Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hold On To Your Ego

Back when I was a teenager, and everything was about me, someone gave me a book to read. It was called The Four Agreements. My first reaction was pretty much, “Fucking hippie book!” but after I actually read the thing, I found myself pretty stunned.

One of the main tenets of the book was, to put it bluntly: Nothing anyone ever does ever has anything to do with you.

My brain farted.

What? Nothing? EVER? That seemed insane. Obviously every insult or slight was meant as an attack on me as a person, meant to hurt me in a way that I’ve never been hurt before. Every declaration was meant for me, Elizabeth, simply because I’m just so bleeding loveable.

I balked. I argued, “What about compliments? If you say you like someone’s eyes, how that possibly be about you? You don’t have their eyes!”

Ah, to be fourteen again. What stunning intellect I had. Oy.

Now, a couple years on, I know this strange little fact to be entirely true. It is never about you, and, moreover, you can’t take that personally.

Fact: it sucks when the person you like, doesn’t like you back. (this works platonically and professionally as well, but the feelings rustled up by an unrequited dramafest are the most identifiable. We’ve all be there.)

It puts you into a tornado of hurt and anger and doubt. Am I not smart enough? Skinny enough? Successful enough? Do they not like my hair? Did they notice that one of my eyelids is larger than the other (…Shut up…)? Am I not funny enough? Do I try too hard to be funny? Am I not the right kind of funny?

And then this slides right on in to anger: Well screw you! I am smart enough, skinny enough, successful enough, my hair is fabulous, my eyelids are… workable, and I am perfectly hilarious in just the right way, and if you can’t see that, well you must be an ASSHOLE and I’m GLAD you don’t like me because I DON’T LIKE YOU, ASSHOLE!

Of course it hurts when someone doesn’t like you, or likes you but not the way you want them to. Or if they want to date you, but not the way you want them to date you. It hurts when we don’t get want we want! But the truth is, it’s not about us.

That feeling of anger comes from, “I know what I want – I want you. So obviously, you want me back. How can you NOT want what I really, really want?”

(This, by the way, is exactly how a cat thinks. Proof here.)

I was reminded of this recently when I went to go see “Adam” with Goody Warren.
If you haven’t seen it, I will give everything away by explaining that the movie is pretty much “Say Anything” plus Asperger’s. Seriously. Down to the plot of the charming girl having an over-involved, charming dad who is charged with a white collar crime, and then ends up being guilty.

Any who, the charming young man (Hugh Dancy, sigh) with Asperger’s – which most people define as a milder form of Autism – is trying to woo the new girl (Rose Byrne) while also trying to explain his situation.

One night, he takes her to the park to see some raccoons, and when boy and girl are done with the montage part, he asks her “Were you excited? Sexually?”

Freaked, the girl goes to leave, and --

You know what? This all happens in the trailer, so I’ll just put that here.




Ok.

So what happens after this scene is that Hugh Dancy explains that part of Asperger’s is a sort of literalness – an inability to read facial cues and interpret what they mean. When he was younger, he would assume that everyone around him was feeling the same thing he was feeling – he calls this “mind blindness.”

As he got older, he learned to ask people what they were feeling, to make sure he understood their point of view. Yadda yadda yadda, “Were you excited?”

I mention this (sweet, but uneven) movie because when I was watching it, I immediately likened the tendency to assume that other must want what we want as a sort of Mind Blindess. I like you – you must like me back!

I was reminded of this again when I saw “500 Days of Summer” (I don’t have air conditioning. Come summer, I have to go somewhere!)

Like some, I’ve had a hard time with some of the movies featuring Ms. Deschannel, mostly because they rank really high the on Manic Pixie Dream Girl scale. Namely, these roles are always about how the girls functions merely as a reflection of what the male character wants. She never has her own desires, or history, or conflict. "Now I have this loveable quirky girl on my arm, and I drop my brooding ways and finally be a happy attractive intellectual!"

Well, “500 Days” was aiming to be the mother of all those-kindsa-movies: Boy meets girl, they date, they break up, boy spends third act trying to get her back. So I was happily thrown off by the news, right at the front of the movie, that “this is not a love story.”

I’m not ruining anything when I tell you that Joseph Gordon Love Hewitt falls for his co-worker, Zoey Deschannel (vegan!) but she doesn’t really believe in love or relationships. When they start kissing, she tells him, point blank, that she doesn’t want a relationship, and while she wants to have fun, she also wants to keep things casual.

Now, in another movie, the girl would fight the boy off for as long as possible, and then would one day realize, “Wait! I DO want what he wants! Let’s be in love! End the movie!”

But, happily, this does not happen.

Well, of course the boy totally ignores the girl and what she wants, and practicing mind blindness, he convinces himself that through their intimacy, he is breaking down all the barriers the Vegan has, and she will love him as he wants to be loved.

Except, no.

That doesn’t happen. Girl breaks up with boy because things are getting not casual, which is not what she wanted.

JGLH is destroyed and goes on a bender (montage!) and eventually a bad date with someone else. Of course he spends the whole night talking about what he wants – Summer! Until the new, unwanted girl says,

“Let me get this straight. This girl told you, right up front, she didn’t want a relationship?”

Oh riiiIIIiiiight!

Remember how she was really clear about she wanted and didn’t want? Remember how you can’t make her want something else?

Now, maybe in another movie, Joseph Gordon Love Hewitt would then go apologize to Zoey Deschannel, and she would be so fucking ensorcelled by a guy actually listening to her, she would throw herself in his arms, and love him the way he wanted to be loved.

Except, no.

When they run into again, Zoey Deschannel has fallen in love. Fallen in love so much that she’s engaged. Engaged! To someone else! Boy is enraged! How can SHE who didn’t believe in LOVE, be getting MARRIED?

Ah! It’s all revealed: She didn’t love him. But that doesn’t mean she can’t love someone else. Because her entire world doesn’t revolve around the guy on the third rock from the sun.

(Yuk yuk yuk!)


She has her own deal going on. Gasp! Amazing.

Because of all this, mumblecore bedamned, I heartily enjoyed “500 Days of Summer”.

And because thing always came in threes, this Modern Love column from the New York Times also caught my eye:

A man and woman have been married for many years. One day, he comes to her and says: “I don’t love you any more. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved you. I want out.”

And the woman realizes, this has nothing to do with me. This about the man I love going through something and being unable to deal with it internally, so he’s going to try to change the externals of his life.

So she pretty much just says, “Well, I’m not letting you go, but please tell me what the kids and I can do to let you have the space you need to sort this out. In the mean time, I think I’m going to go for a swim. You can come if you want!”

And she ambles off, upset, of course, but not angry. Because she’s not taking it personal. Even when people want her to!

MY trusted friends were irate on my behalf. “How can you just stand by and accept this behavior? Kick him out! Get a lawyer!”

I walked my line with them, too. This man was hurting, yet his problem wasn’t mine to solve. In fact, I needed to get out of his way so he could solve it.


A couple months goes by, and, what do you know, the husband has sorted out his shit, and shows up, ready to part of the family again.

This column is now over my desk, and in big letters, a post –it that says,

HOLD ON TO YOUR EGO.

Anyway, my point is, when you let go of the shit you have no control over, and stop taking it personally, there is an overwhelming sense of relief. Walking away from other people's neurosis-as-weapons make everything so much easier.

I can't believe no one's ever said this before!