I was a straight A student all throughout elementary, middle, and high school. I let it slip a bit in college but the point is, I’ve always done well in academics. Grades were a means of inspiration and incentive. I didn’t get A’s. I wanted them. And when I realized that my highest marks were in English, I naturally gravitated towards well, English. I followed my grades because for better or for worse, I believed that they were indicators of strength and achievement. I struggled in Math, so that meant I was not a Math person and didn’t really pursue any interest in it. I got high marks in Art so I joined the Artistically Talented club. I got a C in Japanese my second year in college so now I don’t even know how to say ‘I don’t know Japanese’.
I’ll tell you where this can border on the neurotic and problematic though. Don’t give me a video game from Japan. Did you know they grade your performance after every mission?! And that they added a grade higher than A?! Now I have to deal with S ranking every main and side mission or else it hangs over me like a dark cloud of failure and mediocrity. Valkyria Chronicles I love you to the ends of the earth, but you’re giving me high blood pressure.
So I live and die by the letter. I want grades to tell me how I’m doing. Am I an…A at being a brother, or a son? Can I S rank my friends? What would my exes have given me throughout the years? What did my driving instructor put down on my test?
I’ve found that grades have also provided me with a means of measuring myself and promoting improvement.
Case in point: social interactions.
I’ve always been a very socially awkward person. Naturally reclusive and most comfortably introverted, the act of socializing and/or the derivation of real honest pleasure in it is still kind of foreign to me. I’ve never sought social interaction. I’ve never taken it upon myself to want to get to know the man sitting next to me.
This doesn’t mean I don’t want people in my life though. And it doesn’t mean that I want to be alone or undisturbed. Paradoxically, I am a storyteller and I love sharing stories with my friends. Once I am close enough to you and comfortable enough with you I can’t get enough of sharing and conversing and debating until the most unreasonable and irresponsible hours of the early early morning. I just don’t know how to get to that point anymore. I have for a long time relied upon the company of my closest friends, my family, and of course, my significant other. I love having one committed, dedicated person to be both the main audience for my stories and the primary source for others’. I’m a sharer and I’ve never been shy or been found wanting for tales and observations when it came to talking with my special someone.
I’ve had to realize however that another aspect of being #committedlysingle is I can’t rely anymore on that relationship to fulfill my need for social interaction and stories. This is my opportunity to grow as a person and engage with the people around me and learn to cherish their own relationships with me, no matter how small or fleeting or brief their time in my world is. I get to practice my socializing and find meaningful relationships with others, sometimes even complete strangers.
And the best way for me to go about this is of course, to grade myself. Like when I go to get a haircut. True story. I have been getting my hair cut by the same man since I was 5. For the record, as of this posting, that’s a good 21 years now. Considering the superhuman speed at which my wild mane grows, I see him about every three months, which means I’ve had my hair cut by him around 84 times. When I was younger I was a passenger, a plus one to my father’s haircuts and I would sit and read Highlights for Kids while my father spoke of taxes and sports and government with my barber. When it was my turn I was more focused on following all of his instructions of when to open and close my eyes and when and where to turn my head. Then I started driving and got my own jobs and now I was coming in on my own. Stone. Cold. Silence. You would have thought that he was cutting a practice mannequin and that I was just a strange man reading a magazine while his hair fell out. See the thing of it was though, is that this never actually bothered me. But I knew it was a strange situation and to be honest, a little conversation would probably have made the process more enjoyable for everyone involved. So I started prepping on the way to the barbershop. I would run through popular topics of the day and be prepared to rattle them off and engage in friendly manly barbershop banter.
‘Did you see the game last night?’
‘Did you watch the news last night?’
‘Did you do anything last night?’
And to analyze the results and be better for the next time, I started grading each visit. There was definitely a learning curve, and early interactions earned easy A’s as long as I at least asked one question. But the conversations were always short, uninterested, and unenthusiastic. So I learned the next key to being a good person, really. Be authentic. Be genuine. I don’t like SPORTS. I don’t watch the NEWS. I shouldn’t have to REHEARSE a conversation with someone I might generally honestly actually want to talk to. So I got real. I asked how he became a barber. Turns out he wanted to be a pilot but had bad eyes. I asked about his family. His daughter wants to be an actress. I asked about his hopes for the future. I almost lost my left ear. Pro tip: Don’t distract your barber with the weighty questions of the world. But now my conversations were much more engaged and honest. So the grading got harder. Now to earn an A, I have to take initiative in the conversation. I need to be mindful and use past conversations to guide future ones. I need to truly listen to process what is shared but to also be mindful of the ebb and flow of conversation and to react accordingly. Now after every haircut I look back and grade how I did.
Today I earned an A.
I made some connections at the bar at the restaurant I ate today. I didn’t plan it. Didn’t come in with prepared icebreakers or anything. I just did my thing, lived my life, and remembered to be comfortable and confident with being alone. I knew I was feeling a bit down and lonely because I wouldn’t have my friend to hang out with today and so…I thought what the hey. Why not try. Why not just ask a genuine question. Why not smile. Why not reach out and cherish the relationships we can make in just a few seconds to pierce the silence every now and then. I took oyster shots with the bartender. I met another two guys who travel for work. I taught them how to eat oysters. I made a menu recommendation to a mother and daughter.
These are all relationships that are for all intents and purposes, over. They always were, by their nature, only temporary. But that doesn’t diminish their worth. It doesn’t undermine the value of feeling that connection. It doesn’t replace the presence and permanence of a real relationship, but for the hour or so it lasted, it was worth cultivating. Not every stranger has to become my best friend, and not every woman I meet needs to be the love of my life. But I can still make my life better, happier, if I learn to open up even if just a bit more than now.
It was an A day.
Man: 8 Loneliness: 2