I am pretty good at figuring out where other people's pressable buttons are. It's a shitty, shitty superpower you win as a consolation prize when you grow up dependent on someone whose mood swings have no clear correlation with anything happening out here in the wider shared reality. Because their experience of the world is so different, there's no good way to predict what their reactions will be, so you just learn to throw logic out the window and watch for early warning signs that you should make yourself scarce.

[My mother, for instance, used to get into these moods where everything made her angry, and she took it out on the rest of the household. In hindsight, she was probably suffering from terrible anxiety/overload, which I completely understand. I don't blame her for needing a quiet space in which to recover. I do blame her for deciding this quiet space needed to be the kitchen. Where all the food and ice water was kept. In an open-plan house. They had a perfectly good master suite with a locking door, which both of us children were scared to knock on. Determining when it was safe to go get yourself a drink was something of an art form.]

I try not to invoke this power very much. It's sort of like carrying around the One Ring. It's not that you can't use it ever, or that anything you do with it is automatically evil. It's just that if you use it constantly, especially selfishly, it will fuck you over. Manipulating people means never really knowing if they understand what you want from them, or whether they'll get angry over it if they suddenly realize. With enough practice, it becomes painfully easy to get people to do things they never would have thought of themselves. Once you understand that, it's a short hop to triple-checking everything that pops into your head, to make sure that idea really was yours to start with -- and if not, what motivation of someone else's it might be serving. You wind up sitting paranoid and alone in the dark, obsessing over what strangers have got in their pocketses.

The one exception I make is compliments. I know from experience that when you do something stunningly, blindingly well, you often don't get praise commensurate with the actual results you produce -- people assume that if you're that good at something, it is stupidly obvious even to you and therefore mentioning it to you will just make them sound like a useless and unoriginal doof.

I've generally quit caring if I sound like a doof, and I can't see how saying nice things to people will make the world stop spinning. I don't make shit up just to say something nice, and I don't say nice things just to get my way; I don't expect anything at all in return, in fact. I generally deliver these things as Wham Lines, right before I walk away. If I'm right that the thing I just said is significant to the person hearing it, this saves them from trying to figure out how to answer in the moment, and if I'm wrong, then it cuts that awkward interaction mercifully short.

I don't need a response to any of these things. I don't even care if they remember I was the one who said it. I have a million opinions on everything, and I accept that most of them aren't important to anyone who isn't me. 'You're really good at that' just seems like information that people should have, especially considering how difficult it is to see expertise sneaking up on you when you're the one doing all the hours of practicing every day. And especially especially if the thing they're good at is connected to any of those big fat buttons that just sit there taunting me with their pressable-ness. That means it's important, and important things tend to be calibrated such that silence comes off as more criticism than approval.

[On very rare occasions, I get the satisfaction of telling someone something I think they do not hear anywhere near enough. It accidentally kinda-sorta got me the answer to one of my weird questions a few weeks ago, which is even rarer. I told ye ballroom instructor in exactly so many words that one of the things that got my attention was that when he dances, he looks like he enjoys being something beautiful, and I wondered if that were real or a performance choice. First time I've ever seen a grown man devolve into Flower.]

Tangentially, the weirdness quotient of unexpected compliments can be used as something of a diagnostic sign. You know that one guy at work who's entire schtick is saying terrible things to people and then defending himself with, "Hey, I just tell it like it is, man. No filter, that's me"? Yeah, no. He totally has a filter, he's just too invested in being a crabby edgelord to use it on you.

People who actually have no filter might do that sometimes, but in my experience, they're equally likely to say bizarre nice things. (More, probably, presuming they make some sort of effort to spend most of their time with people they like,) They tend to deliver the kinds of compliments that sound very earnest, but like they have perhaps lost some sort of cultural context in the translation from the original Martian. Things like, "I really like the way your t's stand up straight even when you write in cursive," or, "the way you tie your shoelaces is really nifty!" Their appropriateness sorting algorithm might be perfectly okay, but they have a defective normality filter installed between brain and mouth, so whatever thing has inadvertently struck them as pleasing is likely to be commented on.


  1. I love the word edgelord so very much! It pleases me to see it used correctly.


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