Collective Identities. . .

. . . of any kind are a way of diluting one’s individuality in the cud-chewing bliss of a stupidified community.

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Approaching People

In a recent thread, I mentioned that it is incredibly hard for me to approach people at conferences, professional events, university-wide celebrations, etc. Contacting people by email for professional reasons is something that I also can’t really face. (I’m talking of initiating contact, not writing to somebody I already know.) At parties, I dread the need to approach new people. The LinkedIn format of professional networking is just as terrifying. Writing to somebody and then expecting a reply, fearing that they won’t notice you – no, I’d just rather do without networking altogether.

The reason for this fear is that such situations immediately take me back to childhood experiences of approaching a group of kinds, trying to start a conversation, and not being noticed. That’s my greatest fear, communication-wise, that I will speak and people will not hear me and I will feel invisible.

One area of life where I feel the exact opposite is meeting men. When I mentioned that, reader Hazel Catkins made the following comment that I want to address in this post:

I’m fascinated by that, Clarissa. Why was approaching guys so much easier for you? What would you say? Would you just be your regular self, or would you adopt a more confident, outgoing persona? If this needs to be expanded into its own post, so be it.

I’m very happily married now and do not plan to meet any men for romantic purposes ever again. However, when I was on the dating scene, not only did I really enjoy approaching attractive men, I actually preferred to initiate contact. Men who made the first move immediately lost points in my eyes because I don’t like aggressive men. I prefer to make my own choice and then communicate it to people.

So what does it mean that I find it so incredibly easy to approach a person and exhibit a romantic / sexual interest but dread being the first one to express any other form of interest?

If we take friendship, for example, I need to be “courted” for a while by a potential friend. A person who is trying to become a friend needs to prove their intentions to me (seriously, that’s how it feels and how my closest friends describe the experience of developing a friendship with me). This potential friend needs to suggest and organize several occasions for us to socialize. I will also decline his or her offers a few times which, yet again, is a way of gauging if their friendly intentions towards me are serious. I know that this sounds very bizarre, but this is my blog, and I want to be honest here.

I guess the answer is that I feel complete security in my sexuality and I don’t feel this kind of security in other aspects of myself.

Thank you, Hazel Catkins, for getting me to formulate these important insights about myself.

Love Yourself More

Do you read Clarisse Thorn’s blog? The blogger I always get mistaken for? If not, you really should because she keeps posting really fantastic stuff. Here is a quote from the most recent post:

My most problematic ex-boyfriend once told me “I just want to feel like you love me more than you love yourself,” which was the point that I should’ve walked out the door.

Yes. A hundred times yes. A person who undermines your love for yourself in any way is not somebody you want in your life.

Whenever N. and I fight (which we, of course, do because we are both alive), I always start by saying, “I love you, you are the most beautiful, amazing, intelligent person in the universe but this thing you did / said sucks.” If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably have realized that I don’t mince words when I’m annoyed. But I always make sure that I express my grievances in a way that does not undermine his worth as a human being. Whatever happens, he needs to love himself more and make his decisions based on that. And, obviously, I do the same. As a result, the relationship between us will blossom.

The only healthy attitude is to welcome your partner loving him or herself more than they love you. Otherwise, they might be driven to make sacrifices for your sake or for the sake of the relationship and that is always very dangerous. Believe me, I’ve had my first marriage destroyed by this kind of a sacrifice.

Networking Personality

Talking about perceptions, my students just stunned me.

“We were discussing networking in another class,” they shared, “and when we had to think of somebody who has a personality that is perfectly suited for networking, we thought of you!”

“What?” I asked.

“You are the definition of a networker!” they insisted.

“What?” I could only ask.

So I probably have to take my most recent post back. The last thing I could have ever guessed I was projecting was a networking personality. There is not a single person in this world who detests networking as much as I do. The word itself makes me shudder.

But that’s the image I project, apparently.

Oy vey.

Labels and Perceptions

Here is a question that I found at one of the blogs I follow:

Do you think society forces women to pretend that they’re happy or that they’re unhappy?  Are there differences in these pressures between IRL and the internet?  Are there different expectations by cultural context?  For example, are working moms supposed to be harried and not keeping it together but professional single women are supposed to have it all figured out?  Or is there a “damned whatever you do” of competing pressures?

Of course, I do not find the idea that “society forces women” to do anything to be very useful because at least half of society consists of women. Any “supposing” about what women should or should not be like can only come in equal parts from women and men.

What is interesting, however, is how we form such perceptions of groups of people. To give an example, I have this image of women with 3 or 4 children as extremely organized, powerful, and in control. The reason for it is that I know three such women and that’s how they are. There is no doubt in my mind that these specific women would be exactly the same if they had no children at all because this is simply what their personality is like.

A personal knowledge of somebody’s reality always overrides any sort of stereotypical expectations. If you agree with the popular stereotype of accountants as boring creatures with poor people’s skills, meeting a single accountant who is fun, sociable and has a great sense of humor will change that stereotype in a flash. My students could have brought any kinds of stereotypes about “Russian women” to my classroom but I know for sure that they will be leaving my class with a completely different image of us.

The point I’m trying to make here is that we are all responsible for the image of the groups we belong to. I suggest we abandon the passive voice discussion of how we “are seen, perceived and expected to act” and start looking at how we actively contribute to such perceptions.

As for whether it makes more sense to be happy or whiny online and in RL, I believe that the best strategy is to be real. People who know us and blog readers sense fakeness in a flash. What they really respond to well is honesty and sincerity. It is normal for people to whine from time to time and to be happy from time to time. I don’t think that anybody will condemn us for being both on a regular basis.

Ethnic Heritage

As I mentioned yesterday, I have two very different sides to my personality. One, let’s call her Alpha, is very organized, overachieving, studious, punctual, and responsible. She achieves nirvana by making lists, reading serious books, and working harder than anybody else. The other side, let’s call her Omega, is happy-go-lucky, spontaneous, hard-partying, messy, and disorganized. Her nirvana is brought about by shelling sunflower seeds, watching reruns of silly TV shows, and reading tons of trashy books.

I think that from this description it’s obvious who Alpha and Omega are. Alpha is my Jewish part and Omega is my Ukrainian part. In every situation, I feel them offering their own solutions and fighting for control. (I don’t mean this in a psychiatric way of a split personality disorder, or anything of the kind. It’s just a personal way of being.)

So I have a question to my readers who have two or more ethnicities: do you feel anything like this? Do you perceive your personality as consisting of very different parts? Of course, this is more obvious to people who have very different ethnicities in their makeup, such as Semitic and Slavic.