A friend and I were talking tonight, and, having not seen me in a few months,  she asked how it is going with ye ballroom instructor. It goes. He is -- or possibly we are -- starting to confuse people.

So far as I know, he is every bit as gay as I thought he was when I met him. I think this is how he reads to most everyone, but people are starting to react to us like there is an 'us' to react to. I've already been asked once if we're dating by a stranger who watched us exchange maybe two sentences. Other people who are more genre-savvy about the kind of men who usually work at a dance studio have asked questions that sounded like they wanted to be that one, but fell apart in the middle because they couldn't work out what word they wanted instead of 'dating'. One of my coworkers (queer lady, if that matters) witnessed us having a conversation that was 100% about actual work, watched him walk away from the desk, paused, and asked, "Do you two, uh, work together a lot?" Another one walked up and tried to join a conversation about who I needed to invoice for something -- one of the most boring topics known to man -- but when we reoriented to include her, took one look at the both of us and walked off without another word.

I try not to read too deeply into things, but this is not a reaction I get when I interact with most people, even if I am actively trying to be charming. If I had to hazard a guess, it's because the two of us talk in the subtitles a lot. There is nothing in the non-verbal subchannel that you couldn't guess or get verbally if you asked -- it's just a mood ticker and ACK/NAK signals, padded out with a lot of 'We are friends. I enjoy interacting with you. I find the things you say entertaining and/or useful' -- but the fact that it's open and constant makes people think Something Is Going On. It's speech to him as much as the lip-flappy word noises are. I'm more likely to respond aloud to things he's 'said' like that, mainly because I'm made of words and never shut up, but he's more apt to just not bother to talk when kinesics will suffice, so it evens out.

I'm sure it looks odd. It is weirdly verboten to admit that you're basing responses off of communication that isn't spoken -- how often do people talk themselves out of opinions because 'they totally looked ______, but they never said anything'? -- so answering gestures like they are no more or less ambiguous than words is jarring and borders on black magic. My married housemates get much the same reaction when using ASL to have conversations across a noisy room. It's all super boring shit like, "Do you want something to drink?" but it makes witnesses feel like they're watching some kind of secret.

Ye ballroom instructor is either oblivious or physically unable to locate any fucks to give. All of the blatant HELO NOO FREND jumping up and down and waving was in front of other people, and I have seen him police his reactions quite brilliantly when he feels like it, so it's probably the second thing. He's not constantly touchy-feely, but personal space is malleable and negotiable around people he likes, and apparently I'm on the short list. (I did finally see him with one of his friends who isn't also one of our co-workers. There was cheek-pinching involved. His, not mine; the friend and I were new to each other, and there is protocol to follow.) He watched my reactions with a certain nervous scrupulosity the first couple of times he tried it on me, so I think it's just third parties he doesn't give a damn about.

It's worth pointing out that this is how things started out with both my high school best friend and my college sidekick: Suddenly, intensely, and with a lot of bystanders going ??????, because they have no context for this style of attachment other than 'family' or 'sex'. (Most of my friendships begin the ordinary way, where you start talking more and more in a gradual slope until chatting becomes the natural consequence of being in geographic proximity to a generally cool person.) I usually don't notice other people's reactions until they start asking me where X went on a regular basis -- I develop a permanent tracking ping for the interesting people very quickly, and for whatever reason this is the one thing others are comfortable acknowledging/using without getting weird about it.

Where this all comes from, I do not know. I had no idea I worked this way until I was a teenager, and I quite frankly freaked out the first time it came up. You grow up assuming that your strongest attachments are to your family, and when it turns out that you like (and feel liked by!) outsiders way more than that, it's utterly bizarre and you wonder what's wrong with you. It was compounded in my case by my actual family thinking that having no friends and constantly rowing with your relatives is the normal state of things, but neither the high school BFF nor the college sidekick grew up in that kind of environment, so I dunno.

Comments

  1. A coworker and I have nonverbal convos all the time. It freaks normals out, but most MIT folx get it.

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    1. I forget to think about it a lot, until someone flips out and asks if I'm a mind reader. It might be a combination of most people don't pay conscious, consistent enough attention to realize that there's an actual pattern behind body language, and them not being confident enough in their interpretation to just answer like it's spoken.

      One of these days I'll get around to asking him if it was something he was good at already and he realized it helped in ballroom dance, or if he was just crazy determined to be a good ballroom dancer and learned it on the way.

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  2. My daughter and I call it being Drift Compatible. We're about 100% Drift Compatible.

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