It isn’t that I don’t like people. I love people. I really do. I love little girls who chase after soccer balls and pat horses’ velvety noses. I love old men who fart without repercussion and then wink at their grandchildren. I love coworkers who understand when I’m having a crankypants day, and I love friends who will give me a hug even when I haven’t showered in three days and I’m slobbering and drooling with heart-broken sobs.
The problem with me is dosage. I am a people diabetic, fully capable of going into shock from an overdose of bodies in my immediate vicinity. Drop me in the middle of a crowded mall at Christmastime and watch me spiral into a coma of claustrophobia and paranoia. My heart begins to thud, oxygen becomes scarce, my vision blurs, my ears thump, and my body temperature shoves the mercury sky-high. Within seconds, I am gasping like a beached fish and a flood of uncontrollable tears are streaking their way down my face. I know I must look like a recent escapee from the cuckoo’s nest, yet still the thoughtless, uncaring drones buzz about me.
What causes these panic attacks is the thought, no, the knowledge that I cannot see a clear path out of the teeming mass of bodies. They pulse closer and closer to me, continuously not only violating my personal space radius, but actually touching me. Brushing against me. Walking much too slow in front of me, leaning over their ginormous baby carriages or kissing their freakishly pierced boyfriends, paying no heed to the torrent of human traffic trying to divert itself around them. Zooming up behind me, children screeching and slamming into my legs, teenagers giggling and screeching at each other in decibels designed to rupture my ear drums, men whose chivalry has long given way to the need tailgate me so I that I will in turn force the shuffling retiree out of the way of speedier foot traffic. Mindless women press their bulky bags into the small of my back while I’m waiting in yet another chaotic cashier line, and every time I step forward to relieve the toxic, panic-inducing pressure, they step forward with me until I am crushed between patrons who continue to jabber on their cell phones or holler across the store for their partners to buy them a butter-dipped pretzel while they wait.
I have anti-social breaks with lower doses of people as well, definite moments when I don’t play well with others. I would like to have a very large pendant created in flashing neon that reads “My personal space consists of a circle around my body with a four-foot diameter. Please respect my personal space, and I will respect your desire for your nose to remain unbroken.”
While I understand – and have experienced firsthand – that people of other cultures often have differing dimensions for personal space, I don’t buy it as an excuse to constantly lean into my forehead and breathe up my nostrils in all of our interactions. I also find that women of my own culture do not respect my desire to not be mugged during every conversation. Asking me for a ponytail holder does not require you to drape yourself over my back, sling your arm around my waist, or mash your cheek to mine. The only time I feel the need to hug you is if a) we haven’t seen each other in at least a month, b) one of us is crying, or c) we do not expect to see one another for at least another month.
These guidelines are very simple, people. Don’t make me publish a pamphlet.
If we care to delve deeper into my psyche, we will find even more reasons for me to crawl into a hidey hole, never to emerge again. I have recognized a stunning pattern to my relationships throughout my life. As a writer, as an intelligent woman, as someone who is moderately introspective and completely comfortable spending long periods of time in my own company, I often find myself alone. Every so often this state of being leads me to believe I am lonely. Usually this feeling follows extended viewings of Friends, When Harry Met Sally, and Bridget Jones’s Diary, all of which convince me that normal people in life are constantly surrounded by a group of soulmates.
Where is my group? I wonder. Where are all my bosom buddies? What’s wrong with me that no one loves me like Chandler loves Joey? I cry myself to sleep on these thoughts and resolve to wake up the next day to find new, fantastic, mind-melding friends.
Unfortunately for me, I’m generally successful. I now have a great deal of sympathy for those gentlemen who only seem to be attracted to high maintenance women. It’s not entirely your fault, fellas. Maybe it’s the genes. Maybe the ladies detect your need to be needed, as they do mine.
See, what happens is, I open the doors of friendship, and the friends who step through are the ones who’ve worn out their welcome everywhere else. And since I’m a terrible judge of character based on first impressions, I am floored. Flattered and encouraged, I convince myself I am normal like everyone on TV. I am capable of forming friendships and relating to people. No, really, I am.
Until I discover that my new best buddy was drawn to me not because we’re soulmates or because they truly care about me, but because they saw fresh meat. I am a quintessential wingman. I attract attention-whores, who adore me because I never steal their thunder (thus they can steal my men). I attract know-it-alls, who mistake my initial eagerness to please as evidence I will agree with every insane theory they ever throw at me (um, sorry, chica, but throwing yourself at him after he’s dumped you and left the country is not the best strategy for winning him back, and no I won’t see things differently when I am your age. A whole two years older than I.) I attract those who cannot comfortably spend even one solitary moment in their own company, because it is in those moments they discover that while they are completely self-absorbed, they are empty. There’s nothing there to be absorbed by. So they call me, the brief attention I give them bolstering their fragile self-esteems for a few minutes at least.
In my quest for friendship, it seems I turn into the pathetic, needy, malleable prey that these folks desire. After a few weeks, however, I discover that I like myself by myself a whole lot more than I like my new toxic friend who sleeps with my boyfriends, belittles my problems, or talks smack about my mom. I try to be a good girl, I try to forgive and be patient and work to develop a lasting friendship, but eventually I buckle under the pressure of supporting their various neuroses. I explode. I burn bridges. I create new relationships where we will only refer to one another as “the hell bitch.”
I keep hoping that as I get older, I will devise better ways to extract myself from these situations. Considering I’m the one who was gung-ho about them in the first place, it’s only right that I should be mature about ending them. I’m often described as tactless, blunt, even painfully honest, and it makes me wonder about my burning need to always make it excruciatingly clear how I feel about someone. Why I always have to deliver a laundry list of why I suddenly can’t stand them anymore. Surely some other strategies exist that would enable me to coexist with my former friends. Surely.
The best I can come up with is to become a hermit, therefore never putting myself in these situations in the first place. I will have a cabin somewhere in Colorado, get myself a bunch of cats and a couple of old ponies. I’ll get DSL, of course, so I can still converse with “imaginary” people online – a practice that’s very complementary to my personal space radius. I will go to bed at four a.m. (the wee hours being my favorite time, as everyone else is asleep in bed), get up when I want, ride my horse, pet my cats, and spend inordinate amounts of time working on my novels.
I suppose if I find a similarly-minded male who wants to split the cost of the cabin and warm my bed, that wouldn’t be too bad. Just so long as I’m allowed to be as anti-social as I like with the rest of the world, that would be just peachy.
Will all of this ever come to pass? God, I hope so. Otherwise I fear I may someday find myself at the top of a clock tower, looking down at a smoking assault weapon, screaming “Why doesn’t anyone love me like Chandler loves Joey?”
See what happens when you don’t respect my personal space radius?