17: Making Friends and Influencing People

“Gold stars for us. It only took 2 months of riding on the same plane to introduce ourselves.” – Kate Baldwin, House of Cards

Even if something is amazing, I still have a certain need to understand it. Take relationships, for example – romantic or otherwise. I can grasp really easily why other outcast-types would talk to me. (This is how I bonded so easily with Claire, for example, and why I easily find myself in various degrees of friendship with other weeaboos – putting aside that my definition of “friend” has been pretty loose until recently.) I don’t tend to get how others actually view me as worth talking to, especially if they already know the kind of mess that I’ve been. It’s a sort of social impostor syndrome that used to lie at the root of all of my anxieties about abandonment, and something I find myself trying and failing to understand, often. Maybe I’ve internalized the things people used to say about me more than I’d like to admit. (Cue Roxanne telling me that I’m being too hard on myself.) There’s an odd sort of contradiction to it now, though. I know I’m not screwed up enough anymore to really drive people away easily (see also: Roxanne, Laughing Flask), but when someone knows I was and still chooses to have me around anyway, it feels… unmerited. Gratifying. Overwhelming, even.

Yet, however inexplicably, I have friends now (yes, plural), among some of the last people I’d ever expect to be on cordial terms with.

The first was Robin. Robin is a friend of a friend of Ramona, who reached out to me out of nowhere and started talking me up about Smash. I obviously don’t have a problem with that, but it was maybe a month after things last erupted with Ramona, and the he and I know no one else who would know how I obsess over that game. Given the circumstances I had to wonder if there was something else going on here. (Additionally: he’s an Ike main. I’m an Ike main. “Does he fight for his friends?” was totally a valid question.) After all, anyone else who could have kept an eye out for… well, whatever Ramona would think I’m up to, had cut off contact when she told them how much of a disaster I am. (Really, the correct verb there is was, but I don’t get the impression that she’s that picky about tenses here.) Plus, she would have known full well (since it was why I initially tried talking to her) how much common interest drives my attraction to people (romantic or otherwise). Even so, none of my interactions with her have ever suggested an attention to detail or an effort to plan things out, so I found myself at a loss. (See also: her idea that the best way to handle someone with attachment issues was by telling him how alone he is, and how everyone else would be better off not seeing him again. Twice. Or the time that she publicly accused me of dyeing my hair to fit in, after having personally seen four different hair colors prior, including that one.) Amusingly, this means that while all of the evidence for my slight suspicion was that it would’ve been a logical, well-thought-out course of action for Ramona to take, all of the evidence against my slight suspicion was that it would’ve been a logical, well-thought-out course of action for Ramona to take. Needless to say, my inability to just take things at surface level runs pretty deep. And I still don’t know how and why we first ended up in contact, but it doesn’t really matter at this point. He doesn’t care about the drama as long as I don’t, and that’s enough for me. Funny enough (after this originally being the case with Ramona, minus using the term “friend” a lot more loosely), Robin is more or less a literal Internet friend. We’re not really close in the IRL sense, and despite a few attempts to go through Erased/Grimgar/Interstella/Real Drive/various other sci-fi or fantasy anime, we’ve really only met up once. That said, he’s a pretty interesting person to bounce perspectives off of (on entirely separate subjects, to be clear), to debate about anime (and trade recommendations) with, and to pester with PCMR questions (as someone who’s always tended toward console peasantry), among other things. It’s definitely more of an intriguing series of events than it is a particularly significant connection (I swear I’ll get to Laughing Flask at some point instead of just name-dropping it endlessly), but it’s the sort of thing I’m learning to enjoy for what it is.

More surprisingly, I’ve actually gotten to talking with Kyle of all people. (I still have a bit of trouble wrapping my head around this.) It started right around New Year’s, at one of the same goth nights that you may recall Ramona threatening me over. (Side note: a week prior, not long before New Year’s, marked two years of looking for better obsessions.) Truthfully, I found myself jumping into existing conversation at the mention of the word “Gunblade.” By now I’m sure this surprises none of you, especially not the way that fanboying kills my social inhibitions. And it was fun. Some five months later, it still makes no sense to me. From a rational standpoint, the reasoning of getting rid of grudges makes a lot of sense (especially since they’re no longer involved, and since this particular grudge was never actually his), but the extent of it positively baffles me. The dude invites me to parties (beginning with one for Julie, even). He hooked me up with an invite to a torrent tracker. He’s helping me with cosplay supplies. We trade music. And just about every time I’ve seen him in the last few weeks there’s been 15 or 30 or even 45 minutes straight spent mutually rambling about phones. Or Trek. Or bands. Or social dynamics. I sort of wonder if it’s how Finn feels about Po Dameron. (Notice a pattern here: I dive into basically any relationship I make. This isn’t strictly a romantic thing, by any means.) Of course, I don’t know how much of these bro-feels involve commonality and how much of them comes from the fact that Kyle has an unabridged version of events, direct from Ramona, and is still my friend at all. It’s actually a similar sort of feeling to the one I got from Roxanne (incidentally, the only person to get the whole story from both of us and remain my friend), albeit simpler, if only because as a man no amount of attractiveness could ever make him my type. And as it turns out, he and I are on pretty similar wavelengths about people. Once, when I told him (after a rather unpleasant conversation with Matt, actually) that I was sort of jealous of his ability to make friends and other things basically wherever he goes (Matt’s too, for that matter), he responded by telling me about how he understands social interaction by deconstructing how it works. He further pointed out that this isn’t a particularly common thing for people to do – and, by extension, that playing out all of the various possibilities behind someone else’s actions (the bit with Robin, for example) is just going to cause more frustration than it solves. (He’s even more of a senpai than I thought.) He had a head start on this (having started a lot earlier than I did), and a different approach (reading a lot of social psych things, apparently, as opposed to my method of writing everything), but ultimately the idea is the same: tear it apart until you know every detail, intimately. Nothing makes me more sure of everything I’ve been doing so far than seeing that obsession can work. (#goals?) As much as I just got through talking about how ineffective this sort of speculation is, part of me wonders if that’s why, as opposed to Ramona, he’s actually connected me to people instead of cutting me off from them.

Which brings me to Skye. Skye and I did fall into whatever sort of relationship happened. (More on what sort that is in a minute.) We initially became friends based on mutual hate. Sort of. More like mutual amusement. See, I don’t hold any ill will against Ramona, but there’s no part of me that will argue with the idea that calling someone “space junk” is laughable. (Well, to that part, maybe the part of me that gives a shit about writing something halfway-readable. That part finds it a little infuriating.) But really – we met at a party (because somehow I get invited to parties now?) hosted by Kyle (again, because somehow Kyle invites me to parties now!?) and almost immediately made plans to binge through Joss Whedon things. Instead of actually watching Buffy, though, we ended up spending literally six hours discussing various relationships, romantic and otherwise. She was, as it turned out, just at the end of one with a guy whose attitude on dating almost directly mirrored Stacy’s. I may have struggled to avoid injecting personal bias there. At any rate, we talked about exes, mutual friends (Kyle), mutual enemies (Ramona), and brunch for some reason. (One of these is still a bit of a shared punch line to us.) As it turns out, her interests have been influenced by her relationships as much as mine have been influenced by Stacy – to a point that she doesn’t have any more desire for exclusivity than I do. (This, amusingly, feeds back into my dynamics with both Robin and Kyle, as it’s something that they’re each a lot more well-versed in.) Jealousy doesn’t exist in our relationship – in fact, we encourage each other’s escapades, however infrequent they happen to be in practice. (An amusing example, since you know how much I love tying these tales together – she actually told me to go enjoy myself the last time there was a convention, specifically at the possibility of partying with Kim. Sadly, that didn’t pan out because of other circumstances.) And I love knowing that, no matter who I may be spending time with, she’s not worried that I’m going to leave her over it, and vice versa. Calling it “liberating” would be stating the obvious a bit too much, but somehow this relationship, that’s entangled with other connections of varying degrees, feels less complicated than anything I’ve been in that assumes monogamy and white picket fences as an end goal. I’m not crazy about her the way I have been about basically anything else. Nothing about it is addictive; when she’s not there, I don’t find myself feeling as if something’s missing. We can go days without doing anything, but it’s just as if nothing happened rather than some sort of separation anxiety. In fact, when we do meet up again we just pick up as if time had never passed. And to tell you the truth, I question myself because of that. Is this a sign that I’m getting better, or just that I’m not as caught up in this in the first place? What has love ever been for me, if not consuming? (Catastrophic. The answer is “catastrophic.” But this is beside the point.) But it’s this strange juxtaposition of bond and detachment. I don’t see it as some focal point to my life (much like with Robin), but even so it’s something I could never see wanting to end.

Kyle got me thinking with about how one forms connections with people, and how much of this can be done actively. In particular, the events he throws show a completely different perspective from mine up until now: he connects people to each other, and not just to himself, offering something other than just his own company and conversation (which I say as if those things weren’t more than sufficient). He offers something, even though I’m sure he’s aware that it has a sort of social benefit to him. (Valar dohaeris.) Commonality is just one form of this, but it’s one that a number of my own relationships (this one included) have hinged on; this is a lot of why my connections to people tend to depend on context. Commonality, though, extends to more than tastes; many of the relationships I’ve made here actually relate to having common friends. It’s a concept known as social proof: the idea that people will follow the actions of others, particularly people they trust. Essentially, picture the bandwagon effect on a smaller scale. It’s a thing that can be leveraged on purpose, if you know what you’re doing; people use it in sales, networking, and even pickup. That said, it’d involve some level of intent and not just haphazardly stumbling into the initial link the way I did. Social proof can be either positive or negative, and amusingly, between Kyle and Ramona I have examples of both with the same group of people. Initially it was Ramona’s insistence that “my friends will never be your friends” and the crowd of people unwilling to hold a conversation after she spread around everything she knew. But all that changed when the Fire Nation attacked… er, when Kyle started inviting me out. People I’d see there who barely would’ve given me time of night before suddenly are fine with my being around, as if the initial stamp of disapproval really is just one perspective. (What’s more, one of my own stamps of disapproval toward someone went away after running into him more through Kyle.) One of them even mentioned to me just a week or two ago (during a conversation recalling some of the initial chaos) that “people seem to like [me].” I still haven’t quite gotten used to that…

But I still don’t know how to connect to people through anything other than crazy random happenstance. Friendships, flings, romance… all of them are things I fall into. As is my way, I’ve generally found myself obsessing with one detail of this project more than the rest. Initially, it was understanding (and controlling) my fixations. Then, it was getting rid of my own personal sense of dread. (Sadly, that’s only applied to a specific terror; I still wish I had a better grasp of fear as a concept.) But this particular one has been an aim of mine since the beginning, and it’s gotten sort of lost among all of that. On one hand, this isn’t to say I haven’t progressed; after all, I’m now at the point where even many people who know everything I used to be capable of don’t actually care, which is telling. On the other, I have a certain need to understand these things, and so I’m left with the question “How?”

As much as I hate it, even now I don’t have answers I can repeat.

“That’s it, Soma. It’s finding people. It’s only through finding and meeting the right people that a chef can grow. If all you do is stare at your own plates all day long, the only thing that will look back at you is your own unchanging reflection.” – Jouichirou Yukihira, Food Wars

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