Saturday, July 24, 2010
All by Myself
My friend Mary once passed on this wisdom to me: As you get older, you have to learn to be nicer to people. Otherwise nobody will like you.
Surliness in youth is, if not exactly a plus, at least forgivable. Dewy rose-petal lips remain pretty even when they pout. Not so much in old age. Being a cranky old guy gets you exactly nowhere.
But what if it's something you can't help? I've always been an extreme introvert, and the older I get, my reluctance to get out and be with people--to pretend that I care about their grandchildren and their second mortgages, to eat their lemon bars and smile like sunshine just exploded up my ass, to bite my tongue when they speak of how important their personal relationship with God is--gets stronger and stronger.
The older I get, the more I start thinking, "I don't have time for this shit."
Increasingly, with age, I lose patience with people who can't be sexy, magnanimous, or fun--and preferably all three. To my horror, this escalation is happening right as the world is producing fewer and fewer sexy, magnanimous, and fun people to befriend--and the tee-tiny few that remain do not all want to hang around with me.
Yes, I am learning to keep some opinions to myself ... or at any rate to reserve them for a select few (says the guy blogging near and far about his least likable traits). The first rule in training a dog is to let him know that the world is better when he's close by you--and the principle holds no less for other people.
I enjoy being by myself. I value my independence. But I don't want to live my life alone either. I need, in reasonable and regular doses, affection, sex, conversation, laughter, help, encouragement, and distractions.
I try to make my crotchetiness amusing, but as a college instructor I find that my phlegmatic dry humor works its magic on roughly a third of the 18-to-21 year olds it did just ten years ago. Clearly, "my type" of people are thinning out--like black rhinos.
I generalize, but the very young today are a prematurely jaded crew, who choose (perhaps with good reason) to drown their boredom and lack of job prospects in Hello Kitty, Miley Cyrus, teddy-bear-shaped sugar-frosted cereals, neon-colored plastic bracelets, whatever. Theirs is a sunny, infantilized, ambivalent, and de-sexed world, for which we have, I suspect, televangelism, helicopter parents, political correctness, and AIDS to thank. And I haven't a single thing in common with them. Fortunately, I have never sought camaraderie in the classes I teach--though I have, rarely, unexpectedly, made some friends there.
So I nurture the friendships I have already, and steer clear of situations and confrontations that may jeopardize them. At the same time, I avoid morons and kvetchers--and try to tread carefully when life forces me into their proximity. I try to be careful in selecting the company I keep--it is the one area where I am a careful shopper. I choose quality over quantity. Or try to.
I am eager, delighted even, to meet almost anyone for the first time. But I'm less inclined than I used to be to take the time to try to build relationships where there is no immediately apparent spark of simpatico.
I love my friends, near and far, actual and virtual, like a foodie loves truffles--for their rarity, for their rich comforting earthiness, for their unexpectedness, and for their hard-won-ness. I may be as individual as a snowflake, happily unique, but it's not a snow day if there's only one flake out in the cold.
Posted by Joe at 8:33 PM