Saturday, September 17, 2005

Unprotected social intercourse

Hail,
Just back from some course on sexual assault and desperate to talk about anything, anything, other than the heartbreaking horror of sexual assault.

So.

I am going out today, to see a friend.

This is a very rare event. Normally, weeks, months go by without me going out to see someone. I practically never do it. As a consequence, I suspect, I have very very few friends. It's an embarrassing thing to say, it's got that whole "loser stink" thing attached to it, but it's true.

It didn't use to be like this. When I was in Uni the first time there was this big circle of us. Going around being callow and intoxicated, that kind of thing, strongbow sweet cider and going to see cover bands. The second time I went back, in my thirties, a smaller group, less of the drinking and so on, but still, people you could talk to without it seeming an imposition.

Now there are practically none.

I can blame work for some of this. I have been doing at least part time shift-work for a good few years now, and that can impede things. And we've always tended to live towards the edge of the map, out in the bush with room for the horses and the cats and the relatives, so it's a fair way for a lot of my friends to come or us to go. And a lot of my former friends have babies now, and many of those babies seem to have little interest in politics or science, and to become impatient when we discuss these subjects in their presence. Plus looking after one or two kids means you're tired.

But those things are not reasons as much as excuses. If the truth be told, a lot of it is me.

I find it difficult to maintain friendships. Face to face, difficult. Electronically, slightly easier. Post - not at all.

I have a phone number written on the notice-board in our study. It's from someone I used to know, my best friend for four years in high school. Alastair and I went everywhere together, read the same books, climbed on the same roofs, had crushes on the same girls. Almost a year ago a publisher emailed me, said that Alastair had seen a story of mine in a magazine, wanted to get in contact with me, here was his phone number, I wrote it on the noticeboard.

Still there. Almost a year ago. Haven't rang.

My best friend in my home city, the guy I did all that cider drinking with, best friend for close on ten years ... a brief flurry of emails and phone calls the month or so his wife left him, pretty much nothing since. Not even the faintest echo.

The best friend from the four years of medical school. Similar process.

More recently. A friend of mine from this very city, half an hour's drive away. Luminously intelligent. Consistently wonderful company, can make you laugh so much you have to stop the car or you'll kill someone. The person who introduced me to the Ultimates, Alan Moore, Shawn of the Dead, Firefly, who got me reading comics again. Half an hour away, haven't seen him in over a month, now too scared to.

(and it is 'scared' - seriously. I am looking at the phone now and thinking "for God's sake, just pick the frickin' thing up." I've even writing it. But I'm not doing it)

What is there to be frightened of?

Don't really know that I can analyse it that far. I could say "uncomfortable silences", or "not being welcome" or "not finding anything to talk about", or appearing at an inconvenient time for them. Or not having anything interesting to say, or being boring or out of touch or depressing or whiny or ...

But it's a lot of things, or maybe it's no specific thing, maybe it's an intransitive fear. I've often thought we need the same kind of distinctions in psychiatry as we do in grammar: nominatives, vocatives, accusatives, the transitive and intransitive forms of verbs, that kind of thing. Transitive verbs are like the "chopped" in "He chopped wood", intransitive verbs don't have to refer to an object - like the "ran" in "He ran."

Similarly there should be transitive emotions, emotions that relate to things, and intransitive emotions. Intransitive emotions aren't necessarily about anything you can see in front of you, it seems like they just exist. A state of fearfulness, a state where you fear things because you are afraid, rather than fearing them because they are particularly threatening.

Amazing how much simpler and relaxing emergency medicine is than real life.

What prompted this is me thinking about the sizeable number of people I miss, people I want to see, whose company I enjoy and whose ideas I find interesting, that I have not seen. Anyway, I wrote this down to work it out, and to find out if this is the same for anyone else (my youngest son is shy), and it's pretty much worked out. And I'm visiting someone today.

All I have to do now is pick up the phone.

John

8 Comments:

Anonymous Camilla said...

Oh yeah. I really get it. I'm exactly the same. It's six weeks now before we fly out, we've been here nearly a year, and there are some people I haven't seen yet (including, to my eternal shame, your family), some I've seen only once, and a few people I haven't written to but should have.

I HATE how that feels. My experience is of a mixture of feelings - fear, guilt and then resentment on top of it all because of the guilt.

God it's horrible. Any ideas how to slither out from underneath it?

2:20 PM  
Blogger Benedict 16th said...

Do I know you?
(Actually nice to actually see you today and I am glad Sarah didn't really let you go bald (again!).

What to do?

At least there are no Victorian sides in the Grand Final.
The dilemma is do you go for the Weagles that have already won twice before?
or do you go for Sydney which has never won and is related to South Melbourne
which is too close to being Victorian? Hard choice....

any ideas?

10:09 PM  
Blogger Chade said...

I'm assuming you mean Tobias? I'm sure he would love a call. There were many a thursday when I would I would ask if you were to join us and he would say quite shamedly no.
I'm back soon and you get bet that you're going to the Firkin with Tobias and Myself on a Friday Night to read some books and drink.
Sounds fun don't it?
As for no picking up the phone, i do it all the time. I get this feeling that the past is past. Anytime I have done, it gets a little awkward. So I see where you are coming from on that front.

7:46 AM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Okay, once the crises afflicting my life right now are in the past (given my energy level, I say I'll blog about it for three months, and then I'll feel all better and in control) I'll somehow finagle all of your phone numbers and start a monthly conference call. Yup. Just schedule the damn thing. Oh, I hate talking on the phone too, but actually dialing it? Not a problem. So just wait. The meddling will commence.

6:26 AM  
Blogger artie said...

I think there are people (like us) who are completely consumed by what is in front of them: a pile of papers on our desk or a line of people who need our help or a dog that needs to be walked... and the rest falls to the bottom of the list...(social intercouse!)

Then there is the guilt of not being a better: daughter, friend, cousin, etc. I completely relate to this "condition" of social isolation but feel I am even worse because I feel really hurt when my friends forget or neglect to call me because they assume I am not available.

It is a dilemna I am struggling with more and more and it is tiresome!

A long time ago I remember watching a woman put a pencil in her mouth sideways. It was pointed out that the same muscles are used when one smiles. Just the act of using those muscles can make one feel better because they are associated with the memory of laughter. Sometimes that's all I need and it is much cheaper than those drugs that are supposed to treat social anxiety!

10:43 PM  
Blogger Chade said...

Hey, At least your friends remember you and the impact you had on their existence. Recently, when I returned home I found much of what I had been involved with in regard to my friends had been clouded over. I had become forgotten in some regards. An example is: I went out with a group of friends, two couples to be precise, and one proceeded to introduce me to the other. I was exasperated because I was the one that had introduced them.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Foilwoman said...

Chade: I find wearing bright red lipstick and high heels works wonders (esp. since I'm v. v. tall to begin with), but perhaps that might not work as well for you. Or you might be memorable, but not in a good way. Of course you do live somewhere around the place where "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" was originally inspired and filmed, so maybe it would work. Try that.

4:44 AM  
Anonymous Camooooolla said...

What I hate is when you get in touch with someone you went to school with absolutely years ago, and they refuse to interact with you as an adult, apparently preferring to believe you haven't changed at all since you were seven, chubby, wore hideous plastic glasses and couldn't run very fast.

Yeah, stilettos and red lipstick (and a rooly short skirt) are sounding rather good, actually...

9:25 PM  

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