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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Sunday (10/31/10) 5:28pm - ... wherein Peter fields another "8 things" question.

I'm slowly catching up on questions people asked me in the "8 things" meme.  This question was from Jordan T. Maxwell.


5. How ARE you still single?

First off, many thanks for the implied compliment, which is lovely.

The most immediate reason is, "It's because I didn't start dating until I was into my 30s." -- but I guess that's a form of begging the question.

My sister Katherine has a theory about it.  I'm the youngest of five children, and by the time I was around, my parents couldn't *stand* each other.  I would say they hated each other every single day of my life -- and keep in mind, they didn't divorce until I was in high school.

Nobody stumbles out of *that* smoldering wreckage thinking, "You know what I need in my life?  A long-term relationship!  YAY!"

And I do distinctly remember thinking, as a little kid, "Wow, people put lots and lots and lots of effort into pairing off.  I think I should just skip all that so that I have more time for everything else."  I dunno.  Maybe a lot of kids think that at some point.  But it's easy for me to look back on that, connect the dots, and figure that I wanted a life with fewer fits of shouting and cruel, acidic sarcasm.  So maybe Katherine is on to something.

But lots of kids have parents with toxic relationships, and lots of those kids go on to lead perfectly normal lives.  I suspect I have to look at this like it's some kind of major engineering disaster, where a number of different things all had to go wrong in sequence for the catastrophe to happen.

So:  other factors.

You also have to consider that my personality does me no favors.  I am probably the most introverted person you know who is not autistic.  And I am definitely not the chat-everyone-up life of the party.  And what's more, I'm convinced these problems get much, much more severe as you go backwards in time.  Perhaps people who knew me years ago can vouch for me here, but I believe I am ridiculously suave *relative to* who I was in college and especially high school.  In high school, if a stranger talked to me, I'd probably just back away and mutter at the floor.[1]  In college, I might manage a brief response.  Whatever meager skills I have at talking to people, I've cultivated recently and with a lot of deliberate effort.

Come to think of it, my upbringing didn't help much in this department, either.  As I mentioned in a recent book review, I'm always amazed when I see parents patiently instructing their children to say "hello" to a stranger, to smile at people they're talking to, and so on.  My mom was pretty much deaf, and dealt with it mostly by pretty much not talking to people.  My dad and I didn't talk much.  So I received no such instructions, and no real examples of interaction to pattern off of.

But even then, I mean, most introverted people do fine for themselves.  For whatever reason, I didn't.  I went on zero dates in high school.  I went on one date in college.

And after that, a sort of inertia set in.

As the years of not-dating nudge their way towards decades of not-dating, it does a number on your self-esteem -- at least, on your self-esteem as far as "being useful to anybody romantically" goes.  You can argue with a lifetime of failure, and you can insist that what you've botched before doesn't define who you are now -- but it's not easy, especially if you don't make that deliberate effort.

And it's not really something I could *see* -- it wasn't foregrounded in my mind as some maudlin, "O WOE IS ME" sentiment.  It was more like a quiet, day-to-day conviction settled in:  I'm going to be alone 'til I'm dead, there's really not a lot to be done about it, and that's no great loss to the rest of the world.

It became an assumption that I didn't even realize I was assuming.

And there's another form of inertia, too:  if you're single your whole life, you just get *used* to being on your own.  You go places -- plays, dances, Venice -- on your own, without really thinking it odd.  You find interesting ways to keep busy.  Eventually, there just isn't a spouse-shaped gap in the jigsaw -- that is, if there ever was one to start with.  You have your little life, and you feel no particular need to rearrange it.

There are other, smaller problems that have probably done me no favors.

I didn't drive until my mid-twenties.  All of the hobbies I have that might could impress women, I didn't start until late:  I didn't play guitar with any acumen 'til my early twenties, and I didn't start with dancing or improv until I came to Austin.  The fact that pretty much all alcohol tastes vile to me is a bit of a social hindrance at times.  Oh, and I was almost two years younger than my classmates in high school and college.

Ah well.

Here I am trying to find any circumstancial reason -- any cause that comes from outside myself -- for why my life turned out like it did.  It's a bit desperate, isn't it?  The bottom line is, it's my own damn fault I've been single all this time.  If I were more attractive, or more precisely, if I were better at compensating for my flaws; if I were less timid, or more precisely, if I were better at dealing with my timidity; if I were less introverted, or more precisely, if I were better at dealing with my introversion; if I had just *tried harder*; in any of these cases, maybe everything might have been different.  Lord knows, I have enough advantages to counterbalance my milquetoast-ish personality.

Wow.  I have responded to your lighthearted compliment with a lengthy, seriously-ponderous downer.

I actually feel okay about things these days.  I started dating, albeit sporadically, a few years back.  Now I'm slowly sorting out what that's like, and what I want out of it -- the way that most guys do when they're, what, fifteen?  And while I'll never be one of those guys who whinges, "OMG I haven't gotten laid in *three months* OMG" as if it somehow violates the laws of physics, at least I feel okay about myself romantically for a change.

Things are going to be alright.

Mainly I'm just glad I didn't get hit by a meteor or something in my twenties.  That would've sucked.

_________
[1] Yes, I can remember occasions where this literally happened.[1b]
[1b] ... and we can continue to extrapolate this to my childhood, where if a stranger talked to me, I would just flee.

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From:judovitch
Date:Monday (11/1/10) 2:08pm
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Is it wrong that I wanted to respond to this post with "Hannah Yoo likes this"? :-)

With respect to your progress in general I'll totally vouch for the positive changes since college, although it wasn't nearly as bad as you sometimes portray it. I would say that you were on the quiet end of the spectrum, but not antisocial - the term I would use is "selectively social." That is, you enjoyed interacting with certain people in certain situations, and it was pretty black and white - it was either fun or not fun with not much gray area. I think since college you've done a good job of expanding your Zone of Enjoyment. Mmmmmm... Donuts.....

For what it's worth, the other thing I would say from the perspective of ex-roommate is that when you were unhappy it was often difficult to discern a) exactly how upset you were (on the scale between "slightly miffed" to "Harvey Dent") and b) what exactly you were upset about (on the scale between "that exam sucked" to "your dirty dishes are in the sink again... SET PHASERS TO SLAUGHTER"). I think you've made huge strides since college in being able to analyze and/or verbalize and/or communicate your state of mind at any given time, which turns out to be more important than one might imagine in maintaining a healthy long-term relationship.

Either that or I was a self-absorbed little !@#$ who couldn't take a hint if it hit him upside the head, take your pick. :-)

-J
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From:spamchang
Date:Friday (11/26/10) 3:55am
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I was right about where you were on the sociability spectrum when I started college, I think. Life deals us all a card each from the looks, personality, and resources spectrum...and then it's up to us to play our hands. Milquetoast-ish personality--I resemble that remark :p

We probably have similar dating frequencies, if that's any consolation, and I don't think it's a bad thing. Trying too hard in this area can lead to bad drama...
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From:Guy Fletcher
Date:Saturday (1/15/11) 11:41pm

strongly identify

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i stumbled upon your blog by googling keith johnstone. I find your writing honest, vulnerable, piercing and full of insight. I adore it. thank you
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