For some years now I’ve been editing my old journals, condensing them, getting rid of the paper.
This morning I came upon the entry for Sept 12, 1969, one of the most important dates in my life.
In an upscale bar frequented by the insurance industry, I had met Matthew, a young underwriter who I described in The Shyness Guide. Although shy and a good candidate for HSP (Highly sensitive person), he had a remarkable ability for connecting with women.
When we came out, we had with us a young beautiful Afro-Caribbean woman, another underwriter who I had been talking with. She lived far from there and was going up to Bloor St to catch a taxi, so we offered to accompany her before going somewhere else together. It was about a 20 minute walk, during which the three of us continued to talk.
When we had seen her off in the cab, Mathew turned to me:
“You know, I really admire you.”
“Why?” I asked.
“The way you talked to her. If that was me,” he said, “I would have changed into a different mode – talked to her in a way designed to work on her . But you talked to her the same way you talk to me, or anyone else.”
Reading this almost fifty years later, I remembered other people saying things like that.
For example, a professor at York University, one who gave me the confidence in my writing that would allow me to ignore decades of editor rejection, once reportedly told someone – “Alan will always be Alan, no matter where he goes or who he’s with.”
It also reminded me of a series of people who told me I was the most independent person they had ever met.
But I’m not sure there was anything to admire. For I never did this by choice. I remained myself because I was unable to do anything else. I have never been able to pretend. I don’t mean that I can’t lie – after 40 + years of investigation work, confronting accomplished liars ever day, I became pretty good at that. But any kind of sustained play-acting has always been beyond me. The mental programming that social people seem to have for that is absent in me.
When I first learned about autism, I started to think of this trait as part of being on the spectrum.
But here is the question – why do social people, whose whole world seems to be built around this play-acting with each other, admire someone who can’t do that?
In her book about loners, Party of One, Anneli Rufus comments on the paradox of social people disapproving of the loners in their midst, while they adore the loners in literature and film (what I call the Clint Eastwood syndrome). To explain this, she says:
In each nonloner lurks a tiny loner struggling to get out. ………. Many nonloners possess, deep down in them, a secret touch of lonerism. An impulse, a yearning – it lies dormant nearly all the time, knowing that the outside world would hardly make it feel welcome. It knows, this loner within, that it is safer hidden. Yet now and then it is confronted with a rare welcome in the form of some song or comic book, and it springs out: clumsily, a bit insecurely, but hungrily.
This has the ring of truth to me.
If you want to know more about Party of One, read my previous post about that impressive, entertaining book.
But, you might ask, why would that loner nature be there in a social man or woman? How could such a contrary self evolve in collective people? How does that make sense?
Well, it makes sense if humanity has not always been so social. In my book The Shyness Guide, I put forward the idea that during the million years or so that humans (sometimes as hominids) spent as hunter-gatherers, the basic mind set was probably much less social. There is no evidence of tribalism before approximately 50,000 years ago.
When we encounter solitary men and women among us, I say it’s reasonable to assume that they are a remnant from the past when humanity was less social.
But it didn’t occur to me that there might be such remnants in social people too.
This idea of Anneli Rufus could explain this strange admiration that I’m talking about.
Do they secretly long for a past when people were simpler, more honest and straightforward with each other than people are today?
All I can says is – if you are like this too, and if you can remain relaxed when you are among other people – confident enough in yourself not to have to pretend to be someone else – you may find some people admiring you.
This can have good results. The young woman who got in that taxi apparently admired me enough that she and I would soon be in love. In fact, almost five decades later, we’re still together.