Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mental Deletions

Morality aside, this post by Dusk in Autumn sounds spot on.

Which brought to mind the following story: in my previous incarnation as an engineering instructor, I would occasionally encounter my former students just walking around campus. Usually we would exchange a brief greeting; occasionally we would share a few sentences about mundane topics. But one student in particular stood out. She was a varsity cheerleader (and all that this implies) with whom I was above-average close by sole virtue of her having sought out special assistance on the course material during my office hours. I ran into her a number of times afterwards walking around campus. She was always a pleasure to talk to, for reasons of her bubbly personality (cheerleader, remember) and that she was, or acted, genuinely happy to have a conversation with me.

I hated that. I hated that I might be enjoying our interaction for inappropriate reasons. I hated the gnawing fear that I might make an idiot of myself for appearing to enjoy the interaction for inappropriate reasons. And I especially feared situations like the one I am about to relate.

I had run into her on the stairwell early in the semester, right after the Christmas holiday. Brief pleasantries, how was your vacation, where did you go, etc., etc. I'm in the middle of describing our trip to Florida when she asked:

Did you take your wife?

I froze for a second before stammering, "Um . . . yes, yes I did." My mind raced. I had taken my wife. Of course I would take my family on Christmas vacation. Wouldn't that be obvious? But what had I said to make her think the question necessary? I tried in vain to remember which person I had spoken in. Did I say "I went to Florida" instead of "we went to Florida? Had I unconsciously deleted my family while talking to a young woman a little over half my age? How pathetic is that!

But I was also pissed at the possibility that this girl had called me out on that deletion. What had I done to deserve that? I hadn't crowded or "stalked" her. I hadn't even initiated this particular encounter. "If you don't want to talk to me," I thought, "don't frickin' make conversation with me! Did you think I was flirting with you? Well, screw you: I don't need this!"

At this point in my life, I wonder if it's better if young women just remain aloof like they always have.


trumwill said...

"The possibility" being key here. Given the nature of the interactions you've described, I'd be surprised if that's what she was doing. I don't know her, so I could be wrong.

I used to be really bad about deletions back before I was married (before my wife entered the picture at all, really). I don't think that it was really intentional. But I found myself getting into situations where I didn't mention the significant other until it was suddenly too late to mention her. This problem solved itself with the wedding ring. Both because I don't feel presumptuous bringing up her existence and because there is something less awkward about saying "my wife" compared to "my girlfriend."

Anyway, as I've gotten older I've come to understand aloofness. As aggravating as it was, it probably saved me from embarrassment more than once. And sometimes I think I've attributed aloofness when it was really more the case that they were treating me not dissimilarly to the way that I treated female-types who I didn't happen to notice because I didn't have much reason to. The sticking point being that howevermuch the attractive-types didn't notice me, I noticed them all to easily...

Φ said...

Deletions usually aren't an issue for me since I don't have many occasion to fraternize with young women. I presently don't work with any, and all my other friends are from places where my wife and I go as a couple. In the case above, the cheerleader had been to my office and surely seen the pictures of my wife and children festooning my desk. Plus I wear a ring on the correct finger. So they weren't exactly a secret.