It’s a bit strange saying this out loud even though I figured this one out one fine day half a year ago. It wasn’t a dramatic realization, really, because I’ve always notice something weird about myself compared to anyone around me. I just recently gain some insight into why that might be the case. As a child, I was comfortable not following expectation, although I learned very early on that it bought scrutiny and frown upon myself. So, I learned to go undetected among the crowd, a student no teacher would remember (“Well, she did good in her study. She was nice to other kids.”), another face among many, not good and not bad.
Honestly, I did that for the freedom. When you’re average, no one bothers you. If you can care for yourself, no one will look into detail of how you really do it. There are too many people and problems in this world to be scrutinizing every single thing. If you pass a certain standard, you’re fine no matter what the rest looks like.
So, like average people, I have a wonderful family, I have wonderful friends, I have (technically not) a job I enjoy. If you ask me, everything is wonderful. I’m really happy where I am.
Except, well, it was not actually an exception. There was tiny bit of curiosity and sometimes compunction when I realized something just doesn’t click right, not with people my age moving on to have solid long-term relationship, and many people complaining of not having one. I dismissed that at first because from where I came from, that’s just how it goes. Every relationship is taken slow and serious. Some might do the fast-pace type, but not going for it is not something unusual. A lot of us just wait until it happens.
Then I moved across the Pacific to North America and – Surprise! – dating becomes something crucial. I never, ever, realized how big dating business is until I saw the advertisement on free TV, saw magazine on how to have more sex appeals, and listened to comedians joking about not dating and describing the experience without a partner as something profound.
I raised an eyebrow. Honestly, people are just obsessed.
It isn’t the first time and definitely not the last that I have to pose the question: what is it about intimacy? (An explanation catered for a Martian would be very much appreciated, thank you.) Because, it is totally outside my comprehension.
That particular puzzle is the one that got me realize that it is rather something about me being off than the world gone insane. In grade school, I contributed a lot of my quirks to social ineptitude. I always say the wrong thing, or make it sounds wrong somehow, and there will be eyebrows flying. In better cases, some correction will be made by a third-party who totally feels that I should know I’ve overstepped some bound. I’m always grateful of my friends who does that, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known. It’s only with those feedback that I become more comfortable in social settings. Partly because I’ve learned to not make a complete arse out of myself and keep flying under the radar like I want to.
But, to be very honest with you, it’s mostly acting. I don’t know what people think or feel. I can’t gauge them. There’s an emotional distance that feels almost tangible. I only know what works before, what face I should put on, what reaction I should give. It’s easier over time because some of them become sort of Pavlovian reactions that are slightly more complex than drooling over a meal. I also learn from moving into a different culture that it is also a cultural thing. Body language, facial expressions, and social interactions are generally prescribed, rehearsed, and performed until it feels genuine for both parties.
Not that I’m accusing people of blatantly lying. I’m very sure most of the exchanges are honest and genuine but also tailored to be polite. I’m only saying that for me it’s acting. It takes time to perfect, but it almost always feels like acting just to keep people in the comfort zone. So there is a big difference between me and the majority – a gap, I’d say. The gap feels more real now that I’ve grown and realized that it really does exist. I used to think that all humans are intrinsically the same and hence, given time and experience, I’ll be like everybody else. I profess of being an idiot right here. Like Sherlock Holmes would say, “…you see, but you do not observe.” Sometimes my subconscious seems to be ahead of me in the game.
When I was younger, back to around grade nine to be precise, I was into forensic science especially anything related to serial killers. I really didn’t know why I did except that they were intriguing in a scientific sense. These are humans who are wired wrong in such a fundamental way they can do incredibly evil things to another human being and feel nothing. How do you rape, kill, dismember, and bury somebody and feel nothing!?! And they are not insane, mind you. Insanity is only a way for normal people to comprehend behaviors such as theirs and I can understand that. Because those minds are not the same as ours. Their lack of emotional connection is just so extreme it is not even imaginable. So, obviously, not all human are alike fundamentally and psychopathic killers are the evidence of how drastic this difference might be with sanity maintained.
And, no, I’m not coming out as a psychopath. I can sympathize, but I can only understand very extreme emotions – fear, happiness, sadness, anger, hatred, adoration, hurt, pain, love – but not the more complex and subtle combination of those, the ones that cannot be defined or given names to but obvious on many faces in everyday scenarios. For instance, just so you have some idea of what I’m talking about, I understand love – in its unconditional form – and I understand physical attraction, but I do not see the connection between them like people tends to see. That is probably why romantic novels never work for me and why bromantic stuffs is much easier to understand. (I have a tough time with people seeing bromance being an overture to homosexual romance. It’s just not unless the romantic elements are there. In other word, it’s epic friendship that guys have before homophobia screw it up and we have to give a safe word for it.)
You can say I’m emotional tone-deaf, but I prefer the term ’emotionally unavailable’ – not that it makes any difference. It just makes it sound less like a disability although it gives the wrong impression that I can be available. I don’t know if I can, really, because my condition is probably congenital given that my sister develops an emotional complexity in the same way and at the same rate as other people. I have a glitch, sure, and I suffer for that when people I care about thinks I don’t appreciate them because I don’t react to them like I should. I have been called names for being insensitive and nonconforming, but that doesn’t make me want to be like other people. (It generally gives the opposite effect, in fact.) Being hardwired to have emotional distance does not make me less human or make me appreciate human less. On the contrary, I appreciate others more once I realize how much of me is unavailable and how fragile these feelings we have for one another are. It’s like having a foot outside the boxing ring where you can move in the feel the punch or move out to be a spectator.
I don’t think I’m the only case. I think we all actually posses a slightly different range of emotion and reaction which can also grow with experience and time. I don’t think I’ll understand all the emotional galore human posses, but I’ll enjoy the show while it last. Like I said, I’m happy where I am being anti-social and emotionally unavailable as long as it doesn’t hurt people who are dear to me. Aside from that group of people, I’ll tolerate them as much as they tolerate me. I don’t think it is necessary to change, although it is necessary to adapt. And, admit it, if everyone’s normal, the world is going to be boring.