Nostophobia

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I usually post in a flurry at the end of the holiday season, not knowing when I’ll be able to give free rein to my writing. I also sometimes tend to pad it up with inspirational messages about how the holidays have changed me and how next semester will be vastly different from the last and all the mechanisms I have established in place to prevent me from making the same mistakes as before. 

This summer, I was supposed to be interning, and taking a summer class and working on research all through three months. Until my parents put their foot down and insisted that I stay at home, get my food and sleep schedule on track and work passively. I enjoyed the traditional vacations that most families schedule every few years, and honestly, I hadn’t been on a holiday since 2008. For a while, my life seemed more defined with experiences and photos and maps and managing my parents, than it appeared to be of deadlines.

But I was terrified that I would lose the punishing schedule that I had imposed on myself. I believed that if I wasn’t overworked and sleep-deprived, I wasn’t living my life right. When my parents insisted that I stay at home with them, I was sure that I was going to have the most boring and unproductive summer of the lot. I felt insecure about the fact that all my friends had secured internships at fancy places (J.P Morgan, McKinsey, Con Edison, etc) while I was living the pampered lifestyle:  occasionally writing code, blogging and swimming. 

Except now, the three months are over and I find myself saying something that I never thought would pass my mouth. “I don’t want the holidays to end.” I don’t want the holidays to end because I have grown so much healthier and happier since these months and I’m scared that once the onslaught of college begins, my “disciplined schedule” as maintained by my parents will not withstand the vagaries of undergraduate life. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am trying to internalize it so I don’t have to be dependent on close monitoring all the time. But I also don’t want to go back because of differences in my friend group. I have mandated that I find new friends this semester, people who truly make me happy and feel worthy, instead of continually trying to please a group of people who abuse my compassion.

But it’s the third year of college and work will be upon me faster and heavier than before. How am I supposed to find the time to make new friends? Or am I destined to feel alone as the deadlines slam into my days with unstoppable ferocity? 

Hence the nostophobia. I want to go back. I really do miss college, work, classes and some people. But I know I will miss these moments too. I just don’t know which one I will miss more. 

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Defining boundaries: Breaking up with a friend

Hear me out because this is not the sort of thing I do everyday.I made the cold-blooded, rationalized, well-pondered decision to tell one of my friends that we were not going to be friends any more.

I think I would have tried to reason with her why, but she was too busy feeling her feelings to hear me out. She feels very deeply offended by my actions and I am given to understand that she has been incredibly hurt. But I think that I have made the better decision for both parties. Let us explore the problem statement.

Problem: A formerly close friend and I have grown distant for the last few months. In the beginning of this academic year, we were very close and I sought out her company often. But she doesn’t actively seek my company any further and being a great believer of reciprocity, I decided to maintain the status quo. I am not the kind of person who will actively impose on another human being, especially for company.

Whenever I did hear of her, it was about her fan-girling about one boy after another. I don’t mean to say people shouldn’t do that, but my friend is under the mistaken impression that she will find “love” through her methods (to which I have some objections as well), and that “love” is likely to boost her own low self-esteem. I’m not one to judge here because I have suffered the same affliction as well. And I have grown out of it. But she seems to continue with her self-destructive tendencies, and it bothers me immensely that as a friend, I am unable to do anything for her.

I understand that I am in no position to claim that my philosophy to life is better than hers or anything of that sort. But I feel as though I have failed as a friend if I cannot help them overcome their own demons. Due to our extremely large differences in our life philosophies, and because I think I am mature enough not to ask her to change herself or anything, I have decided that it would be advisable for both of us to end our alliance. I am tired of feeling pity and disgust for the ways that she chases men, even though I respect that chasing men deserves to be her priority as much as being competent and independent is mine.

Very recently I discovered, quite by accident (since we haven’t been frequently in contact for a while), that the boy she is perpetually raving about is simultaneously dating two other girls. It was an awkward conversation because she personally hadn’t informed me how vested she was into him. I just got to hear it through all of our mutual friends. I had to break it to her, and it made for some awkward conversations, but I really wanted to get away from all of it. I asked her why. Why did she have to put herself through these emotional messes every time? And she gave me an answer that has taught me a very valuable lesson: “I couldn’t control my feelings”.

We were already distant then, and I was willing to let things drift because not only do I feel completely useless as a friend, I also feel that she doesn’t want me in her life anymore because I won’t tolerate her listening and talking about boys all the time. (She informed me afterwards that she was very offended that I would think her main interest would be something so superficial). That’s not the point. I’m not judging her interests. I feel that I cannot extend my compassion and understanding to her any longer. We’ve both changed as people (or maybe it’s just me), to be able to tell each other “I love you” honestly.

As circumstances happened, I was in a research panel with her new nascent love interest. We were discussing structural design and machine learning when all of a sudden she appeared from nowhere, claimed that she missed me and what not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to assume what her intentions might have been. But the timing of her sudden need to reconnect with me felt as though she was using me to get to him. Given the kind of stories I’ve heard from people who are close to her, who are not her haters, I wouldn’t put it past her to be like this. I was just so completely sick of her trying to use me, and that too for something as pathetic as the supposed illusion of “love” in an immature environment like college.

I evaded her response for a while. And when she came knocking at my door, I told her the truth. I’m not sorry if it offended her, because what she has been doing has offended my sensibilities long enough. I think she could be grateful that at least I let her know where we stand to her face instead of hiding it behind false smiles and hidden disgust. I don’t have to cringe every time I hear another incident of how “desperate” she was being. I don’t have to feel like I have failed as a friend for not helping her overcome her insecurities. Again, I repeat myself, I don’t want to say that she is wrong or reprehensible. To be honest, she hasn’t even done anything to hurt me. But I am tired of wasting my time and emotional energy onto her, hoping for a rekindling of our friendship. Even then, even if we went back to being friends, I would not put up with her constant chatter about boys.

I am tired of accommodating the large differences in our philosophies. She likes being the state she is in. I don’t like my friends to be like that and I have the right to choose that. Therefore, the problem is with my terms of friendship, and not with her. I deserve the right to have certain standards to uphold of my friends. She deserves the right to be/do whatever she likes. So the solution is to simply not be friends, because none of the other variables that are in play here are mutable. If she is no longer my friend, then I no longer have to feel like a dead-weight and she doesn’t have to feel like she has someone who is close to her who disapproves of her idea of fun.

I will still insist on being polite and civil, because I think every human being deserves that. But I will no longer have to cringe at the thought of how she may or may not grind up against a random boy in a crowd to boost her self-esteem, because she is not my friend anymore. I don’t have to deal with that.

 

Three enlightening rules on re-evaluating friendships

You may or may not know that I’m a very self-critical person who tends to pay undue attention to what goes on in the world around me. Whenever I sink into this habit, it is a sure indication that my self-esteem is crumbling, because instead of supporting itself from within, it seeks validation from outside. This has led to a rather worrying trend of how I “listen to what other people have to say” too often. Or more accurately, I “take what other people say too seriously”, etc. I sometimes forget that these people I’m listening to are as immature/insecure and fragile as I am, and that they too are perhaps projecting aspects of themselves instead of confronting their true selves.

I had a very enlightening conversation with my father last night. Here’s what I learned from them. 

Rule 1: You are permitted to be selective

I am so tired of apologizing for myself, that I have abused the word sorry a little too often. No, I’m not sorry for liking the kind of music I like, reading the kind of books I like, having the kind of opinions I have. I understand that my world-view is still very young, and that these opinions are subject to the passage of time. However, I’ve spent hours and hours in misery, moping and wondering why my opinion is so different from other people’s, and why they think the way they think. I should have cared less, if not at all. But in times of self-contemplation, I always forget that I get to choose the people I call my friends. I have enough self-respect to know that my loyalty is earned, and therefore, when people seem to abuse it, I have the right to walk away. You don’t have to be with people who don’t make you happy.

Rule 2: There are no standards.

This is sort of derived from rule 1, and while somewhat controversial, I tend to agree. I’ve heard enough of things like, “Oh, he’s usually a nice guy” or “Don’t be so harsh on her. She’s actually a nice person.” This has led my self-criticism to believe that my “standards” are too harsh or too high, etc.

Let me use some observations from my over-analytic mind and make my point as a mathematical proof

  1.  As free, sentient, sapient human beings, we have earned the right to dislike and disagree with things that we dislike and disagree. Sometimes, we can rationalize these feelings. But it is not necessary for us to explain to everyone why we have to.
  2.  All human beings do not judge other human beings equally or by thee same criteria. Hence the subjectivity in opinion.
  3. This brings us to the idea that people have standards. Whether we consciously admit it or not, we do have certain standards for the people we call our friends/employers and/or the people we choose to be in relationships with. Some may make these standards public and obvious. For example, there used to be this rather snobby classmate who decided to include only those from affluent families in her friends circle. (It’s a petty standard, you could say, but it’s her standard and so it’s not subject to our opinions).
  4. Therefore, these criteria by which we evaluate apply to every human being we interact with. Before a person becomes your friend, you are treating them a certain way anyway. A person’s standards do not necessarily apply only when they know that they are being considered as potential friends/lovers.

So, there you go. There are no “standards”. There are only “ways to treat fellow human beings”. You can be nice about it or you can be nasty about it. Those are your choices, but nobody in the world should be able to tell you that your standards are too high. I’ve discovered that when people usually tell me that, it means that they are more lenient with bad behavior than I am. Should I be sorry that I was raised to treat people with respect?

It doesn’t matter what the other person says or does, if they cannot make you feel respected or cherished in their company. It’s simply a waste of time that could have been spent with someone else who truly does make you feel that they are worth investing time and emotion into.

Rule 3: Having expectations is okay

I’ve heard a lot about this. “Don’t expect too much from people, so that way you’ll always be pleasantly surprised.” This sort of misleading optimism is the kind that has made me tolerate many instances of bad, negative behavior for that one in a million chance that they might actually be nice to me for a change.  There’s always the few days when people are having bad moods, mood swings, etc. As a friend and a person, you should draw the line if someone is projecting their negativity onto you by default or ALL THE TIME. 

As someone who has suffered enough of this (and if you’re someone like me, listen up), you do not have to forcibly expose yourself to other people’s crap. Just don’t. It’s unfair to yourself to test your tolerance level. It is not character-building in anyway. I’ve ended up feeling miserable, inadequate, naive, shut-down because of my happiness and the other person continues to thrive among their own biases. It is okay to decide that enough is enough. It is okay to decide when something is not enough. 

More so, it is okay to let these demands be known to the people involved. If they truly care, or were simply ignorant about what was upsetting you, then they will bother to listen. We can’t expect people to change themselves (Fact: they won’t. Time will). But if there’s any relation in which we feel that our sacrifices are unequal, or non-reciprocated, then it’s time to either stop making those sacrifices or let the other department know that there is something bothering you.  It’s okay to expect, especially if you’re trying to meet their expectations.

There you have it. These are what I think should help me re-define the people I hang out with, so that their negativity doesn’t affect me as strongly. Maybe I could grow a thicker skin, or maybe I should have to focus my energy elsewhere in my life so that my social life doesn’t turn into a liability? Let me know if you have similar/digressing/other opinions below.

The power of email

Here’s a really weird thing I’ve noticed about social media. Facebook, Twitter, etc. are supposed to bring people, information and opinions closer to you. But this is also completely generic. There is no way we can be emotionally intimate with 1014 people all over the world, some of whom we have met only once, some we have added only because they are friends of friends and so on. We mirror this behavior in the real world by having circles of friends, and then even smaller circles of “closer” friends.

I’ve decided to send an email to two friends whom I haven’t seen for three months, and who are close to me. One was an extremely dear friend from back home who decided to keep her email account alive only because I refused to join Facebook until way into freshman year of college. We speak to each other very frequently and the emotional support that she provides me with makes me feel truly blessed to have her in my life. The other person is one of the most positive people I’ve met at college. She is so gentle, kind, positive, enthusiastic and artistic that I find it a sheer joy to be with her. She never fails to spread love to everyone and even though I realize that her medical sabbatical is necessary, I miss her. I always wondered what people thought about me when I wasn’t around, and now that these people weren’t around, I wanted to let them know that they matter to me.

I was a bit afraid to send out the emails, actually. I wanted to talk about my life and how things were going, but most of the words seemed to be related to stress and pain and worry, and I did not want to bring negativity to a person’s inbox. I ended up writing about absolutely random things in an incoherent mash of questions about them, opinions about improving the weather and unnecessarily detailed discourses about food. I didn’t want to seem superficial by telling them that “everything’s fine”, so I told them how despite everything I was trying to stay happy.

If I had my way I would have sent a hand-written letter, because nothing could be more intimate than that. But killing a tree, searching for varying addresses and delays in arrival made me stick to a digital medium. An email is the most private message that I could think of.  Obviously, I’m not talking about the kind of emails that arrive with 1000000 people in CC/BCC or carry the “FWD:” tag in subject lines. But I hoped to convey a lot more in the private audience that an email affords, than something that could be lost in the crowd, like a Facebook message.

I got back replies instantly. It makes my day to know that I have made two people feel special.The distance between us has somewhat affected our emotional proximity, but I also try to think of it as a way to provide more content to talk about. I hope they know that they are dearly loved and missed, and I will try my best to keep them in my noisy, busy occupied mind.