Sunday, February 06, 2011

disappearing act

(The third of three posts devoted to Introverts' Week, always a fan favorite)

I've noticed for the past couple of months that I always have my jaw clenched tightly.  I catch myself doing it, and "make myself relax" (which seems like a bit of an oxymoron-- forced relaxation), but ten minutes later I'll find I'm doing it again.  Now that I've been working on this for awhile, I'm realizing that it's not just my jaw.  It's my neck and shoulders, maybe even my entire upper body.  I seem to always be tense.

What am I so tense about?  I was thinking about that this morning while I was stretching out, trying to just let go of all my tension, and see what was causing it.  what's underneath all that?  Some of it seems to be generalized control-freak middle-aged woman, trying to force life to be what I want it to be instead of what I've got.  But another, perhaps bigger part of it, is a deep-seated fear that if I let go, I'll disappear.  I'll fade out of view, and no one will even notice that I'm gone.  It's mostly irrational, because if I disappeared, there are quite a few people who would notice, and at least a few of them would genuinely miss me-- dh and my kids, at least; my sisters, a number of my friends. 

It goes back to a real cause, though.  I was a quiet kid, and I lived in a high-stress household-- one narcissistic parent and one codependent parent.  Neither one of them had the time or energy to distinguish between their three kids.  We were just "the girls," and since I didn't have much personality (or at least not much of the kind that gets you noticed), I tended to just fade into the background.  It was so much easier for everybody if I did, and since I'm pretty introverted by nature and I spent a lot of time reading anyway, it worked pretty well.

I say all that, by the way, as statement of how it was, but without much heat or rancor, which makes me very happy.  Ten or fifteen years ago, if I made those statements, they would have been accompanied by a great deal of angst and outrage that my parents treated me so badly.  but at this late date, it just is what it is.  I lived through it.  I certainly know many, many people who had worse childhoods than I did.  My parents aren't bad people.  I love my mom very much, and my dad and I have made a truce so that we can appreciate each other (although it works best from a distance).  And time has passed.  It was all so long ago, and my mom has been there for me time and time again as an adult, no matter what her limitations were when we were young.

So I don't mean that to sound like a big pity party.  It's just something I find I need to deal with, even at this late date.  My mom wanted three polished little socialites who would help her maintain her standing in the slippery social minefield of the small town where we lived, but instead she got an athlete (my older sister), a nerdy geek who was more interested in science fiction than clothes (me), and a friendly extrovert who could care less about social standing (my younger sister).  My dad can't see anything beyond the end of his nose, so he never noticed us, period, as individuals--unless we made him look good, or unless he was blistering us with his icy wrath (intentional mixed metaphor there).  It's no wonder this is a problem for me. 

and it still happens.  People forget about me fairly often.  Sometimes I like it.  In fact, a lot of the time I like it.  I'm not good at complicated social interactions, and keeping my life simple and narrowed down to a a few friends and loved ones suits me just fine.  But it rankles sometimes, and sometimes it's painful.  I sat next to a woman at a baby shower for two hours one time and thought that we connected pretty well, but when I ran into her at the athletic club a few days later, she didn't remember me.  I sat across the table from a woman at a small dinner party one New Year's Eve (there were six of us all together), and ran into her two weeks later and she didn't remember me at all.  We sat across from each other for three hours.

Of course, things like that aren't just about me.  I know more about those women now, and neither of them is particularly observant of the people around her, or particularly interested in friendships that don't further her social goals.  So I don't consider either of them to be a loss.  but still it is a strange thing how often I disappear even in situations where I'm trying to engage. 

so what would happen if I just let go?  If I just assumed that I matter, without having to worry about it?  I'm working on finding that out.

1 comment:

  1. OK, just to be fair, I have to tell you: I went to a St Patrick's Day party at a friend of mine's house last week. There was a woman there that I met at the last party our mutual friend had-- must have been 4th of July. I remembered her, although I had to be reminded of her name, but I remembered nothing else. She, on the other hand, was so excited to see me so she could ask all these questions about how school was going, and was the drive as hard as I thought it would be, etc. So OBVIOUSLY I can be just as bad as those women in this post who didn't remember me.