Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two (aghrivaine) wrote,
Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash: Pick Two

How to make friends and influence people in Southern California

I don't have many friends here in LA. Part of this is a natural by-product of getting married and having a kid - everyone knows that severely limited your social time. It's predictable, no big deal, and nothing to worry about. But above and beyond that, I just have trouble or get in trouble out here in a way I didn't back in Philly.

I've thought a lot about why. And I think there's two major factors in why I do so poorly, socially out here. First, I have a super-power to offend people when I absolutely don't mean to. And second, the culture out here, for some reason, is extremely conflict-averse, and my first instinct when some trouble has brewed up is to deal with it. This always and universally is seen as an attack, not a sincere attempt at reconciliation.

My superpower of insulting people is, of course, nobody's fault but my own. For one thing, I do have a big mouth. I know it, and I've worked hard to tone that down - to be less blunt, less inclined to argue, and less likely to tease. Where I grew up, "busting stones" was just how people, and especially guys, made each other laugh. It's sometimes cruel, but not usually intentionally so. There's an old tradition of "insult comedy" and Philadelphians are pretty sure they're the masters of it. When I moved out here, it was an adjustment, but one I actually like. Making fun of people in LA just sort if isn't done - it's not considered funny, it's just kind of mean. I think I sorted that out pretty quickly, but it's still just in my bones. When I visited with friends a few years after moving out, and they were constantly insulting each other and me - and usually to accuse each other of various homosexual acts or inclinations, it just seemed....sad. Each person so profoundly insecure, they couldn't bear that someone else wouldn't loathe themselves as much as they do. So like crabs in a bucket, they ceaselessly tear each other down, so none of them will escape the pot. I wasn't sorry to have escaped that, and had newfound appreciation for the kindness, no matter how superficial, that is the norm here in LA.

But I am just no good at it. I know this guy, who shall remain nameless. He has the opposite superpower - no matter how frankly insulting, horrifying or angry the things he says are, people just laugh and think it's funny or charming. I have seen him, with my own eyes, tell someone with perfect sincerity that he hated her, and wanted to smash her face in ...and she laughed and laughed, and figured he was hot for her. He wasn't - it was just his gift. Say anything, but always be perceived as funny, innocuous and good. (Which to be fair, he almost always was.) Not me, brother. When I say anything, anything at all, people take me in whatever the worst possible interpretation would be. I remember being at a party once, meeting a young lady I thought was attractive - and complimenting her blouse. Just that - it's all I meant. "That's a nice blouse, it flatters you." She retracted and hissed, "What does THAT mean? It would like nice on your bedroom floor, right? I know what kind of a man YOU are, you're not a man at all!" I mean seriously, this was the first sentence I exchanged with her. This is also not at all atypical - it happens to me frequently. I try and give someone a sincere compliment, and all they can think is that I'm angling for something, or it's a hidden insult or attack somehow. When you combine that with a tendency to fall back on even the mildest form of Philadelphia insult-comedy, and what you get is a dynamite combination. I'll say the wrong thing, and have it interpreted in the worst possible way - even by trusted friends and intimates.

I've worked pretty hard to be less argumentative, more inclined to let things go, to listen to the subtext of the things people say, and above all to be willing to be wrong and admit fault. I've made those changes for my own good, and while I may have more work yet to do, I think I'm a lot better than I used to be. But it just doesn't seem to matter, something about me is just ...infuriating or off-putting to people. I can't even tell you how much I hate that.

Now put someone like that in a conflict-phobic culture like LA. It's just ridiculous here, there's absolutely no way to approach and resolve a problem with someone. Even if it's just a misunderstanding, even if there's no real problem, but just crossed-wires, you simply can't go and talk to someone about something, no matter how gently or diplomatically you try, it's perceived as an attack. I mean, it's so ridiculous here - if someone hurt Blink, and then I told them I was mad because they hurt Blink, I would be the bad guy - the nasty barbarian who was just making drama. I'm not sure why this is true about LA, but it is. It's as endemic to the culture as flakiness, lack of punctuality and bitching about traffic.

So you can imagine - if your superpower is unintentionally offending people, and you live in a place where discussing any kind of conflict is absolutely verboten - this leaves you with a lot of relationships that just die ugly and wholly unnecessary deaths. Well, not "you" at all - but rather, me. I'm not  un-self-aware, I know there's no one that can fix this but me. But I think I also have to accept I'm never going to fit in very well out here, and it's always going to mean I just won't have many, or any, friends. I do want to engage in self-improvement, and have healthier and stronger friendships..but not at the cost of my own identity, not if it means not being me anymore. However frustrating and wearisome to me the uninentionally-offending-people superpower is, it also seems to be inescapably ME, too.

I wish I were more cheerfully misanthropic, or curmudgeonly, and just didn't care what people think. But I do, and it's a constant source of angst. But I think I just have to live with it, and learn to take more pleasure in my own solitary company, and in time spent with family.

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.