I remember the exact moment I began to feel ‘old’, or at least ‘not young’ in a psychological and cultural context. While I couldn’t tell you the time or the date, I recall it was during an online conversation with a former friend turned lapsed acquaintance, on account of a lack of respect for various boundaries. That distance between us, a reality I long considered to be inevitable as I grew and he didn’t, stemmed in part from this very moment.
At the time I was in the process of applying for permanent residency, while also arranging my wedding, and working six days a week at a busy café with a four person workload (literally I did what would have been four or five separate designated roles in most eateries). Up and down stairs dozens of times a day, with no time for breaks, rarely any for meals, and a notoriously fickle customer base. Thanks to a violent neighbour and his crap taste in both friends and music, I did this on an average of about four hours of sleep a night, if I was lucky enough to get any.
After work I’d go home, toss my phone behind the couch, and hope it died forever, so ‘stressed’ friends who worked cushy 9-5 schedules and lived rent free with parents wouldn’t constantly harangue me to talk about their drama, using the last of my social spoons on looping discussions of personal problems that were usually avoidable, often trivial. Due to a violent pest of an ex in my early 20’s, and also from working an extremely high volume hotel desk job during that period, phone calls had become an automatic trauma trigger. To this day they carry negative connotations, no matter the caller or context.
I moved the majority of my social contact with these ‘friends’ online, and lied about not having a phone anymore (I did, just not a smartphone). No more drunk texts at 3AM when I had to be up at 6AM, or calling at 6AM on a freaking Monday, or people texting me and then calling immediately before I could text them back. Just peace, at least as much as downtown urban life allowed. Or so I thought.
The ‘friend’ I mentioned was guilty of all the above, lacking in basic boundary recognition owing partly to some legitimate mental disorders, but also being a classic product of modern cultures of excess. I explained to him that this day was not the time to talk, as I hadn’t eaten, and had just worked 9.5 hours with no help on no sleep, only to get yelled at by my boss for missing a spot while cleaning the espresso machine – I actually fell down the stairs from exhaustion earlier that week. I literally just wanted some time where I was not answering questions, giving advice, or being accountable.
He didn’t get it, at all. I told him I just wanted alone time. The response was staggering: “Why?” … At which point I just left the convo before I responded abusively. This was the first, and most frustrating, of several such ‘aging’ moments with many people, mostly younger but not much, over the ensuing years.
It’s been exasperating explaining to my peers why I don’t want to or don’t have time to talk for long, or at all – not because I don’t love them, but because my own self care has too often taken a backseat to the incompetence and inadequacy of others. Dealing with literally hundreds of customers a day will do that. About how me quitting social media (twice temporarily, now permanently) is a healthy move, not a sign of crisis, and a necessity based on time constraints either way. Or why I don’t want to play video games online with a headset on, so my drunk mates, their drunk mates, or someone random’s ill-behaved children can babble in my ear, killing the escapism and immersion that is the point of gaming for me. Gaming, a hobby which has frequently been the only private time and stress relief I was allowed.
Better yet, how it’s inappropriate for them to show me nudes of their partners, who are also my friends, or screenshots of private conversation with them for any purpose other than outing an abuser. Or why that photo I took of my dog was a nice moment for us and us alone, not one I was obligated to share digitally with people who would forget it in seconds. That spending half a concert taking pics on a cell, tagging them correctly and uploading them not only compromises your experience, but that of the hardworking people behind you, who’d have watched it for free at home if they wanted to see it on a tiny screen. Why reading a room in person is infinitely more vital than doing so virtually, and how spatial awareness is not only mandatory as a survival instinct, but counts more in reality than it ever will online.
Above all, why all of these grumpy old man observations are in fact perfectly reasonable, and that a well-earned moment, be it painful or prideful, is usually better experienced quickly and intensely, not diluted through sharing it with a world that probably doesn’t care anyhow, then relived over and over as you miss vital moments in real time. You see, being truly present has nothing to do with always being available. When people accuse me of excessive privacy and paranoia, all I have to do is point to the level of needless complication or poor time utilization both in my old life and their current one, then compare it to my world now. One where I’ve succeeded with half their opportunities and twice their obstacles, when survival itself was probably unlikely, and the slightest self-pity was punished swiftly and severely.
As a latter Gen X kid from Australia, I grew up in chat rooms and early messenger apps, but also being outside most of my youth, moving between several social groups from age 17. I spent most of my time with friends, often away from home for days at a time, which was normal. Then I got a career, one with ‘irregular’ hours and massive volumes of work with the public, got engaged, and basically disappeared for a bit. It was known and accepted at that age that work and relationships took over, and personal time was hard won and sacred – at least it was back then and there. I was nowhere near as busy then as I’d be later (or am now), yet nobody would’ve dreamed of expecting constant interaction from anybody without paying for time. Personal time and privacy were, and still are, sacred in that part of the world.
I was allowed to be alone, and thank fuck for that, or I’d undoubtedly have gone postal with the stress of veering between an illegally understaffed, frequently hostile workplace and an abusive home life, where I made 5% of the mess but did 100% of the housework. All that via three hours daily of unreliable public transit, which frequently no showed. Lots of waiting for and riding buses and trains alone, bored and depressed, most of my human interaction being through the smiling, superficial veneer of a job where you were never allowed to have off days, and mistakes could come with hard legal ramifications.
Nobody was awake to be my shrink when I needed it, and I am honestly grateful for that, because I learned to cope and self-analyze. To experience, process, and eventually move away from my angst and stress, instead of being locked in a loop for hours (or years), burdening other people with situations they had no time for. My pain was no less than that of people today, and my early 20’s were all work, no fun.
While I came from a family where openness was encouraged and sensitivity was far from shunned, there was also the expectation both from them and society that one should not put their feelings (and the need to discuss them) ahead of the privacy, personal life, or work demands of others. Yes, I’ve done that (likely we all have), but I grew out of it, and was expected to. Emotions were respected, but considered far less important than thoughts and actions, which produced more tangible, lasting effects. I grew up ridiculously sensitive and emotionally immature, then life (and people, literally) beat the crap out of me until it was no longer viable. I processed feelings in writing, eventually workouts, or the odd moshpit.
I feel, perhaps out of nostalgic bias, that my young adulthood was about the only pocket of Western history where there was emotional balance, and communication or catharsis of pain and angst either occurred thoroughly, or not at all. Mental health was widely acknowledged and feelings were discussed, but not in the tone policed, fake nice manner of today. An era where smug invalidation of logical anger, both personally and culturally, lead us to the point where countless tensions shredded society’s fabric.
It’s fine to be sad now, and apathetic as a result, but getting pissed off about things and trying to use that as motivating energy for change is only acknowledged when a social justice movement achieves mainstream popularity. By which, of course, I mean corporations can capitalize on it for optics and gain, and folk feel obligated to join it in order to not look abhorrent, rather than having genuine empathy. So many of us pretend to care like politicians on a campaign trail when it’d be better to just admit apathy.
On a personal level, if you are a high energy individual who heals by doing and not talking, there will be no shortage of garden variety anxiety types questioning your every move. My issues, some of which are permanent, can’t be solved or managed with a nice cup of tea (or mug of beer) and a chat, let alone by taking a poolside vacation or getting therapy I can’t afford. All of the above would only slow me down and piss me off more, wasting time I could use by doing things I hate, trying to ‘relax’ over problems I could actually be improving (or at least managing) with coping mechanisms that yield tangible results.
There are those of us who will never have enough time to unpack our problems, and would rather carry them with us, using them as reminders to avoid the perils that brought them. Such pain is better used privately as motivation or inspiration, instead of wasting it on a trivial social media status, or an ill-timed conversation. One where it will likely be minimized, misinterpreted, or flat out marginalized by people with half the stress, a quarter of the responsibility, and twice the excuses. People who aren’t doing nothing because they are tired, but are tired because they do nothing, failing to respect the time, effort and boundaries those of us who throw ourselves at work and life to cope, and that such is acceptable.
Some of us used to be them until life simply didn’t allow it, and were forced to adapt and evolve, and ‘get over ourselves’ to an extent. Call it callous, but for every person loudly dealing with anxiety, there is usually someone behind them carrying their load, quietly suffering to a much more serious extent. More often than not, it’s someone whose own anxiety over drastic, sink-or-swim scenarios was mocked and gaslit by the recreationally offended. Usually by white suburbanites or small towners who spend their lives taking dives over first world problems that don’t even register on radars of the truly battle scarred.
Of course, the person that frowns and doesn’t freak out will be the one who gets accused of being the ‘ticking timebomb’ by the short fuses who lack the eloquence and nuance to understand their own conditions adequately, let alone understand those of the more experienced. When that person does finally vent, having attempted both subtle suggestion and calm explanation, left with no choice but to establish boundaries with razor wire, they’re branded as being stubborn and hot-headed for reacting at all, as passive aggressive types sew conflict in all aspects of their life under false pretenses of caring.
I have spent far too much time in the last two years, as a married man in his mid-30’s who works literally every day, explaining to peers in their 30’s that I am not always available, timewise or emotionally, to talk, and how I never want to start or end my day with heavy emotional discussions or argument. I more than paid my dues in that respect, often at the expense of my own wellbeing. They fail to comprehend the notion that this call time comes off either work, which for me generates 24/7, 365 days a year in an industry that never sleeps. Or off my own sleep, which I barely had any of from about age 23 to age 36.
Just because you are bored and lonely doesn’t mean others aren’t overworked, underpaid and always busy, or that their limited leisure time belongs to you. I’ve talked to far too many people who think that because they aren’t busy during the pandemic that nobody else is. It’s nice to be thought of and contacted, but expecting to jump to the front of someone’s queue is childish, as is the constant desire to discuss the same feelings in the same fashion, ad nauseum, without any attempt to improve the situation. It’s also infantile to constantly needle people to talk about their own, in an era where people with unearned entitlement expect others who do more and waste less to constantly explain themselves.
I’m tired of defending not only the fact that I‘m constantly busy, but that I want to be, because no other happiness is possible for me in a city where everything I came here for was taken away by Covid. Not just Covid, but it’s perpetuation in the lack of self discipline of those who clearly got to do whatever they want, whenever they want their whole lives until now, and clearly value theirs and others’ very little –meanwhile in other countries they justifiably imprison people for similar misbehaviour.
While talented, creative friends in a golden age of home entertainment are ‘bored’ and ‘broke’ on government stimulus, some of us are working off externally inflicted debt they had no say in, for choices that weren’t really choices. I miss them, but in a way I selfishly dread the pandemic ending, and the inevitable emotional deluge it’ll bring as the isolated reintegrate like wild eyed convicts released back onto the streets. Unlike them I’d never, until Covid, been left alone to make decent money while having a healthy relationship or a safe home life, with minimal stress and zero interference. I’ve also been through periods of poverty, isolation and uncertainty that make the ‘hardship’ of not being able to see your friends or go to bars look absolutely trivial. I don’t say it to compete or compare, it’s just cold fact.
I send friends a text, it’s ignored, and they call at wildly inappropriate times. I say try next week, they read it as tomorrow. Some agonize over either rejection from me or me being overworked, when in reality the grind is fine, as long as nobody tries to slow it down. They fail to conceive that expecting me to talk to them for hours a day or a week will drive me away, not bring me closer, and that constant availability and accountability to others is not a natural state, even if it’s the norm for so many now. Just because one has lots of friends and is good with people does not mean they want to spend all their time in contact with them, or are obligated to. To me, it seems that those of us who are doing that are almost invariably and inherently miserable – trying to please everyone else is the surest path misery in totality.
It blows my mind how many of my friends seem to have the time and energy for talking for hours every day or week despite working longer hours and having more creative interests than I ever did. How they can’t seem to return a text despite being on phones all day, yet are willing and able to videocall just to ‘shoot the shit’ at seemingly any given moment, often from work (must be nice, I’d have been fined or fired for having my phone in my pocket in many of my past jobs). I’m happy to discuss their issues IF I’m free, and not at the very start or end of my day. They may choose to punctuate their days as such, and those that do seem to be almost invariably unhappy. It’s always the same issues over and over, with the advice given usually ignored – advice that often draws from me reliving painful memories that I’ve no desire to revisit – and it gets a bit much. There comes a point where you figure it out yourself, and change it or accept it. Doesn’t mean you ignore or suppress it, you just don’t let it define your existence.
That, by the way, comes from someone who has overcome a litany of chronic mental health disorders with no medication, no therapy, and with less free time and income than almost all of my peers. I am no genius, I just didn’t have the luxury of avoiding my issues, let alone downloading them on others, and then discrediting advice. I had to adapt, or perish. Sometimes, as brutally simplistic as it sounds, the only way is to ‘harden up’ and move forward, either by channeling one’s anguish, or not giving it undue priority. It’s not how I was raised, or how I grew up thinking, it’s how I was made. It’s why I’m still alive.
There’s such a thing as healthy detachment, and it doesn’t mean being always numb, nor does it require abdicating one’s empathy and ethics. In a world where people cut and run with dirty blades, treating their supposed loved ones so hatefully, people like me have to pull the trigger and walk away. That one ‘selfish’ act will be all that is remembered, not the hundreds where one sacrifices and suffers in silence, while people who act like pricks routinely are placed on pedestals the one time they actually behave.
It’s human nature, exacerbated by social media and perpetuated by reality TV, as people who don’t even know themselves and exist only in persona and avatar try to dictate to the more aware and experienced of us, who lecture only when necessary, and with hard data. Dictator is a perfect word really – the behaviour is identical, just on a minor scale. Villains paint themselves as victims instead of just being decent villains and owning it, as others who can’t even save themselves try and fail to save the world.
I lack the desire to publicly revel in either my misery, or that of the collective consciousness, in a world that already parades collective suffering so sickeningly. Perpetual anguish, now spoon fed to us not just through traditional media, but mainlined through social media networks that seem all too content to fan the flames of bigotry, bullying and bias. We live in a perpetual state of reaction and emotionality when action and logic would be far more beneficial – scared, wild animals in a world overrun by machines. I stopped watching the news over a decade ago for this reason, and have left social media for much the same, as corporations fail to combat hate speech on their platforms, while patronizing advertising overwhelms content to the point where the internet has become even worse than cable television.
We’re being asked how we feel constantly, expected to be outraged one way or another (and attacked if we aren’t) as neutrality and centrism are more loathed than ever and the middle class erodes. Instead of leadership culture we embrace follower culture, where everything from our politics to our aesthetics are targeted, monetized and determined externally. What would’ve been a spirited debate in person now results in slander, death threats or career assassination online. Instead of occasional violence and legal consequence, we’ve traded those evils for the insidiousness of online bullying, available 24/7 at the touch of a button. Perhaps even worse, oversharing from friends and family whose boundaries have been obliterated in a world where one opinion and emotion have been elevated to impossible levels of importance. The irony is when you monetize intangibles, they actually lose value instead of gaining it.
Constant passive aggression (also known as cowardice in many cultures) has largely replaced in-person conflict and resolution, and now everyone can act disgustingly and get away with it – not just the biggest and scariest of us. I don’t miss the casual violence, but I do prefer it to being constantly gutter sniped by Orwellian basement dwellers both conservative and liberal, both of whom fail to realize they are the same excrement in different buckets. The once bullied are now worse bullies than their old antagonists.
In about 40 years, we’ve gone from a society that bottles our emotions repressively, expressing them largely through hidden cycles of various abuse, to one that lives out every excruciating detail as publicly and graphically as possible. Of course, there are undoubtedly widespread positives from this, such as improved mental health awareness, the vital Me Too movement, and increased sensitivity towards marginalized demographics, at least to a certain extent. The trade-off is that fear based thinking and the inherent perpetual feelings of inadequacy are now not just a state of mind, but the intersection of your fixed address. The once localized Tall Poppy Syndrome of days past is now an international epidemic.
We pay lip service to emotional openness and mental health, yet respect for most boundaries doesn’t seem to be improving. Workplace standards and the toxic ‘work family’ mentality are only exacerbating things, and both extremes of the political spectrum are placing extreme strain on those in the middle, as those on the outside are being outright hunted – if like me, they haven’t opted out yet. In 20 years I’ve gone from having to defend my very existence to violent, bigoted Jesus Freaks to now having to do so to argument fetishist alt-left sociopaths, who question everybody’s every move while taking none of the risks themselves, trying to rewrite the history of culture wars that they weren’t even in the trenches for.
There was a happy medium of roughly half a decade where I didn’t feel like a target. As bad as it is for me as a straight, white CIS male, I can only imagine how much worse it must be in literally every other demographic. Nobody wants to admit they’re wrong, thus if there’s no mistakes, no lessons are learned.
Some of us are like concept double albums in a world of 30 second songs – the oversaturated attention spans are too short for the nuanced interaction we require, and our limited free time is better spent on catharsis and healthy coping mechanisms. There comes a point where it’s better to hold our tongues, maybe to speak later with the benefit of time and perspective. Perhaps consider that those of us who are strong have only become so because any weakness or vulnerability was seized upon to the point where we’re now incapable of showing either. We don’t repress, deny or devalue our passion and pain, but we don’t place them on grand pedestals of social and interpersonal importance, to the detriment of both individual and collective. We like to spend time ENJOYING the company of others, and the reprieve and distraction it brings, instead of battling our trust issues to bleed out over each other all the time.
I for one have been through a number of situations that are extremely atypical, for which there are no support groups, with minimal precedent. No amount of therapy or other sharing will fix them, and time itself may not heal the wounds – frankly, I’d rather have the cool scars and the lessons behind them at this point. That neither makes my suffering special, nor any worse, it simply means there’s little point talking about it, and it’s best to move on. Sometimes silence and a frown says more than any words could, and perhaps if people could read the room THEY ARE ACTUALLY IN better, and focus more on obvious cues, they’d achieve a modicum of the mental health awareness they assume they possess.
Bluntly, it’s time to stop living like life is reality TV, to stop assuming perpetual conflict and drama are normal, when life is already complicated enough. To stop being so bloody social codependent in an era where isolation is survival, and feelings are taking precedence over rights that some of our predecessors died for. If we want better leaders, we must act like we deserve them, instead of elevating and imitating low intellect sociopaths in both politics and culture. If we want to make it as a society, we need to focus on solutions and what we do have, instead of what we don’t and our problems. If the pandemic wasn’t enough of a wakeup call, I’m not sure anything will be, and we’re not so much ‘woke’ as in a coma.
It’s incredibly unnatural to live in a perpetual state of explanation and justification, because if you’re having to talk about your feelings and problems that often, it’s clear you’re being misunderstood to a degree that raises questions about either your own articulation, or the understanding of those around you. Life is too much drama these days, not enough action and comedy, and the way I see people talk to their friends, family and loved ones in public and online makes me question if they’d have the guts to confront them in an adult fashion behind closed doors. Meanwhile their so-called friends signal boost and prolong the drama, lacking the ethic or imagination to find anything better to do in an era where even the most niche of tastes are overserved, and option paralysis is a bigger problem than lack of access for most of us. The Pandora’s Box of the internet is really proving why we can’t have nice things.
Far too often are people asking public opinion for critical advice on big decisions that should be made alone, or not at all, exposing themselves to ulterior motives of friends that act more like enemies. Even more often gaslit, passive aggressive conflicts are used to avoid confronting the real issues, as so-called allies tear each other down in the public eye when they really need to be taking a good hard look at the person in the mirror, asking them how they possibly couldn’t have anything better to do in this era. One where once social people like me now have the means to avoid you all with ease, and find doing so far less stressful than the loneliness of lockdowns and quarantines. I’d rather be single and friendless than with partners or peers who don’t get me. It’s far less lonely, I know that much from experience.
Those of us with the constant demand for people to explain their every aggravation, and to share theirs, are childishly wasting the energy of people who have less of it to waste, and often forcing those who were once incredibly open to lock up permanently, simply as a survival mechanism. Some use the awful, straight up abusive technique of projecting their own stress onto others, insisting they discuss things they have no wish to, needling calm people by insisting they are stressed until they get stressed – then accusing them of lying in the first place. Misdirected ‘good intentions’ often do far more damage for much longer than outright abuse, as those who can’t hold healthy grudges take out their frustrations on those who actually care, while their abusers are forgiven under dated pretenses based on antiquated religions. Worse yet, because this is the norm for so many, it is assumed it should be so for all others.
We’ve forgotten the value of silence in a world of white noise, eschewing bigger pictures for minor details. Littered with mental and emotional ephemera, we download and upload every excruciating detail, often mythologizing the mundane as we ape the behaviour of fake reality TV celebrities and other tasteless tastemakers. We pretend to be emotionally liberated when we’ve simply traded the prison of repression for the poisons of constant overexpression, favoring a slow and painful death over temporary austerity. The problem is, SOMEONE has to either live amongst or clean up all the psychological debris, often the same someone who’ll also be yelled by at if they dare to show any fatigue or dissent. Probably by another who claims to be tired and sore all the time, but has yet to experience true pain or fatigue.
If I sound bitter, it’s because I am. I’d like to be more than that, more than sour or salty, but balanced sweetness was never really allowed in a world of oversaturated palates raised on digital fast food, and the deleterious effects therein. I hope one day we can develop better habits of consumption, using the technology instead of it using us so much. Above all, I hope that in a world where so many talk over the top of each other to the point of screaming, perhaps we may respect the silence of the truly suffocated, who choose to hold their tongues for fear of the venom they may spew. As toxic as modern society is, one could only imagine what will happen should they choose to open their mouths, and bare their fangs.