Most people that know me well have at one point or another heard me complain about people (often women) who are ‘passive’ in damaging ways. And I still think this can happen (one of my present roommates provides a powerful example but I don’t want to waste space criticizing him), but as I’ve spent a lot of time in GSLIS, a place where extroversion is about as rare as men, social conservatives and people of color, I’ve started to gain a little perspective.
Here, for the literature review, some terrrible reading that I dragged out of the archives that will make you hate me:
- Online as an escape from in-person
- When Facebook ruined romance
- Defriending instead of confronting
- Passive men (outline)
- People who dodge socially
- Passively dishonest
- Passively shackled potential
So the metric I generally operate under, when thinking about passiveness and assertiveness is a spectrum based on initiation and response. People who initiate, lead, speak up, negotiate and otherwise make themselves known through action would be assertive, people who are responsive, reactive and compromise fall in the middle as reciprocative, and people who follow and don’t alter their thoughts or activities noticeably based on social stimuli and communication are passive.
Very few people really fall into that last category, and most of those that do are probably those with more severe social disorders or conditions. Hating on shy or introverted people is stupid. I think what I’ve really been struggling with over the years has been in part people who are passive aggressive, and whether or not people are confident or positive, and these intersecting threads that are hard to tease out at times (because they’re so contextual).
Anyway this post is not about this, really.
It’s that my narrative that I clung to so desperately when I was younger, that girls are (were) passive and cause hurt because of this, is only 50% right, at best. The reason so many people have avoided me, not answered my messages, talked bad about me behind my back (I was once lucky enough to be cyberbullied at age 26 – real-time tracking making fun of my soul-crushing break up via multiple Twitter accounts established by GSLIS students) or otherwise reacted to me in passive (evasive) ways is because of who and how I am.
At best it’s that I’m weird, at worst I think it’s that I’m downright undesirable. I’m pretty convinced that if I were more attractive than I am I wouldn’t have problems with this – the handsome surprise contact is a flattering secret admirer, the ugly one is a creep, so to say. But, generally, I think people find me annoying. Since I’m so frequently an initiator people probably assume that I’ll just be fine if they forget about me – afterall, they likely assume they’re probably just one minimal contact amongst hundreds (I’m 1400 Facebook friends cool, right?). And that’s shit, really, because I took the time to make the effort to do reach out to them, which shouldn’t be dismissed, but it is, all the freaking time.
I sent out gifts in the mail to approximately 50 friends this past Christmas, a spread of variety of folk of different genders. About 25% responded or acknowledged in some way or another and there was no discernible difference between men and women. Keep in mind, I’m not bitter about this, I didn’t expect responses, and I encouraged people to continue the positive event chain in their own lives. In fact I still owe responses to some of them (sorry Alicia and Matt!). What I want to emphasize is that it’s not so much that girls are passive, it’s that people don’t have time for this shit. I have to come to grips with not being worth their time.
If I think back over people that I’ve found annoying in my life, I think the only one I’ve gone to lengths to avoid or not react to is my mother. I’m terrified of becoming her – so very out of touch and untold levels of obnoxious. Now, in my world of self-imposed isolation as a miserable attempt to finish a dissertation, the second a friend reaches out to me they’re greeted with overwhelming verbal vomit, like this blog post. And no one wants that. If Tom Fairbank, my sister and a few others weren’t immune to me I’d probably have given up long ago.
Anyway I don’t know if I have that much of a point to saying all of this, other than acknowledging to the world that, yes, I get it, I’m annoying as hell and while you feel bad for me occasionally, you don’t really want to hang out with me. That’s why it was always essential that I had groups of friends over. The question is how much I want to bottle myself. I can be subdued, ask the right questions, douse the intensity, play the ‘be mysterious’ game, all pretty unhappily. It was pointed out to me recently how easy it is for me to slip in and out of making arguments and discussions simultaneously personal or theoretical/hypothetical. Now that’s yet another flaw I get to police, along with the savior complex, pigeon holing, inability to be apathetic, duty for social good and more I’m forgetting at the moment.
I think my sister captured the meditations on this better than I could:
I actually thought it was really interesting to hear your concerns about how you interact with other people, and talk about how to choose or not choose whether to continue acting in a way they might find annoying. It’s so hard to balance being yourself and conforming to or reflecting the situation you’re in. And I think it takes a good amount of self awareness to get to where you are. I also think it’s shitty that some of these groups have made you feel shitty, though. I realized another factor in your situation might be getting older; energetic positivity is much more widely embraced and followed in idealistic college years, but in masters years it wanes, and in phd programs it dies and becomes reviled. That’s the academic course; I think in so-called RL, it follows a similar trajectory but for different reasons. People get out into the working world, or don’t, and realizes how much it can suck to have and to not have a job. They have to do taxes, sign leases, worry about carpet stains, try to make friends without the support structures they’re used to, etc. And so energy saps away–or is redirected into sterile, accepted gym environments, rather than games and adventures–and world outlooks shift to become cynical and jaded. People begin to compromise on every front, including romantic ones. I think there might be an upswing when they start to have kids and have to get excited about things like Blues Clues and delude themselves into believing their progeny will inherit a world worth inhabiting, and they become interested in making it a world worth their children living in. Maybe that will be your moment again. Who knows.