Leveling Out

Leveling up

If I ever meet you in person and give you the “distracted brush off” I want you to tell me to knock it off. You know that look, don’t you? It’s the “I’m standing in front of you and nodding at semi-appropriate intervals, but really I’m looking around for someone else to talk to” look.

I’m willing to admit here and now that I often read social cues incorrectly. It’s a thing for me, always thinking I stayed too long in a conversation, expecting that my conversation partner is bored and hoping to move on as it were. Sometimes, though, I think I have it right and having had this experience again recently while in a large group of people I’m here to tell you that it feels awful.

I leave those conversations feeling vulnerable and generally I blame myself for that feeling. I think, “I’ve said something offensive” or “I’m the least interesting person ever.” But most likely it has nothing to do with me at all, at least that’s where I’m hoping to land these days. This constant berating myself– questioning every word I spoke, questioning whether I forgot to wear antiperspirant or needed mouthwash– all points to a preoccupation with me, myself and I. That’s no good. I’m 48 years old (almost) and it’s probably time I cut myself some damn slack for a change.

Backing away from the experience for a moment I’m able to place some new thoughts into the pigeon holes of judgement I use to catalogue and store those rough conversational transactions. I think it has a great deal to do with positioning. My wise friend, Jude once (more than once) told me that relationships have levels and that we tend to work in those levels. She’d use her hands to show me the level she intended to meet other grown-ups, which is equal, at the same height, adult to adult. Then she said that when we lower ourselves below people we meet, or lower other people it sets up a different dynamic.

If I’m your boss, maybe that lift is merited. If you’re my mom, I’ll gladly move you up a few notches (or more, my mom is awesome.) But for the most part, her point is that we need to meet grown-ups at equal levels to keep the relationship right. She’s very smart and I think she’s right especially in this.

When I walked up to this person and introduced myself in this most recent interaction I felt intimidated, I felt “lower than.” In her defense, I set up the dynamic. In my defense, she did nothing to alleviate it. We were set up for that crazy eye darting, ‘get me the hell out of this conversation’ trap. No wonder I felt both relieved and dissed when we both finally wandered out of that conversation. See how complicated we are?
Humans. Pfft.

So this is why I am just telling you that if we ever meet in person and you ever feel me instigate this odd tension between us, I want you to tell me to knock it off. In fact, you can just hold your hands up, side by side, showing us as equal and that will remind me. I need this because I forget and I imagine the older I get I’m bound to land on one platform or another, above or below, if I don’t spend some active time leveling out. Let’s do this thing.

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8 thoughts on “Leveling Out

  1. I love this. I’ve taken to considering everyone, including me, as made in the image of God. That’s a serious leveler!

  2. I would love, love, love to meet you someday! If by chance I was lucky enough for that to happen and I picked up on some “leveling” fibs as you say, I most certainly would NOT say to knock it off!
    Why? Because there could be so many unknown reasons for that fib and it would have nothing to do with me. I admit it could have something to do with me but, Oh well, thats the way it goes sometimes. It takes time to get to know someone. The first time you meet there could be insecure, sad or distracted feelings for a number of reasons. You mentioned somewhere (your book? Yes! I read it & heart it!) that you are often misjudged by the expression on your face. Me too! I am 62 yrs old and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “Whats the matter?” When someone asks me that question I try to smile & say something positive. It usually works but not always. You see sometimes it annoys me more than othertimes and also there are some people that are, well, umm, doggonit, annoying. But Ive been told countless times that my job is to love them and be kind anyways. I don’t have to invite them over for dinner and be best friends but I do need to be kind when I see them. Can I say just doing that is so very hard sometimes. I am still learning. I try to set reasonable boundaries and smile, yes I try to smile. Please don’t be so hard on yourself. It will all be OK and like my priest has been saying to me for (25 yrs+) KEEP PRAYING!

  3. Sorry….one more thing.
    Have you noticed people act differently in large groups compared to one on one?
    Another difference is interacting on a one to one is much different than when each of us is with our significant other and we as couples are conversing or dining together.

    By the way, I do get your point about leveling. When it doesn’t seem to be working at least we can TRY to make it work on our end….can be so very hard. So many things to work on.Thanks for your input and perspective. It helps.

  4. I heard you speak on a panel at Calvin two years ago, and I thought you were absolutely fantastic. I was just finishing up an MFA and I thought, “I hope I can be as confident and sassy and literate as she is some day.” I don’t believe I read the cues incorrectly, either.
    Hope to meet you at this year’s FFW.

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