html xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Work left to do.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Work left to do.

Capella’s right. I don’t understand people who are ambivalent about having kids, but that is just part of not understanding people who are ambivalent about anything. Ambivalence is one of a couple areas where I can’t empathize, though I try.

I have a girlfriend, Le, whom I’ve known since high school. Le is awesome. I should tell you more Le stories, about the fucking attitude she’ll give to cops or scary thugs or anyone, and how they just stand there, blown away that such a beautiful lotus blossom could possibly know those words, much less call them that, and then she walks away before they’ve even got their breath back. Back when I wasn’t working and Le was “working from home”, we talked on the phone for hours every day. I used to think that I wasn’t good at empathizing with people, but Le is. Since we had plenty of time to talk, we would spend hours gossiping. A lot of that would involve wondering how someone could do such a thing. We would come up with a best guess, putting as much detail as we could into figuring out what the circumstances looked like to them. We would speculate about how you would have to feel to act like that, or what she must have been thinking.

Le’s worldview is darker than mine. She loves her family and friends, but where I go first for the most benign explanation possible, she’s willing to assume that people have worse motives. I don’t want the way she thinks to be true, but she’s been strikingly right about stuff I would never have believed. Months before my ex and ex-best friend broke open, Le met us for dinner at Thanh Long. She took one look at them, sitting at a table with eight other people, not particularly interacting with each other. Her eyes narrowed and when she leaned in for our hug, her exact words were “What the fuck is that?” She was right.

Claudia caught that shit too. She was saying things like “They spend an awful lot of time together.” back when I was still saying things like “Of course they do. We’re all best friends. You can’t understand the true depths of our beautiful friendship, the love we all share. I wish you wouldn’t malign our pure and special relationships with each other. Besides, she would never do that to me.” And Claudia was all “Why is he washing her car?”

Anyway, while I have no idea whether Le and I were accurate in all our gossiping, I did spend hours everyday trying to put myself in other people’s outlooks and think like they do. I think I’ve gotten better at empathizing. But not about ambivalence. I just don’t understand it; I can’t summon what it must be like to be indecisive. Sure, there are times when two options are about the same. But that just means they are equally good or bad, and I pick one arbitrarily. When choices aren’t equal, I always favor one and don’t look back. The worst of all situations is relevant uncertainty. You’ve likely already guessed that I hate uncertainty. I’ll adjust to what I have to, but uncertainty about important stuff is an especially vicious hell. Uncertainty can stop me for a while, but I’ll usually pick something, even something sub-optimal, just to end it.

The other thing I don’t get is shyness. I have finally learned that sometimes, people aren’t snubbing me if they don’t approach me all easy and friendly-like. I know that rationally, but have to remind myself before I build a reciprocal dislike. Some people are shy. Shy people are not disdainful, they are shy. I got that wrong for decades, but now I know. Maybe some day I’ll really understand.

11 Comments:

Blogger billo said...

"As long as we are unsure we are alive" (Graham Greene).

"Even if God reveals His Face I'll still take 'maybe' and 'perhaps'"
(Allama Iqbal).

What I don't get is this constant need for certainty!

Old jewish proverb: if a person is right 75% of the time that's great; 85% ? Superb, give her a medal. And if 100%? Shoot her

1:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Meg,
It hurts to see you still thinking about your ex so often. This blog is good therapy, but try to move on.

Maybe first love is like opium. The rapturous high you get the first time the wonderfully opposite sex truly connects with your heart, mind and body.

And then the crushing desperate lonely despair that follows rejection and loss of intimacy.

After first love are we all just chasing the dragon?

I hope not. One can never forget that first blissful confusing wonderful time when two become one. And I for one would not want to forget. But you can cherish the good memories - the fleeting moments of love and lust and joyful togetherness - and let the rest fade into rose colored obscurity.

In the immortal words of Jimi Hendrix -
Fly on little wing...

And you will surely find a kindred spirit to rock your world, fill your heart and hold your hand…

-S

she said – take anything you want from me, anything you need…

2:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you hate uncertainty, as you say, perhaps you could think of people who are ambivalent as hating uncertainty even more. I tend to be unable to decide what I want when I know that there's something out there I don't know. For instance, when I couldn't decide where to go to grad school, what made the decision incredibly difficult was that I knew my data was incomplete. Part of me kept trying to find that last piece of information that would swing the balance in favor of one. I knew that I didn't know everything important about making the decision.

6:37 AM  
Anonymous justus said...

But that just means they are equally good or bad, and I pick one arbitrarily.

If you have mastered such a unique level of introspection and expected utility analysis I'm having a hard time understanding the need for this blog at all. Research of Kahneman et al. has shown conclusively that people are terrible at determining whether things are equally good or not. There's a whole list of terms in behavioural finance that explain why your assertion is wrong for virtually all of humanity.

On the other hand, there is a large body of research establishing that certainty of opinion (expert paradox, etc) makes you even worse at making decisions because you've constructed a myth of personal infallibility that makes you even more susceptible to confirmation bias, choice-supportive bias, and so on.

Ambivalence annoys me, especially about minor things. (i.e. those discussions with friends about where to go for dinner that take an hour.) Yet research has shown that this is a fairly universal pattern. People overanalyze minor decisions and underanalyse major decisions; they'll spend more time finding the cheapest applesauce than the best health insurance policy. We'll spend more time reading a list of ingredients in a recipe than falling in love.

It annoys me but I also understand that it is likely an evolutionary response to a world we are still ill-adapted to live in.

Uncertainty can stop me for a while

How long was your long distance relationship, again? How does that not count as living with uncertainty for years on end?

As for shyness, I'm not a huge fan of evolutionary psychology -- the lack of testability for its propositions gives most of them an astrology-feel to me -- but I think it does offer some intriguing hypothesis for Why Things Are. Shyness is possibly an adaptation to the small hunter gatherer groups humanity sprang from. If you spend your entire life among a group of the same 30 people, one social misstep can be extraordinarily catastrophic.

9:04 AM  
Anonymous jens said...

Shyness is kind of mysterious even for those of us who are shy. For example, most people don't think of me as shy at all. I can do karaoke in front of a crowd, speak one-on-one with friends about any topic you could come up with (a friend that my wife thought might be a romantic interest was graphically describing some menstrual issues...my wife overheard and apologized, saying "you were right, she really DOES think of you as a girlfriend"), but I cannot approach strangers at all. I tried to petition for ballot access for a political party once at a big meet, and it took me two hours to work up the courage to ask the first stranger (I asked 4 people total, but got not signatures). When I go to a pub, and a close friend is sitting with people I don't know, I generally will not approach the table unless invited.

Go figure.

9:25 AM  
Blogger billo said...

"...[b]ut I think it does offer some intriguing hypothesis for Why Things Are"

Justus, is that thought itself a product of evolutionary psychology or does it stand 'outside', independent of its survival value?

9:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you wearing a sari in that set of four pictures?

By the way, you look very pretty in the third photo.

9:31 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

2:47 Anonymouse:
But, but, he wasn't my first love! I don't think about it that often! I mention it because it was a big deal and its still funny, but it doesn't consume me any more. If there is still unfinished business, it is with her. I am way over him.

What are you doing up so late?

Justus:
I hope I haven't constructed a myth of personal infallibility. I think it is more that in most things I am a satisficer, and I hate the costs of worrying over small differences. In big things, city, job, boy, I am definitely a maximizer. But even then I know my mind very quickly. I was certain that I wanted to marry the ex early on and we were a solid couple for a long time. When things got bad at the end, I chose the certainty of an ultimatum instead of prolonging our relationship.

9:31 Anonymouse:
Yeah. Anand took me to this incredible, gorgeous Indian wedding and his Mom dressed me. Fun. Yummy. But Anand won't dance, and I won't go to any more Indian weddings unless someone will dance with me.

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Megan, I understand what you're saying about thinking about other people's motives. It always surprises me when other people are 'up to no good'; my thought is, why bother? (With conniving, that is.)

As far as shyness, here's a little article that may help:
http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200303/rauch
Enjoy, K.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Generally people don't see what's going wrong in their own relationships. That's the stereotype right? All of your friends are giving you warnings that you refuse to believe? I did the same thing with my first g/f, I refused to believe she was cheating on me, even when it was very obvious something was wrong.

2) Figuring out other people's motives is tricky. I think in a lot of cases most people don't know their own motives. Especially when you start talking about emotional situations.

3) I tend to be the very shy type. If you put me in a room full of strange people I likely won't have much to say to any of them. I'm not really sure why. But I do know I don't tend to have any interest in the things people tend to talk about. Like what's going on in professional sports. I have an interest in politics, but those aren't generally friendly conversations, and I tend towards heartless/libertarian, which rarely goes over well with other people.


Justin

1:32 PM  
Anonymous kvr said...

Incidentally, ambivalence could also be a form of decisionmaking. Procrastinate until the choice presents itself or until options are narrowed. I've seen it used to great effect in political situations.

It also often means that an individual has made a decision but refuses to publicly state the decision.

6:55 PM  

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