Miercoles con los Amigos Invisibles vol. 15: Keep it real

An invisible friend is you!

You're not invisible, I know. But since I've never seen you, you are in serious danger of being made into an invisible friend. By me--though I will try my damnedest not to!--or by anybody else out there who thinks like me.

Here's how it works.

I want to feel like I have friends. But--I am terrified of the emotional risks involved in keeping actual friends. In person I'm a pleasant and fun companion; the initial making-friends part is easy for me, and more often than not people would prefer that I stick around once they've gotten to know me. I've made a few friends worth keeping, even a few that I've put in some effort to try and keep. Once we get to that point, though, I get jittery and lose all faith in myself as a worthwhile companion. Eventually my willpower breaks down and the fear gets the better of me. When the ball is in my court to stay in touch and keep the relationship going, I just flake out. I don't call, don't call back, don't initiate contact, make a rendezvous but end up breaking it due to some unconscious self-sabotage. So I go on the internet and do something that gives me the feeling I crave without the risks. A forum, a blog, a chat room community: I have done all of these things. Currently just a forum and blog. Sometimes even those are too much for me, and I leave one internet hangout in search of another, less uncomfortably personal place.

No matter how heavy my emotional investment has been in a person or place, I never seem to have any trouble cutting the cord and fleeing when the panic finally rears its grinning plastic head. It feels like something just and inevitable. Like I'd been defrauding the other person or people involved in some way, and my absence will allow them to cut their losses and get on with making real friends and having a real life. I get this weird feeling of relief. Weird, because I usually miss the person or people and am saddened to be without them, a little more drab and empty. But relief, because I feel freed; the portion of my identity wrapped up in that relationship deflates and all its metaphorical lights go dim. It's been scrapped for parts, turned from active persona into mere information, leaving a whole bunch of emotional energy and mindspace unfettered and blank, ready to be filled with new selfparts. Whatever happened between those friends and me, the feeling seems to say, was just practice. Practice for them, in learning how to recognize not-real people and in future avoid forming unnecessary bonds with them. Practice for me, in learning how to trick people into thinking I'm real people so well that one day, maybe (yeah, right), it will stick.

Where does this belief, this fear, this creeping dread, this absolute certainty come from? I'm not sure. It's one of the central personality construction problems that I've been trying to get a handle on for years. I have some inarticulate belief, too deeply buried for conscious access, that says I'm not worth having as a friend, and anyone who mistakenly thinks I am is in for a world of disappointment. So I keep living out a stupid self-fulfilling prophecy whose origins are obscure to me and whose mechanisms I have yet to untangle from the rest of my personality.

The comforting thing about a blog is the invisible audience. In my mind, somewhere out there is an archetypal Perfect Reader who is even more interested than I am in the things I type, is in a perfect position to make good use of any insight I have, and is delighted by any creative work I manage to come up with. The Perfect Reader is of course completely passive. They have no thoughts or blog of their own, they never comment, they never point out my embarrassing craptasms. But they are always there, in the back of my mind, soaking up my every byte and thereby validating my existence. Giving me the boost that feedback from friends can provide, without the panic-inducing muddle of attempting to make, and keep, real friends.

Which is why over the past period of time I've been making an effort to get real readers. To dispel the myth from my mind, to keep me mindful of what it's like to write for real people. People with their own blogs, ideas, interests and fears. People who will say something when they have something they want to say, and won't when they don't.

The danger there, though, is the temptation to start pandering. Pandering accelerates the "fraud" feelings enormously. Just earlier today I caught myself going over past posts to see which ones generated the most comments. Maybe, I caught myself thinking, if I write more of the kinds of things that got people to comment in the past, maybe then they'll comment more in the future! But this is not the way I want to run my blog, or myself. Right now it is not a good thing for me to do. Because I would in fact be trying to turn my real readers into living, typing replicas of my imaginary Perfect Reader. In accordance with my stupid unconscious self-fulfilling prophecy.

In most circumstances, a person who's trying to give good value for their readers' time ought to be willing to present what they've got in a reader-friendly way. They know what they've got, they know what they're interested in and want to write about, they know who they are. All they need to do is take what they've got and make it really engaging and fun. By studying what other people will react to, a contributor can change the form and style of their contributions to maximize the kind of reactions the contributor most wants to get. If they do their job right, others who are interested in their topic will say "hey! that's the best source of XYZ I've seen in awhile, this person really understands XYZ and makes it fun, I'm going to get my XYZ here from now on."

However, I'm not yet at that point. Because in a sense, I don't even know what I have. Won't know, is maybe a better way to say it. Using just the rational, intellectual parts of my mind, I can rattle off a long list of interesting things I can contribute. But emotionally, I've got to fight against the certainty, the absolute conviction that the things I'm interested in are boring because I'm interested in them, the things I care about are useless because I care about them, the things I want to say are stupid because I say them.

So if I took all my cues from my readers, if I only blogged about things in the hope of getting comments on them, all I'd be doing is building a persona to match what I perceive to be my readers' desires. I wouldn't be taking the things I care about and presenting them to real people in hopes their interest would move them to validate my opinions. Instead, I would be using my perceptions of other people's interests to manipulate them into giving me the validation I crave. Everything I said might be from the heart, everything I wrote about might be something I'm genuinely interested in, but as far as my personality was concerned, it would still feel fraudulent. Would still be fraudulent. The distinction is subtle, but it is the difference between pandering and contribution, between concern and concern trolling, between asking for an opinion and fishing for a compliment.

Man. Keeping it real is hard.


Amber E said...

I sometimes have similar issues with friendships. In case you were wondering generally read your blog even if my comments are infrequent.

Fiat Lex said...

Living on earth with humans is frustrating, isn't it? *hugs* Almost as frustrating as being human, sometimes. I hope hearing me blather about it was helpful, or at least interesting. And thank you for reading! It warms my heart to know I have my big sister out there keeping watch over my blog thingy. :)

kisekileia said...

Hello. *pokes head in* I'm here from Against Biblical Counseling. Just wanted to let you know I'm reading this :).

Fiat Lex said...

Thanks, kiseki! :) One of these days I've got to make me an LJ account so I can send you a friend request!