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?
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.