1: The Prelude

“I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you… stranger.” – The Joker, The Dark Knight

Confession: I’m fucked up.

Or maybe “broken” is a more accurate description? I’m not sure, to tell you the truth. At any rate, this is my problem: I’m obsessed with people I call friends. And people I used to call friends. And people I never should have called friends in the first place. Even after years of fixating over this, I’m just now starting to understand it. That’s the whole point here – I want to fix that. To fix me. Ideally, I want this all to become a process – something that doesn’t just make myself better, but enables others to do the same. At best, you can look at this as a guide; at worst, maybe my rambling confessional might amuse you. My aspiration, though, is that with my chaos as a point of reference, at least some of you won’t have to learn from your own.

Theory: Isolation is a cycle.

Consider your own experiences, ladies and gentlemen: of the adults you know that have no friends, how many of them were also children that had no friends? Myself, I’d be willing to bet that Venn diagram has quite the overlap. I call the problem “The Player One Paradox,” and it goes something like this…

It starts early. Picture, for a minute, the kids who are bullied for keeping to themselves, for being interested in something strange, for how they look, or for whatever other reason people can use to justify refusing to treat other people like other people. From there it goes deeper. Social behavior is learned, but primarily through experience. Of course, the interaction bestowing that experience requires the participation of others. On a long enough timeline one the boy that no one will talk to becomes the man who doesn’t know how to talk to anyone. “Weird” becomes “loner.” “Loser” becomes “creepy.” Affliction becomes identity. “No one likes you” becomes… nothing new, really.

This utter lack of meaningful bonds – and the ensuing inability to form new ones – becomes a fault, not just a condition. And it continues because those afflicted often aren’t even aware of the problem, seeing it as a string of bad luck – or bad people – rather than their own flaws. (And given that this one originates with others’ insistence that there’s a flaw, it’s not difficult to see why.) Some respond by gripping tighter every time a connection slips through their fingertips. Others respond by withdrawing from people entirely rather than letting them do any more damage than they already have, no matter how much they may (begrudgingly) desire otherwise. (Spoiler: I’ve tried both.) People in psychology (and fans of Hideaki Anno) know the latter as the Hedgehog’s Dilemma – a paradoxical relationship between the desire for attachment and the awareness that people inevitably hurt each other as they get closer, intentions be damned. As you could imagine, even for those who are aware there’s a problem, this creates further issues in addressing it. Doing so requires actually interacting with people, which actively risks repeating all of the same disasters that created such a mess of a person in the first place. What you’re often left with is victims who continue acting like victims long after the label ceases to apply, simply because they don’t have better options.

Fear… Fear never changes.

At the core of this, once it’s taken hold,x is a feeling of futility; even after finding entirely new surroundings, and entirely new people, the anxiety follows. Even without its original cause, by now it’s become a pattern, complete with conditioned response. (Thanks a lot, Pavlov.) You’ve all heard, of course, of the “It Gets Better” project. You may have also heard it as the stereotypical advice parents, teachers, etc. have been giving outcasts for decades. But no matter how much people say it, no one ever seems to consider the false equivalence lying just below its surface – this implication that as it gets better, we get better.

There’s a certain stigma that comes with not getting better, thanks to an assumption in adult society that what’s happened to you growing up is behind you. (Let’s pretend I wasn’t just channeling my inner Holden Caulfield with that statement.) No one cares if you were the quarterback or the outcast, and if you aren’t over things that happened when you were in school that’s your problem. Of course, an actual part of adulthood is dealing with things that you didn’t necessarily cause, but to a lot of people there’s no difference between responsibility and blame. So, we blame victims. Your state of being must be your doing. You’re obviously not doing enough to get out of their situation, or else you’d be out by now. Of course no one’s saying that every outcast is there by one’s own failings, but these are the exceptions. You can always just pull yourself up by your bootstraps, because this is America. (At least, here it is. This is the Internet, so I can’t really make any presumptions about you.) Got a problem with being isolated for being isolated? You really should’ve thought of that before you became peasants! Or, you know, misanthropes. Whatever. But putting all sarcasm aside for a minute, I’m sure you’ve caught onto my point by now – the way that people talk about outcasts isn’t too far off from the way that people (or at least Republicans) talk about poverty. “Relax” is a functional equivalent to “work harder” – vague simplification masquerading as a solution to all of our problems. (Never mind the irony that overuse of Occam’s razor is, in fact, intellectual laziness.) It’s something that seems so easy unless you’re actually living it. So, we blame victims rather than helping them. But just as wealth isn’t something that we can brute-force our way into, neither is peace of mind.

Solution: embrace obsession?

Clearly I need a new plan. Obviously fixating on relationships is a terrible idea, but trying to eliminate obsession entirely hasn’t worked in the slightest. (See also: the time I grew out my hair for six months, dyed it, and borrowed a hair straightener from my ex entirely for a cosplay. Or my Netflix and Crunchyroll habits. Or the four separate attempts I made at silver hair. Obsession may have some uses, though. If I’m going to analyze everything anyway, why not turn it toward something less… self-destructive? This whole time I’ve essentially been looking at a puzzle the way I would a hack-and-slash. Of course, I don’t have thirty lives to spend brute-forcing the solution, and the way I’ve been going about that has been like trying to fight off Heartless with a wooden sword. Still, I might actually get somewhere if I turn that attention toward why and how instead of whom, even if I’m looking at all of the same disasters that I have been. So, I’ll tell you my story as I tear it apart. Maybe by doing so, I can make a better one.

“I try to be my best.” – Actives, Dollhouse

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