The rain sounds different when it hits the tops of houses in Kyoto. I woke up and listened to it for an hour today, then went downstairs and watched the turtles in the inner garden pond. Animals here are not afraid of people. They don’t run and hide the way animals who have learned the hard way what humans are all about do. Even the little birds don’t mind. The only ones who run from people, my house mate told me, are the cats. Given the obsession with cats here, this strikes me as wise behvior.
I experienced Burning Man for the first time this past September. I went to the week-long festival in the middle of the desert by myself with some water, booze, and a one-person tent I got for $80 on Craigslist. I was somewhat unprepared and had no idea where I would camp (or how to camp). I got there at 10pm on the first night and I set up my tent in the dark next to the vehicle I arrived in, which belonged to a Stanford philosophy professor I met in an online forum the previous night.
I walked out into the darkness, ready for an adventure. And I found one. Several, in fact. When I found my way back to my tent around 4am, I was oblivious to the cold and easily slid into slumber in my mummy sleeping bag. At 9am, I was forced awake by the heat as my tent turned into a sweat box. The only escape was the outside world, and I dreaded it. I don’t even know what exactly I was dreading, as I had never seen the environment in the daylight. But I was hungover and alone with the feeling I’d made a terrible mistake looming over me. I unzipped the half-circle flap of my tent and crawled out into the blinding sun.
It took my eyes a few seconds to focus on the man standing in front of me, looking at me with an amused smirk.
“Hi,” I croaked out.
“Want some coffee?”
I followed him into a big mesh-encased, octagonal structure on the other side of the car from my tent where I watched him expertly heat a pot of water on a mini propane stove. He tried to make conversation with me, but I was incapable of forming any kind of cohesive sentences while my mind struggled to assemble the critical information of “where are you and what are you doing hungover in the desert, dummy?” He poured a packet of Starbucks instant coffee mix into a metal mug of hot water and handed it to me. He laughed at me and told me I would be fine — more than fine, that I was in for the best time of my life. I trusted him, John from Sasketoon, Saskatchewan.
When I saw him talking with the people at the neighboring campsite, I shyly poked my head around the corner. From the way they were talking, I thought they were old friends, but it turned out he had only just met them. As someone who’s used to being the beach head in my social circles, I was surprised to find someone better at traveling than me.
I fell in friend-love with John from Sasketoon, Saskatchewan. I wanted to be around him all the time, and he wanted me around. We went adventuring together and never disagreed about what to do or where to go. There were no awkward silences. If we were tired, we just were. We learned how to let go of our pasts together. I cried in front of him and didn’t care. We partied together, and danced our faces off to electronic music in the wild night.
He would wait for me. If we went somewhere together and we split up for a while, he would come and find me before moving to the next thing. I never had to ask him not to leave me, he just waited. He had this homemade spirit animal hat with a mini basketball cut in half, glued to each side, and lined with EL wire — a glowing chameleon in the night. One night we went to the Temple, where people go to mourn their lost loved ones. We split up and agreed to meet back at the entrance when we were finished there. For a long moment, I thought I was lost, but seeing that silly gecko hat wandering back to me just as I started to spiral into despair washed away every sad thought.
We stayed up late into the night talking about traveling in South America and physics and love. I loved him, but it was never sexual, because that’s not what friend-love is about. He made me feel safe, the way a big brother might. I thought to myself, or maybe out loud, that I hoped this was only the first of our grand adventures together. When he dropped me off at my friend’s house in San Francisco after Burning Man was over, we never said goodbye. Just “see you tomorrow.”
I never saw him the next day, but he did come to visit me on Thanksgiving with his new girlfriend. I lightly scrutinized her to make sure she was good enough for him, like a little sister might, and was happy to find she passed my tests. She took a picture of us with her fancy Polaroid camera that I kept in my jewelry box and looked at every day because thinking of him makes me happy.
Now that I’m traveling, and happen to be in a place where every day is kind of like Burning Man in a way, I keep thinking about him and how much fun he would have with me and the people I’ve been meeting. I see the same spark that I saw in him in the adventurers I’ve been cohabitating with here in downtown LA for the past week. I think there must be a whole tribe of adventurers like us out there that I’m just beginning to scratch the surface of meeting. I used to think I was a lone wolf. I still do think that, but what I was wrong about was thinking that being a lone wolf means one must be alone. John told me that if I just keep meeting new people, I’ll always be happy. So that’s what I’ll do. And one of these days I’ll make it a point to get out to Sasketoon, Saskatchewan, too.
Tonight I took a break from packing to read something that’s been open in a browser tab for days. Personally recommended for me by my friend and fellow Motherboard contributor Kelly Bourdet, the n+1 tab kept tempting my focus away from packing for a year on the road, planning the LadyBits launch party (which was AMAZING <3), and fielding the hundreds of responses that have poured in since I launched LadyBits on Medium (getting to each and every one of you, I promise!!). Five days later, I finally allowed myself to pause and consume “What Do You Desire?” by Emily Witt.
As enticing as the subject matter — which details a woman’s journey through the Kink.com armory — was the fact that it was picked for me. I love hunting through stories for the detail that makes a piece of writing subtly and especially relevant to my interests. At first I assumed Kelly had sent it because the gentleman who Kelley had asked to be on her Internet Week panel alongside me was a Kink.com pornstar. But when the author switched gears from fly-on-the-wall description to introspection, I was left feeling like the author was speaking out of my own experiences, and articulating them much more clearly than I could:
I had made no conscious decision to be single, but love is rare and it is frequently unreciprocated. Because of this, people around me continued to view love as a sort of messianic event, and my friends expressed a religious belief that it would arrive for me one day, as if love was something the universe owed to each of us, which no human could escape. I had known love, but having known love I knew how powerless I was to instigate it or ensure its duration. Whether love was going to arrive or not, I could not suspend my life in the expectation of its arrival. So, back in New York, I was single, but only very rarely would more than a few weeks pass without some kind of sexual encounter.
What even to call these relationships? Most of my friends had slept with one another and I had slept with many friends, too. Sometimes years separated sexual encounters. Things thought buried in the past would cycle around again, this time with less anxiety and greater clarity, in a fluid manner that occasionally imploded in horrible displays of pain or temporary insanity, but which for the most part functioned smoothly. We were souls flitting through limbo, piling up against one another like dried leaves, circling around, awaiting the messiah.
After a decade or so of living this way, with occasional suspensions for relationships that would first revive my belief in romantic love and its attendant structures of domesticity, and then once again fail and extinguish them, I started finding it difficult to revere the couple as the fundamental unit of society. I became a little ornery about it, to be honest: that couples paid lower taxes together, that they could afford better apartments, that there were so few structures of support to ease the raising of a child as a single person, that the divorced experience a sense of failure, that failed marriages are accompanied by so much logistical stress on top of the emotional difficulties. All this because we privilege a certain idea of love. The thought of the natural progression of couples, growing more and more insular, buying nicer and nicer furniture, shutting down the world, accruing things, relaxing into habit, scared me. As I grew older, I found it difficult to distinguish romantic love from other kinds of connections: the platonic love for the friends I did not want to have sex with, the euphoric chemical urges toward people I had sex with but did not love. Why was love between couples more exceptional? Because it attached itself to material objects, and to children? Because it ordered civilization? I probably would not have a baby without love, and buying a home seemed impossible for all kinds of reasons, but I could have sex. I had a body.
The entire piece is worth reading and losing yourself in. She goes on to seek the answers to her questions in all kinds of detail. Things I’ll probably seek to find in different ways about myself when I leave New York. Like the author, I’m tired of the cycles. This time, the past must stay buried. I’m ready for new encounters and new loves.
Thanks, Kelly =)
I think this is the single most fascinating topic. Sometimes you can spend an entire lifetime researching why someone is the way he/she is, but you can never fully know the answer. True friends are infinite quests.
I get drawn in to a lot of weird situations because when I first meet someone and they come across as mean or cold, instead of not interacting with them, I make it my quest to figure out why they’re acting like that. I can never resist a think wall. Ironically, most of the time, these countenances are a subconscious manifestation of a fear that people don’t want to talk with them, or won’t like them if they do. Sometimes these people are the best, the rare earth gems invisible to amateurs but treasures to the true people connoisseurs. It doesn’t take much to scratch the surface and peak at what’s underneath — a single contextualized question will usually do it. There are plenty of duds, but there’s nothing like seeing that sparkle and embarking on a psychological journey to the center of a person’s being.
Even connoisseurs can be fooled though, as the world is full of con artists. You usually don’t have to look too hard for them, they conveniently pop up near you by a seeming stroke of luck and look pretty close to the real thing. They do such a good job convincing you that you stop digging. You trust them. Then one day, you observe a crack in the varnish, so you peel back another layer and discover they are not who they have been pretending to be. They’ve been playing the part of, a genuine person, a true friend, but deep down they’re a fabrication. Funny how the appearance of these cracks often coincides with the other person getting something they’d been desperately wanting, something you helped them obtain.
It’s kind of like how in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Jones is enchanted by Dr. Elsa Schneider, but she turns out to be a con artist Nazi who was really just using Indy to find the Holy Grail. These discoveries hurt, but whatever, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later. People who use other people as stepping stones to get what they want generally seal their own fates.
Ok, I’ve taken this metaphor far enough. The moral of the story is that even though the fakes can be disheartening, the real gems make it worth the dig.
That’s Circe, the daughter of the sun in Greek mythology. She knew a lot about drugs and herbs and would turn guys who pissed her off into lions with potions and a magic wand. When Odysseus came round her lair on his Odyssey, she gave him her usual potion, but Hermes had warned him of her antics before and he’d eaten something that made him immune to her emasculating tactics. Tables turned, Odysseus lunged at her. It was probably the first thrill she’d had in years, poor thing. She was hooked, and ended up boning him for a year in her lion den before he she sent him on his way back home to his wife, Penelope. He always came back though, as Circe ended up having three of his nine kids (six of which were split between five other women). And even though he dipped out from time to time, Circe got to lol with the kids AND hang out with her lions in her island mansion that she built for herself.
Lately I’ve been getting some of those years-later confessions from people I used to know. The “why didn’t we ever date back then?” late-night drunken messages. I have them tell me why they think that is, and what it always comes back to is that they found me intimidating. My friends have explained to me why this is for years and years, but it’s one of those things that just sounds so silly to me that it goes in one ear and out the other. I’m a delicate flower. It’s not like I turn people into house pets like Circe or anything, though, if I could turn people who pissed me off into animals, I would have the zoo of my childhood dreams after all. Still though, I wonder how long she waited before she finally found someone who approached her without fear.
That’s how Carlin Flora described me in her new book, Friendfluence, with respect to my immersive online life, which I detailed for her in an interview last fall.
I met Carlin when I was an intern at Psychology Today and she was an editor, so it was kind of a cool time-warpy thing to become her interview subject. I’m super excited for her new book, which combines the latest psychological research on friendships with personal anecdotes.
Here is the excerpt about me:
Anyone over thirty can likely divide life into the pre- and post-Internet eras. They made friends before online socializing proliferated, and now they maintain those friends (and sometimes make new ones) online. But what is it like for younger people who have no “before” and “after,” whose friends have always existed in person and on screens? Arikia Millikan, now twenty-five, got her first e-mail account when she was eight years old, after her mom got her a Hewlett-Packard personal computer. In high school, she started wandering into online chat rooms. “I was drawn to the kind of disjointed interaction it offered—where you could walk away from the computer and come back and resume the conversation later.”
Near the end of Arikia’s freshman year of high school in Gainesville, Florida, when she was fourteen, her mother found an e-mail to her from a boy in her class. “It was sexual, but it was jokey—just innocent kid stuff. But my mom completely freaked out. She ended our Internet subscription. So all through high school I had to walk to the public library to get online.” She could IM there at the library but felt very distant from her peers who had constant access. “There was this whole conversation I was missing out on, and relationships I couldn’t forge. Knowing that I was missing out probably drove the tech obsession I later developed.”
Before going off to college at the University of Michigan in 2004, Arikia got a new laptop. It happened to be the year that Facebook first became accessible to colleges other than Harvard. “You would meet someone in a class or something, and then you would immediately look them up on Facebook,” she says. “You would have way more information about that person than was ever possible before.”
Reading Facebook profiles entailed more than just checking out someone’s favorite bands or movies, Arikia says. It was an intuitive process that yielded an overall impression of someone. “Throughout college I became really good friends with people who were really different from me, opposite in their political views, for instance. Facebook just framed the conversation going forward. You had access to things that person hadn’t told you, but that were fair game information to discuss.”
I wondered if maintaining her own Facebook page was a stressful game of image maintenance, given how crucial these profiles were to social life. “I was always pretty authentic,” she says. “But you want to have your best face forward, so there’s the process of deleting unflattering pictures, and crafting your updates to reflect the best parts of your personality. I was probably less self-conscious than other people about photos that were potentially incriminating, like of me drinking at a party.” Students were warned by administrators, in fact, not to post comments or photos that they wouldn’t want a future employer to see. “I was very quick to take the position that if a future employer was going to hold something silly I did in college against me, that wasn’t the kind of employer that I’d want to work for.” Spoken like a stereotypical millennial!
Yet it was a prophetic notion: Arikia is now an online editor at Wired, the tech and science magazine. Her natural passion for online socializing turned into a job offer when a Wired editor started following her tweets and gave her a few freelance projects to work on. Still close with many of her college friends, she believes she has personally influenced several of them to move to New York, where she headed right after graduation. “I think some of my friends were drawn to come here, based on my portrayal of my experiences in the city on social media.”
“I’m always online,” Arikia says. “I never disconnect, except when I sleep. I probably go to about four events a week; most are media or science related—it’s an opportunity for people to get together and see friends from the Internet and meet new people.” In an ironic twist, Arikia met her roommate—whom she considers to be her best friend—the old-fashioned way, at a bar. But their first conversation was about none other than Facebook. “We were thrilled to find another person who understood social media as much as the other.”
“Social media has made such a big difference on my well-being that I like to show other people that it can be a really enjoyable part of life,” Arikia says. “For me it’s really been the vessel to solidify friendships that I can’t imagine would have formed, or would have formed so quickly, if it wasn’t for the availability of the communication media.”
As for those who say people of her generation are empathy-less narcissists without real friends, Arikia says, “Anyone who would say that has obviously not experienced the full benefits of the Internet or even given it a chance. I feel sorry for them.”
Tonight I re-read one of the most important articles ever written in the history of the internet (according to me), Why Women Aren’t Crazy, by Yashar Ali from one of my favorite publications, The Good Men Project. It explains a situation that we ladies (and some gents) have likely all found ourselves in at some point or another. A situation that sucks so badly because it has the ability to derail logical circuits and send thoughts spinning off in all kinds of wacky directions. It trashes your self esteem and makes you question your sanity and your intelligence all at once. It is the phenomenon of GASLIGHTING, and it must stop.
Gaslighting is emotional manipulation that confuses people into thinking they are crazy for reacting to inconsiderate behavior. It’s not always intentional, but it is always hurtful. This manipulation is often carried out by men on female partners, but sometimes it happens the other way around and other times the term can be applied to parent-child or boss-employee relationships. For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to arbitrarily assume we’re dealing with a gaslighting guy and his innocent, unsuspecting lady friend.
The term comes from the 1944 MGM film, Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman. Bergman’s husband in the film, played by Charles Boyer, wants to get his hands on her jewelry. He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and on, and every time Bergman’s character reacts to it, he tells her she’s just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim’s perception of him or herself.
Before I read this article, I had no idea there was a word to describe what so many guys have done or attempted to do to me throughout my dating career. But once I learned that this power trick is as old as time itself, or at least as old as black and white movies, I felt better (but then worse when I didn’t even see it coming when it happened again).
Here’s an example of how it happens, as explained by the cast of Clueless:
It starts when a guy you’re into looks at you with those eyes and makes your heart flutter a little bit.
There’s probably some kind of physical exchange, as is only logical when two people are into each other.
If you are an emotionally rational human, you will probably carry on as such, trying to move your relationship forward in a satisfying way, impressing him with your moves. But much to your dismay, you may find that he begins to act distant and becomes impenetrable to your charm. Maybe he says something mean, stands you up, or is just generally inconsiderate of your feelings.
Because his new-found disinterest or agitation seemingly appears out of nowhere, you begin to question what you did, or what it is about yourself that caused this response and the break in the logical progression.
When you try to initiate communication to point out the discrepency between what you think you experienced and what your interactions have become for no apparent reason, the gaslighter will try to dodge the questions and retreat into a further state of aloofness.
Pressing them further will likely result in anger and accusations that you are the one causing the problem in that very moment.
He will disregard your confusion and make you question your assessment of the situation, eventually making you believe that your sense of perception is off-kilter and that you are being paranoid, clingy, or crazy. He may even go so far as to blame the entire problem on your craziness and demand that you stop this behavior immediately, leaving you in a tailspin of internal confusion and emotional haze, powerless to do or say anything because you don’t understand what you did to cause this negative response in the first place.
You may do a number of things to try to remedy the situation such as acting like nothing is wrong or apologizing for overreacting and being crazy. All the while, you know in your gut that it’s not actually your fault. The more introspective you are, and the more you attribute events to an internal locus of control (sorry for the psychobabble), the more this knowledge will slowly erode your self image and sense of reality.
Thankfully, this is what friends are for (or therapists, doormen, random people on twitter, etc.). When you objectively explain the situation, your friends may not be able to explain why the emotional interaction is occurring, but they will be able to recognize that something is off and it’s not your fault.
At this point, the person being gaslighted may chose to end the interaction. Sadly, far too many people in the world allow the behavior to continue, constantly apologizing without knowing why and living in a state of confusion for eternity. But if, like myself, your unrelenting pursuit for knowledge and possibly concern for the person outweighs your emotional thresholds and your sense of self-respect, you won’t simply apologize and move on. You will figure out what the reality of the situation is.
Once the true motivation for the gaslighting behavior surfaces (such as guilt, emotional illiteracy and subsequent shame and avoidance, feelings of inadequacy, mental preoccupation, sadism, and in the case of poor Ingrid Bergman flat out criminal deception) the gaslighting psychosis will lift.
Once you posses the missing information, your mental circuits realign and you can once again see yourself as the awesome person who attracted your cowardly little gaslighter in the first place.
Hopefully the truth is something minor or something that can be stopped in the future. And if you’ve found yourself in this situation, don’t fret—it doesn’t mean you’re some kind of weakling. According to Ari:
The act of gaslighting does not simply affect women who are not quite sure of themselves. Even vocal, confident, assertive women are vulnerable to gaslighting.
Because women bare the brunt of our neurosis. It is much easier for us to place our emotional burdens on the shoulders of our wives, our female friends, our girlfriends, our female employees, our female colleagues, than for us to impose them on the shoulders of men.
It’s a whole lot easier to emotionally manipulate someone who has been conditioned by our society to accept it. We continue to burden women because they don’t refuse our burdens as easily. It’s the ultimate cowardice.
The solution to preventing and approaching ongoing gaslighting is easier said than done, but something worth working for. This may sound cheesy, but be open and honest with your partners and accepting of their emotions. After all, if the thing causing the gaslighting is really a deal breaker, it’s better to be honest and find out your relationship is doomed sooner rather than being miserable and emotionally mute for an extended period of time.
Full Article: Why Women Aren’t Crazy