I just felt an intense urge to write something very personal about an experience I’ve had over and over again since I was a small child, in the hopes that writing it out might bring some clarity to me (and perhaps even some communion with others).
I often try to downplay myself and my achievements when I first meet people, because I find that, without fail, over and over again, people have such an absolutely black-or-white, acutely polarized response to me. People either really love me or really hate me. There is no in-between. And when people hate me, they really, really, really despise me. This can happen immediately upon meeting me, or—far more problematically—it can happen after a friendship is established.
One thing I’ve learned is that people always act in a way that makes sense to them. Even if it seems crazy or strange—there’s always a reason for the way people act. What is interesting is that, for me, the only time I have an intense reaction to someone is when that person is a male and I am very sexually attracted to them. That brings up all kinds of issues for me, and can make me act a bit irrationally. Or a lot irrationally. But there is a sort of rationality set up in that “irrationality,” based on my past experiences and so forth. Based on fear, essentially. My irrational reactions do make sense (at least to me) on some level, and I do try to explain my situation to the person I’m directing this energy toward, so they can try to understand as well.
But on almost all other occasions, when I meet someone who is clearly not, say, a racist psychopath (whom I would just avoid at all costs), I have a neutral, leaning-toward-positive feeling and response toward them. I don’t really care if a person shares my same interests or beliefs, since I find it more interesting when someone isn’t exactly the same as me. Shared interests and beliefs wouldn’t make me like someone more, and a lack of these things wouldn’t make me like someone less. I truly love human connection and enjoy learning about people. When I teach, I always adore all of my students equally, even the ones who are less open or less engaged, since they all have something unique to bring to the table. I find it really charming to learn about each individual’s quirks and affinities. I take great joy in people. I like nothing more than to sit down and talk with someone, anyone.
So that’s why I find it so interesting that the reactions I commonly get from people are so intensely polarized toward the positive or negative. When meeting people, I tend to come in on little cat feet, as the poem goes, because I’m so desperate for a simple, neutral response. It would be much easier for me to accept and understand. But it doesn’t work. Trying to present myself as nonthreatening (which I truly know I am) seems to only elicit stronger feelings from people.
This has always been the case. Even when I was little. What I often fear more than hatred at first sight is someone who seems really smitten with me, since their affection often seems to turn to loathing or competitiveness at the drop of a hat. I truly do not understand this. I cannot think of one time in my life where I liked someone, then stopped liking them for no discernable reason. I also think it is crazy to want what someone else has. I can understand being inspired by someone, but I can’t understand feeling threatened by that inspiration.
These polarized responses make me intensely aware of how protective I am of the people I deeply care about, since I don’t want to put them in the same line of fire I’m in. I often keep relationships and friendships separate, because I find that many of my friendships are not meant to last very long, and that I sometimes have to bear the brunt of extreme cruelty and vindictiveness. I don’t want others to have to shoulder that, specifically not those whom I really care for. I know that I am a very strong person, and I sometimes wonder if I am constantly put into these positions to test this strength. It gets very lonely and isolating.
I also know that accessing my spirituality over the last few years has made me even weirder, since it is now impossible for me to engage in the de facto social bitchery that New York demands. I’ve experienced many important events over the course of my life, but my spiritual awakening is by far the most intriguing, challenging and confounding experience I’ve ever had. It is also the only experience I didn’t actively choose or pursue. But, it allows me to see the truth of people much more quickly, so these polarized reactions don’t cut to the quick, or come out of nowhere, as they used to. However, it also creates extremely frustrating situations regarding connection, since most people are not spiritual and have not had this type of awakening. If someone is not spiritual, my perspective and the way in which I think and act can seem weird, to say the least.
Non-religious people who are guided by some unseen force to open the Pandora’s box of spirituality typically have pasts that mirror my own—abuse, parents who died young, suffering and trauma that gradually unscrew the Vaseline lens of ego and identity, to reveal what the world really looks like. The new James Franco movie I Am Michael details one version of a real-life non-religious man’s spiritual awakening (he, like me, was a magazine editor, writer, and theory nerd whose parents died young). While I found flaws with how his story was told (I am always mystified and hurt that people who have not experienced losing their parents young tend to downplay this experience and not even attempt to understand the profound consequences it has on a person's life), I found it extremely edifying that this story was being told at all. Mark Matousek’s spiritual memoir Sex Death Enlightenment is another great depiction of a NYC magazine writer and editor’s spiritual awakening.
My spirituality has definitely constructed a sort of poetic logic to frame the polarized responses I receive from people. I think I do tend to hold up a mirror to people, and not everyone likes what they see when they gaze into it. But, at the same time, in the material realm, these reactions continue to make me feel very isolated and sad. I don’t want people to hate me. I want to feel, from others, the same genuine love and affection that comes so naturally to me when I interact with the world. I know I was meant to experience and understand this hatred and vindictiveness for a reason. I know it is part of my journey in this life. But I also feel like, especially lately, it has caused me to really fear and avoid meeting new people.
But I’m getting over it, and I feel very inspired by the newly spiritually-engaged people I am meeting and encountering. I believe that radical authenticity of the self is truly the next step in human evolution, so I am putting away my little cat feet, and attempting to greet people with a more honest, less aww shucks humble-pie self presentation. I think the current social climate is opening a door for much more openness and authenticity, and far fewer assumptions and kneejerk reactions. Less fear. I do love this world, even when it acts stupid and crazy. And I know that it loves me too, in its own complicated way.