Introversion, relationships, and self-denial
Below is yet another excerpt from my journal. I do philosophy by examining a banal phenomenon: romantic relationships. No, the journal still does not have pretty faces. Nor poetry… But I am getting there. Here’s a self-portait for the time being: 👺.
I once read a statement that I immediately disagreed with its salient point though kept thinking about it in case there was some nuanced meaning to be discerned therein:
A man who shaves his beard for a partner deserves neither.
I cannot subscribe to such a view. Who defines the merit here? How do we measure it? Does one become more manly with each inch of facial hair? What does hair even have to do with this and what does “manly” mean, anyway?
There is no such thing as THE man. Each person is unique and manifests their self on a spectrum of possibilities. There are so many aspects to one’s individuality, such as their looks, character, manners, and overall disposition. If, for example, we define THE man in terms of extraversion, then we preclude all non-extraverts. If THE man picks fights to defend his honour, then anyone with a cool head is no longer a man. And so on.
We cannot afford to conflate an abstraction—man—with its instantiations. The abstract is that which is common across a multitude of phenomena. By definition, those specificities are not germane to it, else it would not be discernible in all those events (the more specific it is, the more exclusive it becomes).
The statement I was contemplating assumed a certain archetype of man; one who has no subtlety in their judgement for he assumes that there can only be two possibilities which resolve into a clear outcome:
IF beard; worthy; ELSE worthless
To such a person, there is no reasonable justification for shaving. What if his partner tells him that he should shave because the beard makes kissing awkward? Is this an attack against his manhood? Why is he so insecure? The request comes from a place of love and caring. To shave is to be considerate: he would acknowledge that he has to also accommodate his partner’s needs. To me, being considerate is worthy while only caring about one’s own comfort is egoistic and, ultimately, toxic.
Which brings me to the nuanced aspect of the original statement. You see, someone may say something correct even when they are mistaken. We can interpret that expression more loosely, like:
Do not be somebody else’s carpet, as you too have a personality.
Now we are no longer trying to assess our conduct in juxtaposition to some preposterous stereotype. We are being more reasonable and specific in our evaluations. Relationships are about mutual feelings. They cannot go one-way. There is no protagonist and sidekick. Whatever hierarchy depends on the denial of at least one’s subjectivity and concomitant suppression of their wants.
I only realised this through trial and error. I used to think that being accommodative is part of the deal: you have to take care of your partner’s wants and make the requisite sacrifices. There is a kernel of truth to this, sure, though it too is nuanced. What I failed to comprehend was that without reciprocity, this attitude engenders a hierarchy. I would become an instrument of the person’s will; a plaything for their amusement.
I have never been in a long-term relationship. My affairs have always been short-lived. I tried to do things differently once, but ended up being abused. You see, I am an introvert…
Introversion is often mistaken for being shy or quiet. I am not shy: if I want something, I state as much. Most shy people I met were not introverts as they were just pretending to not want something they actually craved. I am quiet when I have nothing to say, otherwise I can talk. Though I prefer to listen.
Introversion pertains to how the mind processes stimuli and what its relevant preference is. When the mind likes something, it does not get tired as easily, otherwise it expends its energy really fast. In practical terms, introversion makes the person want to spend at least some time “in their own head” instead of constantly interacting with other people.
There is no such thing as a pure introvert. This too exists on a spectrum and is situational. For example, I do not get tired when I am with someone I like, even if it is for a whole day.
Anyhow, the abuse… I tried to be in a relationship many many years ago. My first and last attempt. I did not have a beard at the time, though I did agree to similar requests: wear a certain type of apparel, cut my hair a given way—that sort of thing. I had no requests of any kind. I just wanted to fulfil the partner’s wishes, fundamanetally because I thought I was flawed and they were right. So by accommodating their wants, I thought I was fixing something inherently wrong with me.
We had agreed to report on each other’s whereabouts. I would go play footbacll with the lads and send a message:
At the park. Playing ball.
It was my passion. We could play for hours on end. There would be breaks during which we would just chill with the folks, but sooner or later we would pick up the ball again.
Sport was my way of giving my introversion the space it needed. Paradoxical, yet true. Football is a team game, yes. Though I always experienced it as an internal affair. You do not really interact with people as you are involved in this exhilarating activity where you relentlessly push your body’s limits.
We would play football on and off for, say, 3 hours. My phone was in my bag, which was left at the other end of the field. I could not hear it ringing. I would check back at some point, only to find 10 missed calls and lots of messages:
WHERE ARE YOU? YOU GOT ME ALL WORRIED!
I initially thought this was coming from a place of love…
Oh look, someone actually cares about me! How is that even possible? I must do my best!
But I was naive.
I would explain that I am still playing football with the boys, only to receive replies along the lines of leaving it all behind for “our love”. In those messages, my friends were dismissed as childish and I too was implicitly judged as being irresponsible. I tried to spend less time playing, though “our love”—this impersonal agency that expected daily sacrifices from my side—kept asking for more commitment, culminating in the view that I should not be involved in sport anymore. Why? Because if I were to injure myself that would hurt the partner’s feelings. What would happen to “our love” then, huh? A tacit quid pro quo right there!
This relationship was unbalanced from the start. One person was biased against their actuality, while the other was expecting a teddy bear instead of a fully fledged human being. I eventually understood what was going on. The fault was mine. I was labouring under the belief that I was worthless and that the other person was somehow doing me a favour for even looking in my general direction. Every concession I made was underpinned by the baseless notion that I was rectifying my errors.
What were those errors? The first was the presumption of misfitness. The second was the misunderstanding that a relationship hinges on self-denial as only that guarantees the establishment of the requisite middle group between the partners. The third was the naivety involved in thinking that I could outgrow my introversion and that avoiding the sole outlet I had for it would somehow make me a better person.
Back then I could not elucidate my thoughts. I could gather some “hints” and make decisions accordingly, though it was not possible to theorise about the abstract structure and to comprehend the wider context in which phenomena unfolded. All I knew then was that I was feeling a lot of pressure. Each “WHERE ARE YOU?” message would be perceived as an existential threat. I was not irresponsible. I was not lacking discipline. I was not cheating. I simply was an introvert and had to somehow give my mind the space it needed.
That was the first and last of it. Will I retry?
Let’s return to the beginning:
A man who shaves his beard for a partner deserves neither.
I still think this is silly if taken it at face value. A compromise is not bad per se. It does not detract from one’s worth. To the contrary, it shows that one is not a prick and that they recognise the importance of communication. Without a sincere exchange there can be no healthy relationship. If either side is self-righteous and dogmatic, there is no sincerity involved. Compromise is fine: it is a synthesis. Though a synthetic view must be better than the theses it blends. Compromise for its own sake is another dogma in disguise.
To be concrete, I would blithely shave my beard, literally and figuratively, if that contributed to a mutually beneficial outcome. However, I would do so from a position of self-respect and only if the other person was deserving of such preferential treatment.
If you put others on a pedestal—which is another way of belittling yourself—then, yes, you can’t expect to get anything good out of it. Find the balance.