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Toxic Masculinity Mushroom

In a year where so much has burned to cinders it’s strange to even say “the grass is always greener,” but that tendency to look for the newly green has been on my mind of late. A few situations stacked up on one another and pointed out a pattern in my thinking that feels like something one would outgrow in adolescence. I’m prone to get really hung up on whatever is new to me and think it’s somehow going to be the solution to a vast range of problems, and then end up disappointed and sad. It shouldn’t be surprising, because when has such a thing ever happened? (Maybe if I fell in love with penicillin when it was new, but not so much with people, jobs, diets, or religions.) Yet here I am again, reveling in the dirt over the septic tank.

In some cases there’s nothing there to hang a hope on, but that has never stopped me from projecting a story out to infinity and casting myself in a starring role, though surely one dwarfed by your blinding magnificence. If I like you, you’re doomed to be cast as a superhero of some sort. This is hopeless because it’s a situation where reality has no foothold, but it also leaves me feeling humiliated for failing to guard against it. Being reminded that I have a tendency to expect others to save me is just another layer on this already fairly shitty cake.

There are so many circumstances where it feels like I missed that one critical day of school where everyone matured, and I am somehow waiting for a chance to do the make-up work. My upbringing was largely free of milestones: Never learned to drive, didn’t go to prom, never been on a date or had a career, you get the idea. There are things about being unstuck from that schedule that are agreeable. I’ve kept a commitment to learning, I love toys, games, and cartoons unabashedly, and have not let life steal my sense of humor. These are all good! But this particular starfucker thought-loop has proven costly for me, and led me to be pretty unfair to people who have turned out to be human and not miracle unicorns.

The crazy thing is, I can sidestep it sometimes and everything works better when I do. I was resistant to start therapy in large part because it was a certainty that I’d be talking to a person who actually listened to me, something I’ve had very little of in life, and no way was that going to happen without my getting tremendously hung up on them. It totally happened. But it was okay because, knowing to expect it, I kept my brain on a short leash and my behavior on lock down. Somehow making right behavior a predictable thing is not a skill I’ve been able to master, though. I’d like to map a path from wherever this is to somewhere a little more developmentally advanced.

It makes a certain kind of sense, though. New growth is appealing because it suggests continuity rather than something that will end. I wrote something recently about joy and mentioned the Sarah Dougher song “Secret Porno Collector,” whose protagonist only wants “to keep on pretending that every pleasure’s never-ending.” Is that too much to ask? Can’t we all have a secret hole in one wall where this stuff is allowed to fester and flourish?

We probably can, and many among us likely do. But it’s hardly worth it if it comes at the cost of really knowing one another. I’ve spent many years plugging holes in loneliness with shallow chatter because it was all I had access to. But just as it became plain that impersonal contact had no nutritive value, it also weighs on me that my overblown expectations have the potential to break the backs of people I’d like to know better, and not as captives laid up in traction. It feels like the price of potential authenticity is growing up, a punishment I’m tentatively willing to endure. After all, the grass does it every day.

Heather Seggel is a freelance writer who would just like to emphasize how much hygge she’s packing in this photo.


21 Responses to “What’s New?”

  1. CleverManka says:

    This was such an interesting post for me because it's…pretty much the exact opposite of my own nature. I am pretty adamant about not putting expectations on people (the Burgomaster is my one exception because someone intimately sharing a living space absolutely must meet some expectations) but other than that…nah. I have a (perhaps detrimentally) dim enough view of humanity that I know we're all just fuck-ups who, well, fuck up. That doesn't mean I associate with people who fuck up in the same ways, repeatedly, with no effort at self-correction. But I don't expect anyone to do better, if that makes sense. So I'm never disappointed in people, but I'm also not emotionally close to very many of them, either.

    • Heathered says:

      I'd be a lot happier if I fell in the middle of those poles, but I think growing up in such a remote location and so socially isolated trained me to assume that any scrap of anything I got (including friendship) had to serve a lot more needs than it was perhaps designed for. Which is why/how I ruin everything.

      • CleverManka says:

        That's a rough place to be in, but…at least you recognize it now? I hope you'll be able to find that middle ground sooner rather than later. Any news on the therapy/new therapist front?

        • Heathered says:

          We're slated to check in some time next month, but for now my mood is up and a lot more stable finally. If I had more (any) face to face connections and the opportunity to exchange empathy in real time the need to have someone hold space for me to bawl uncontrollably for an hour would be a lot smaller, but I'm committed to staying where I am and not looking for new home possibilities until the fall, so we'll see. Even the impersonal exchanges at a low-stress job would be helpful, but I'm no closer to finding one.

          • Rillquiet says:

            At the risk of being hlep rather than help: Are there perhaps any volunteer groups in your area that could use your assistance during the day? Volunteering for nonprofits and outreach groups can offer some of that casual social contact as well as giving you something to do that isn't the soul-squashing work of looking for paid employment.

          • Heathered says:

            Not hlep at all! (I like saying that out loud) I have feelers out, but I also make about 3K last year and my garbage bill is set to quadruple, so $ needs to happen, too. Volunteer-to-hire would be dreamy.

          • Rillquiet says:

            Oh yeah, it wasn't meant as "instead of" paid work so much as "while you're looking." I did office support a few days a week for a food bank while I was last between jobs, and it gave me structure, social contact, and a sense that life wasn't always going to be about dispatching resumes into the void.

      • Doc_Paradise says:

        Perhaps consider thinking about it as the effects starvation rather than "how I ruin everything". When you get enough of whatever it is you need and feel secure that starvation is not imminent, you might find this fear (and associated behaviours) settling down a bit.

        • Heathered says:

          Oh, for sure. But it does tend to have a destructive effect, which I can only take responsibility for if I glaze it with some humor. Too grody otherwise.

  2. RoseCamelia says:

    "reveling in the dirt over the septic tank"

    You're so good at evocative imagery, Heathered. And I admire your bravery, looking straight into your own habits and needs. I want to grow that kind of unflinching honesty within myself. I'd also like to be able to share myself like you do here. This too is brave.

    I agree with Doc_Paradise. You describe the effects of a kind of starvation. You're not ruining everything. You're fighting a kind of vitamin deficiency. The occasional limp or stagger is to be expected.

    • Heathered says:

      Thank you! And yes, I agree with the deprivation, but if the effects are destructive and lead to further loss (and hurting people) it's important to be accountable. Not everyone wants to have a crazy straw stuck in their heart on the second date, but that is how I roll.

  3. phantom says:

    This is beautifully written, thank you for sharing it.

  4. vladazhael says:

    I definitely feel a whole lot of this. I was an isolated, anxious kid with nervous parents whose perfectly reasonable amount of third degree over me doing anything social out in the big scary world was just a bridge too far most of the time when it already took a major act of will on my part to try to human with other humans, so I spent a lot of time just not bothering during the important developmental era and instead fantasizing about the sorts of deep soul mate connection(s) another me would make in another world. This set me up for a lot of remedial development and a lot of bad, bad mistakes about what I put myself in the path of, and to this day, even though I have learned a whole bunch, I am still definitely the sort to adhere myself to a partner as my by-far primary means of interactive humaning, and I have to keep a watchful eye on how much of that is healthy and how much is me being a giant need mosquito. (See me and littleinfinity waxing poetic last week about #teambarnacle.)

    I think your talent for imagery may help me in my endeavors at keeping the bad parts in check, though – I will try to remember not to stick crazy straws in hearts. And I do hope for the best for you in your grappling with the same; you seem to be doing a good job on accountability without lapsing into self-flagellation.

    • RoseCamelia says:

      I feel so much for that past isolated, anxious vladazhael. Please tell your inner child it's not your fault. Your grownups failed you. And present-day you is doing an admirable job of making up for it.

      If it's any comfort, consider what I have learned as an observer of high school students. Those other kids not staying home to avoid parental anxiety, a lot of them were allowed to miss major social development opportunities also.

      I'm talking about the kids allowed to, or often encouraged to form exclusive couple dating relationships that persisted for years. Their parents did not realize it was an unhealthy response to normal adolescent fears of novel social situations. "If I got the party with my girl/boy friend, I will never have to look for someone to talk to, won't have to present myself, explain myself, make effort to fit in. If I have a steady girl/boy friend I will never again have to ask for a date. I won't have to experience discomfort."

      Not all, but most of those kids had a rough time learning social cues later than their peers did. For some it had high costs, like the loss of a job over poor interactive skills.

      • vladazhael says:

        Aww, thanks. My inner child is learning to believe that, and reinforcement helps. I wouldn't even say my grownups failed me; it was more the unfortunate perfect storm of their introversion and neuroses meeting up with mine, at a time when none of us (and really fewer people in the world in general) had the emotional intelligence vocabulary to do much about it. But they at least helped me form the critical thinking skills and sense of self awareness and compassion to grow and learn and work through that and other things over the rest of my life, which even a lot of people with better early life socialization miss out on. I figure no parents are free of fuck-ups, and nobody comes out of childhood unscathed, and at least my biggest problems still involved everybody doing their best and operating from a place of love. And all of us have come a long way since then, which is pretty great. My mom has more than once expressed remorse at not having been able to help more with my anxiety when I was younger, but I've reminded her it wasn't for lack of trying. We just didn't have the demon's name yet.

        I never really thought of the teenage relationship thing as another form of limitation, but you make a solid point there. It always seems like a much larger, more adult experience at the time, but really in most cases it skips a lot of the growth one needs to go through to make that sort of pairing healthy in favor of the appearance of adult stability at an early age. And really that's similar to a bunch of the mistakes I made as a young adult playing with relationships, but at least it was me making those mistakes on my own and having as much space to learn from them as I could give myself.

    • Heathered says:

      You're so kind, and I am so in love with the term "giant need mosquito."

  5. Fancy_Pants says:

    Heather, this is beautiful and brave. This is a hard thing written clearly and evocatively. I think Doc and Rose's starvation/vitamin deficiency analogies are spot on.

    I also think you're not alone in what I call "magical thinking". We're all dreamy bookworms who are used to our heroes slaying the dragon or finding the magic chalice and living happily ever after, so why WOULDN'T coconut oil or CrossFit or a new friend fix everything and finally give us the life we've been imagining for ourselves? There was an amazing body acceptance blogger (Kate? .. Something?) who wrote about "the fantasy of being thin", where you picture everything in your life turning easy and beautiful if you just fix this one thing about your body.

    LOTS of people do this with so many things, which is why there is so much money to be made as one of those silver bullet hucksters converting people to their life changing plant-based diets, or coding bootcamps, or bulletproof coffee. Of course it happens in relationships too– that's literally the plot of most RomComs.

    Anyways, personal growth is a hellscape, who wouldn't look for a shortcut now and then? You're not alone, and you got this.

    • Heathered says:

      This is so nice to read, thank you. But for real though, can't we just set up a bulletproof coding boot camp and cash in? Just pack that cd-rom drive with grassfed butter and your life will be ameeezing. *sigh* It really does die hard.

    • damngoodcoffee says:

      Agreed with your entire post here. Everyone's situation is different, but I feel like a lot of these yearnings and imaginings are just completely common.

      When I absorb any kind of fiction about a really close group of friends, for instance, a big part of me really aches for that level of closeness. And I used to always think that my goal should therefore be to try and find a way to get the closeness I see on TV/read in books. But really, I think a better way of going about things has been examining my life as is, and really thinking about what I like/don't like about it, and thinking about how I can like it more as it is right now. What can I do to really start feeling better about my life in general? Taking that perspective, rather than thinking, "how do I get to this different place/this end goal that I don't actually know is possible?" has actually really helped me out a lot recently. I'm not sure if that distinction really makes sense, but that's the best way I can think to describe it atm.

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