses on brain-chemistry issues, and someone whose father works in that field probably has that aspect covered well enough already — assuming it’s even a factor, and I have no reason to guess that it is.

From when I was personally depressed, and from me asking friends who were, I conclude that the second major cause of depression is NOT that anything is wrong with the brain of the depressed person. Rather, the person’s evaluation of her own situation might really be accurate, such that she has ample reason to be that sad, as a legitimate reaction to the status quo.  When I felt like that, I knew what would be the way out of the situation (i.e., stop pretending to live as a guy and come out openly as the trans girl I’ve always been). However, for someone who’s a cerebral shy girl and already glum, the prospect seemed impossibly difficult, due to the social, financial, family and professional repercussions, some of which even extended to where I’d be physically less safe.

As things turned out, there were indeed significant repercussions, but they were not as bad as I’d feared. The biggest difference is that I’m now almost-giddily happy, all day every day — or so it seems as a general approximation, anyway. My unhappiness vs. happiness situation is like dark night having become radiant day.

However, I still remember vividly what it felt like to be glum, and so if I see that in another girl who seems to have the same mindset as I do, then I tend to want to reach out to her.

By my observation, my best guess is that something is indeed troubling the girl I’m writing about. [From a revised perspective, late in 2017, this statement ends up being validated]. I wish I knew what that is, so I could be more supportive. As things are now, I can at best guess — and that’s not likely to be very helpful to her.

Huffington Post Article

The irony of all this is that even without any of the public-persona issues, dealing with high-functioning depression is hard.

I like how this is summed up in the Huffington Post article on that subject. I don’t know if this girl is in such a situation or not. If she were, she’d be facing the hurdles as described in both of these articles. That would be a daunting set of challenges, indeed.

If so, she has my sincere sympathy.

* * *

Here’s a link to part 2, which is short story that I wrote several months ago — yet ironically, it dramatizes some of the points made by the Huffington Post article.

 

 

 

 

Parallel Journeys

Must be Nice – Poster

For as long as I can remember, I’ve preferred to surround myself with cerebral people. However, some brilliant people are also brilliantly mean. So, I added, “must be nice” to my criteria – explicitly, instead of it being something I just hope for. Better!

I recently got the explicit “must be nice” idea from a picture of a 1980s poster, where a girl was looking for other girls to form a rock band. She succeeded and the result was the Bangles.

The Girl who Made the Poster

Probably, most people should stop reading right here, because this article doesn’t follow the classic route that most conversational threads tend to do, as to this girl. It doesn’t shower her in adulation, treat her like she’s a Disney character or focus on her physical attributes.

I find her interesting. I’ve speculated about how her mind is hard-wired to fundamentally be a cerebral shy girl, yet that’s not what this article is about, either. Clearly, she’s intelligent. But, what she’s DONE with that ability — that’s what much of this article is about.

Why would I care? There are a great many intelligent people in my life and of whom I’m aware long-distance; amazing people on the planet, who have done and are still doing great things. Why would I focus on this one girl?

She’s a talented musician — but that’s not what inspired this article. It’s her immersion in popular music, with intense depth, detail and complexity – that blew me away. Her Room Tone interview with William Garrett is a good example of that. Key point: she’s also a walking, talking encyclopedia as to popular music.

Similarities

I was impressed — but there was more. I noticed some strong parallels to my own way of thinking, and of doing – and the extent of overlap is intriguing to me.

On many subjects, people look up to me intellectually. On many other subjects, because I surround myself with cerebral people, I get to look up to them, intellectually. Sometimes, I have both experiences with the same person, perhaps even in the same conversation. I might be explaining database design subtleties in one part of the conversation, and in another part of the conversation I might be learning about applying burden-of-proof principles.

Intellectually, most people are like cars that pass me on the freeway, or whom I pass. For me, to discover someone who was, and is, driving parallel to me, mile after mile, at the same pace, some distance away — that has been intriguing. That’s how I first noticed this girl as someone interesting to me, personally — and the more I look, the more I see.

I watched the movie “Contact” last week, and found it interesting how comforted the heroine was as to finding another intelligent life form with whom she felt an inspiring cerebral connection that touched her deeply at an emotional level. She already had some wonderful, intelligent people in her life, but there was something about this being that moved her. That’s a nice dramatization of my own situation, and my own reaction on learning about this intense music-buff musician as a person –as best I can infer. I’ve not interacted with her in person.

Car geek, Music geek

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I’m a girl who is deeply into automotive technological culture, starting with an intense focus on 1960s cars. I’m savvy as to earlier cars too, since they influenced what was to come. As examples of how intensely focused I am: off the top of my head, I can tell you that the Alfa Romeo straight-4 used in the 1960s was a dual-overhead camshaft design, and used wet liners, and was available in multiple bores and strokes, and that the 2-liter version was really 1962 cc in size, not truly 2000. Similarly, the 1800 model really was 1779 cc in displacement. (I just checked on Wikipedia; yup, I remembered correctly from three-and-a-half decades ago). I can explain what these design concepts mean, and their pros and cons. It’s not just book knowledge, either. When I was a teenager, there were quite a few of these driving around. I would be sitting in a class in high school with the windows open, and an Alfa Romeo with that engine would drive by, and I’d think “that’s an Alfa straight-4” and only then would I look to confirm. I typically nailed it. That’s just one brand, and there’s much more to say about it, but instead, let’s move down the list. Audi? I could explain its technical merits in detail, such as how the then-current Audi 80 had a twin-triangular brake system and what that meant as to braking stability, and why. I was reading technical books, technical magazines, road tests – in English, Afrikaans or German – and I understood. I was “only” a teenager but I was already intense. Let’s skip AMC, Auburn, Autobianchi, Alvis, Austin, and Aston Martin … actually, let’s not. At age sixteen I was already calling the Aston Martin company from a continent away, requesting technical literature. On to BMW. I knew the sound of the starter on its M30 straight-six engine so well that I would be walking through a parking lot, hear that sound and think “that’s a BMW straight-six starting” and then go look. Yup. I can go on and on since we’re only up to “B” in the alphabet. We can go all the way, because yes, I knew about the Zil too. It’s a Russian car. There’s much more to say about it, but I think I’ve made my point.

My focus isn’t just on cars but also on the underlying industry business processes. This also makes me a computer geek. One afternoon a week, after school, I took the bus to the one place in the state where computer classes were being taught. This was South Africa in the 1970s and very few computers were around. I wrote my code using a pencil and then gave the code sheet to a lady who turned my program into a stack of punched cards and ran the job. As soon as I could, I bought a Sinclair computer and was writing more software yet.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed this girl who was as into 1960s music as I’m into 1960s cars – the same era, the same intensity. I’d read interviews with her and my eyes would glaze over as hers might, reading the above car-geek paragraph. She can speak intelligently about the many 1960s singers and rock groups in great detail and in-depth. Musicians, songs, instruments – who wrote what, who covered what … which song was on which album, which bands played where. However, it’s not just about rattling off lists of facts. She understands, and can explain, the dynamics behind the music, and who influenced whom, and why, and how. Holy cow.

As I felt the urge to step back and think that this girl is someone I can really look up to intellectually – I noticed the many parallels. For once, I didn’t have to look ahead or behind. I could look to her as an intellectual equal, a peer.

Early Years

I read about her journey to date, wondering if there were more parallels. A cerebral brain structure is presumably the result of nature, not nurture — but even so, people become a particular way due to formative influences. Would I find more parallels there?

At age seven or so, this girl’s uncle gave her a guitar, which helped her focus on music.
My own focus on automobiles was helped when my aunt gave me a book: the Encyclopedia of Automobiles, by Enzo Angelucci. I was maybe seven or eight at the time.

Playing a guitar isn’t a typically-female role; it’s more of a masculine thing but evidently the girl didn’t care. Focusing on cars isn’t a typical female cultural role either; it’s more of a masculine thing but I didn’t care.

As to popular music, this girl focused on music of the 1970s and the 1980s too, but with an emphasis on cultural roots in the 1960s. As for me, 1960s cars shaped the cars of the 1970s and the 1980s, and I’m into those too – mostly focused on the cars that evolved from 1960s beginnings.

This girl wasn’t just listening to music and reading about artists. She was making music too. She co-founded the band that would become the Bangles in the same late-1980, early-1981 time-frame when I started my little automotive empire: buying cars, fixing them up, dismantling them, painting them, doing body work, selling parts, selling cars, renting out my cars. I was very active in my car business but it wasn’t making me money, which, I gather, is a parallel to her music career at the time.

In the early-to-mid-80s, she was broke as to cash flow, doing non-music factory work while focusing on her band after work. In the early-to-mid-80s, I was broke as to cash flow, doing accounting work while focusing on my little automotive empire after work.

Mid-to-Late 1980s

In 1986, the girl’s career took off, and she could thrive in the music industry in LA. In 1986, my automotive-and-computer career took off and I could thrive in my career in LA.

In the mid-to-late-80s, she was working very hard, living in humble quarters, driving a humble car. In that same time-frame, I was working very hard too, at three jobs, sometimes until 2 or 3 a.m. My car at the time was a Pontiac Astre, basically a rebadged Chevy Vega, officially voted the worst car in America. I was living in a not-so-great apartment building in the west part of LA where, for example, my neighbor was hopped up on cocaine for much of the time, and the consequences often ended up affecting me.

I recall how, in an interview, the girl described living out of the band’s van, peeing by the side of the road, sharing a hotel room with four other girls, and toughing it out, wishing there were more towels so she didn’t have to share a towel with another girl. In that same time-frame, two stories describe my software work. One is where I was working day and night on a deadline and living mostly off the Girl Scout cookies and near-beer that happened to be in the office refrigerator. Another is where I was the software geek in charge of a telephone billing system for which I’d written much of the code. I was monitoring all-night telephone bill printing, while sleeping an hour here and there during the night, on the office floor. When the printers ran out of paper or there was a systems glitch, I had to get things going again.

In the late 1980s, the girl got into an intense romantic relationship with someone. As far as I can infer from articles and the lyrics of her songs: Once things were up to speed, their time together was initially blissful and she was intensely involved and happy and in love, but the dynamic not-so-slowly dissolved into a source of frustration for her. She’d wanted someone she could count on, someone to whom she could look up to or who would at least be a peer — not someone for her to carry. The dynamic changed to where her role became more and more to support that other person, including during financial crisis after crisis in which she felt herself being manipulated into helping as such. This paragraph precisely describes my own journey at the time — uncannily so, matching point for point for point.

Career-wise, in the late 1980s, the girl was technically doing well with her music but she was running into corporate pressures to focus on, specifically, her voice for singles made in the name of the band, to treat her as the lead singer of the band and to do things that really didn’t fit her creative energy, nor did she feel comfortable being singled out like that. Career-wise, in the late 1980s, I was technically doing well with my work but I was running into corporate pressures to fit in with business practices with which I disagreed. On at least one occasion, after a confrontation with a senior executive, I recall standing in the office, openly crying tears of frustration. The company executives appointed me as lead programmer of the small group of geeks working there, and I recall overhearing one conversation among the company executives in which they wanted to make sure that my cubicle was the largest, as a status thing. These things really didn’t fit my creative energy, nor did I feel comfortable being singled out like that.

The girl never signed up to be the band leader or lead singer, and although in a way it was a compliment to be focused on as such, she pushed back against corporate pressure as much as she thought she could. Even so, her band-mates had started to grumble and so when she needed their support to be a unified front against corporate pressure, she felt isolated and alone, dealing with animosity from her peers. As for me, I never signed up to be the lead programmer, although in a way it was a compliment to be focused on as such. I, also, pushed back against corporate pressure as much as I thought I could. My fellow geeks were also feeling slighted so I felt more and more isolated and alone. I mostly gave in to get along, and that made me feel more frustrated yet. Sometimes, too rarely, I stood up for myself. I recall one girl and I silently glaring at each other for minutes on end. In another scene, I recall that same girl and I arguing, and we gradually got louder and louder. Another girl tried to quiet us down in the interest of professional behavior in a business context, but we simply ignored her and kept arguing.

For this musician-and-music-buff girl and for me, what should have been a career pinnacle became a source of strife and frustration. Outwardly, things were going very well. Privately, they very much were not.

At the time, the band was achieving the sort of successes that most bands can only dream about – and then suddenly, it was all over. They disbanded. Much as this had ended something into which the girl had poured her heart and soul, she was also relieved. She proceeded to a solo career. At that time, the software company at which I was working was achieving the sort of successes that most in that industry can only dream about. I recall the company moving to ever-nicer locations, eventually being located in a marble-foyer high-rise in the west part of LA. The company seemed to be thriving. Then, suddenly it was all over. The company folded. Much as this had ended something into which I’d poured my heart and soul, such as personally re-writing the entire company library of standard software routines, on my own time — I was also relieved. I started my own software company and proceeded solo.

Solo

Solo, in the early 1990s, with all of her strengths and there being fewer things to hold her back, the girl might well have expected to thrive in her career, yet she didn’t. During that same time, my solo software company was named “Happy Journey Systems” since I focused on people being happy, but it wasn’t as happy a journey for me — my company was making good software but it was not doing well commercially, and for lack of a better idea I was still also dealing with some of the same executives, who had become my clients. I’d thought that with my increased independence, I’d have more success but it remained elusive. My automotive endeavors were failing too, and I was so broke that I sold off, for less than $2,000, three collectors’ cars that today would be worth about $60,000.

The girl’s singing career didn’t end, but the rocket-ship ride had slowed down significantly. The same was true for my career. In her career and mine, things were supposed to be better than ever but they weren’t.

Career success or lack thereof had long-term financial implications especially in a bad economy. In that respect, things also weren’t looking as rosy any more. For girls who like to be in exact control of our lives, it was a difficult time not just in terms of practical consequences but also psychologically.

By 1992 LA was, as she puts it, “a dying city.” That sums it up well for me, too. She was there, I was there. It wasn’t just about LA. It also affected how confident and hopeful we felt about things. Much of what had seemed solid not that long ago had dissolved.

Marriage

In the early-to-mid-1990s, she met someone kind and stable, got married and began to raise a family. So did I.

Her interest in music remained, but had slowed down professionally. My interest in cars remained, but had slowed down professionally.

During the last 15 years or so, her music career gradually again grew in strength. So did my automotive career.

Nowadays, she is into music for her own enjoyment, not money issues or corporate pressure. That is a perfect parallel to my automotive career too.

So many parallels …

Invitation

One day, when she’s read enough of my writing to decide this is a door that’s in her interest to open, I intend for her to announce that she’s ready enough to meet and chat over a cup of coffee. Perhaps that’s later this week. Perhaps it’s a year from now. Perhaps it’s when she’s 60 or 70 or 80 or 90. I don’t have any insight into the time-line. I just know to enact a cause and eventually there’s an effect.

I’ve already messed this up once. Really in the 1980s or 1990s I should have been aware of her, found her and befriended her. I suspect that the mutual support and understanding would have made a huge difference then, for her and for me.

Today, thirty years or so later, I don’t intend for this to be yet more of a ships-passing-in-the-night situation. There’s much life to be enjoyed and lived, especially with the benefit of past insights. Having this very-much-like-minded girl in my life as a friend would be a very nice addition, and my intent is to have the enthusiasm be justifiably mutual and equal. That’s my plan.

As do I when I’m feeling shy or socially awkward, this girl has a dazzling smile. I hope to not see that smile in person. I’d want to see the earnest, cerebral look of someone serious, who’s intellectually and emotionally in her comfort zone during the interaction.

The first chat wouldn’t be an interview, just a conversation between two like-minded girls who can learn from each other and be mutually supportive– but I suspect the conversation could go on for hours – perhaps decades; not as a substitute for work and family, but as one more addition to the joys of life. Long walks, much empathy, good conversation; warm hugs, lots of fun — and lots of coffee.

I’d like that.

The Most Dazzling Smiles

Some shy girls live and die in obscurity and loneliness, too shy to make social contact, unclear on how to even begin, and lacking pushy friends who corral us into social situations where we do finally meet people.

If a shy girl does better than the norm, her best social skill is often her smile.  A shy girl might well get — and deserve — the “wow, she’s so beautiful” accolade based to a large extent on the effect of her lovely, dazzling smile.  This attracts people in general, plus it attracts other shy girls who know what to look for.

When I try to identify a shy girl in any social context, I look for that smile. Often there’s no subtlety involved. Shy girls’ smiles seem to be in a category of their own: they just about light up the room. It’s the feature that, for me, gets the most compliments, by far: my smile – and it’s always in a context where I’m feeling socially awkward.

For shy girls, smiling is our ultimate social-skills coping mechanism. It projects a positive and confident attitude regardless of the turmoil inside, due to feeling socially awkward.  It makes us seem approachable — and indeed, we do need to be approached. Yet when someone does approach us, it’s often hard for us to figure out how to contribute to the conversation. This presumes that we care – and typically, we very much do.  We assume the other person is at least our intellectual equal and that we must rise to the occasion.

Often, the irony is that shy girls are far more cerebral than the average person. That’s much of the reason why we’re shy. So, even while we’re feeling socially awkward, and we feel inferior to whomever is standing in front of us, that might well not be a fair self-assessment.  Unaware of this, we feel awkward, and so we smile.

We use our dazzling smiles in social settings like meeting new people or at parties – events that, for us, are the most difficult. How different shy girls are from other people is evident when we realize that a situation specifically structured for human enjoyment (e.g., a party) tends to be highly unpleasant, awkward and embarrassing for shy girls.

For example, I’m writing this while at a hotel in the San Francisco Bay area, as part of a multi-day, multi-state road trip in the company of another shy girl. The management of the hotel has arranged a social evening in which complimentary appetizers and drinks are served and where the guests are encouraged to socially mingle.  We can hardly imagine a less pleasant place to be, and so we actively avoided it.

Instead, we spent some quiet time, each focused on her own agenda, sitting side by side in our hotel bedroom. After that, we had an in-depth and enjoyable personal conversation, went for a drive, and had another intense and enjoyable conversation.

When I’m with another shy girl, I value the social interaction with her highly – much of the time. Even though my traveling companion is lovely, positive and brilliant, there are nevertheless times when I simply crave solitude.  The key to a good relationship (whether a friendship or more) between two shy girls is to be able to synchronize those two needs. It tends to be as simple as: communicating.  With outsiders, communication is hard. Between shy girls, it can range from extra awkward to being the most natural thing in the world.

Last week, in order to be able to begin my trip, I’d paid someone to drive me to Las Vegas, since my car was already there. She and I also shared a hotel room, as friends.

She was nice , well-behaved and good company, but even so I was feeling socially awkward and I needed some space.

I explained this to the lady, and excused myself. I love Las Vegas with its life and energy, but even so the best place for me right then was the quiet lobby by the elevators on the 17th floor of the hotel. I sat there for many minutes, and enjoyed the peace and quiet.  It’s an elegant hotel, and now and then a security guard was walking around and making sure things were okay – even there.

Much as I appreciate being safe, I’d have preferred solitude. I felt awkward and didn’t know what to do or say, so I asked him to take my picture. He did.  Did I feel awkward? Yes. Hence, the smile.

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Shy girls tend to hide the fact that we’re shy. Two major exceptions are probably a) this blog, and b) the 1987 movie called “The All-Nighter.” As best I know, the movie has several parallels with the life of the shy girl who plays the main character, and is commendably open as to her being shy.  Her dazzling, endearing and lovely smiles punctuate the movie.

My traveling companion, no surprise, has a dazzling smile too, though I don’t ever see it directed towards me. I only see it when she feels she’s in an awkward social situation, and then it’s used on outsiders. I get a different type of smile, or an earnest look, while we’re enjoying each other’s company.

There’s much of a pattern, as such. I used to date a girl who was a professional dancer (as in, in a strip club) and she was another shy girl. At work, on stage, her smile was dazzling. When we were alone together, I never saw that smile.  She was relaxed and had an earnest look most of the time, a good match with the conversations we were having.

As to our dazzling smiles, it’s not that we’re insincere when we smile, as shy girls. We are indeed projecting benevolence, and we’re being nice and sweet.  But, if you were to interpret that as social confidence, you’d be mistaken… there’s much more complexity involved.

The Five Love Languages

I had a six-year-long relationship with someone who had a Master’s in Counseling and was an MFT intern by the time the relationship ended. She said wise things, and I paid attention. One of the things I learned was that, as humans, each of us tends to feel loved in (mostly) one of five ways. Whoever loves that particular person would be more effective if that love were expressed in a way that fits whatever the other person is attuned to. It’s sort of like saying “send your sweet messages on the same radio station to which the other person is listening.” If we don’t, we might assume we’re doing a good job expressing the love yet the other person doesn’t feel the love.

For the record, as I remember these five ways, they are:

  • Words of affirmation, e.g., “I love your voice,” “I love how you just did this”
  • Quality time, e.g., going for a walk on the beach together, visiting fresh fruit stands together
  • Touch, e.g., kissing the girl, or stroking her arm, back, thigh, feet …
  • Acts of service, e.g., fixing her car, fixing her computer
  • Gifts, e.g., favorite flowers, favorite little snacks

I’m not suggesting we be overly rigid in using this information. For example, there’s sometimes a secondary love language also, e.g., “acts of service are super-nice too.”

For me, a relationship dynamic can become so integrated in its own routines and traditions that it takes a conscious effort for me to step back and analyze things and try to pick out the item that’s most important to someone whom I love. Sometimes it feels so lame for me to actually ask, but I do ask even so, when I feel unclear.

Not that my mom is the best example of the sort of love on which I’m focusing this article, but I had a hard time guessing, and a few weeks ago, I decided to ask her. I was surprised to hear her reply.

As another example, I asked a friend what her main love language was, and it’s “touch” like mine is, so it’s a more positive dynamic just for that reason alone, nowadays.  I’m not implying that “touch” would always be asexual but even if it is, it’s nice. For example, she spent a few days visiting me, and one night she couldn’t sleep, got a back rub and slept just fine after that.

Sometimes, however, a girl is so preemptive in her communication that there’s little need to ask — or so it seems, anyway. For example, the girl who wrote and sang “My Side of the Bed” made it clear that by her standards, beds are not just for wild sexual times but also for being comforted, which (in my book) means “touching.” One of her other songs has a similar theme, such as her watching someone drink Irish whisky through lips that she wishes would be kissing her. The way I read her lyrics is that the value to her is primarily intimacy, not primarily sexuality. That intimacy might be sexual or it might not. So, for whoever does or did woo this girl, one love language, at least, is clear.

Personally, as best I can figure her out, she’s also very shy, hence someone who values being touched and yet for whom it’s hard to make the first move as such. That makes for an intriguing person with whom to interact. The analogy comes to mind of someone breaking the ice to find a warm spring underneath.