Stranger in a Strange Land

Today I was at work, and my boss came around. He started talking to me and a coworker about a movie that was coming out, something about an adaptation of a kid’s book about scary stories.

As he and my coworker were talking, I started to feel, strongly, that I fit into that conversation about as well as I would have fit into a conversation between two Japanese people talking about Shinto. In Japanese. It was a conversation with which I had absolutely no cultural reference. Finally I just wandered off while they kept talking. They never even noticed I left.

Thinking back on it, I have this kind of experience frequently. In fact, I have it constantly. I have not learned to fit in, but I’ve learned to pretend that it doesn’t bother me that I don’t. But every now and then I’m reminded – frequently, in fact – that I’m completely out of my depth in almost every conceivable way. It’s not that people don’t understand. Understanding is only the surface of the problem. It’s that people don’t even understand that they don’t understand. And sometimes I have the same problem.

I have spent most of my adult life trying to relate to other people on their terms, and it has never worked. I don’t even have the slightest idea what their terms are, much less how to relate to them. I look back at my previous workplaces, and that is probably the root of a large fraction of the anxiety I experience on a day to day basis. I’m walking a tightrope. No one knows how much I am pretending, and if they did, I’m not sure they would want anything to do with me. And I’m not sure they’re wrong.

This pretense has little to do with any deep, dark secrets – I have a couple, as I’m sure most do. But it’s mostly mundane things. What I think. How I think. My experiences. How I interact with people. The gulf is wide and has never narrowed.

I have had a few romantic relationships in my life. I enjoyed the physical companionship of a few of them. I loved a few of them. But I didn’t understand them, and they didn’t understand me. The relationships were doomed before they even started, because the gulf was too wide. They would do or say something that should elicit a particular response (in their experience), and instead, the response was completely different. And vice versa. They didn’t know what to do with me, and I returned the favor.

Here’s the problem, though – I don’t think I can entirely blame the WCG for this, as I didn’t fit there either. I remember some disastrous YOU dances that I still regret ever going to. I remember some disastrous YOU Bible Studies – where I was ready to study the Bible and all they wanted to do was go over the next social outings. Honest truth was, I had no time for or interest in social gatherings. I considered them a waste of time. Frankly, I still do. I’ve gotten better at pretending, and even can tolerate them to some degree, but at the end of the day, I just want my quiet time.

People are exhausting. Everything about people is exhausting. Talking to them, listening to them, navigating their expectations… it’s just exhausting. I’ve tried many different approaches in my life. I’ve tried to treat it as a cultural exchange. That didn’t work because everyone else doesn’t understand that I’m not of their culture. I’ve tried to blend in. That never worked either, because one can only hold up such a pretense for so long (in my experience, about two or three years at top). I’ve tried to subsume my oddities in order to be more accepted, and that never worked, as even if if I succeeded, I knew better. And lately, I’ve tried the “I quit” approach. But that doesn’t work either, because unless one wants to become a hermit, camped out in a cave somewhere, one must support themselves. And that involves people.

I am a stranger in your world. I don’t understand your ways. If I want to survive, I must pretend, but that’s all I can do. And the cost of pretending is high. The cost of pretending is the destruction of my own identity.

But pretending is all I have.

And this – this, I have no one to blame but my parents and Herbert Armstrong’s tangled web. I am to blame for much. But not this.

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