Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I was totally wrong. Now what?

I have a myriad of bad habits; this is something I not only acknowledge but take a certain amount of pride in. I don't ask anyone else to change to suit me, and nor would I tolerate being forced to change my ways for anyone else. So I bite my nails. And leave my clothes strewn about. And am always running late. I'll make an effort, sure, to curb those habits, but at the end of the day I know they'll only resurface. So whoever ends up with me? Better be able to put up with them. (And I with his bad habits. Equal opportunities for annoyance here!)

A couple of my particularly bad habits are pertinent to this particular story though:

1) First glance judgments. Yes, I make them, I admit it. I would also say that I'm rarely wrong. If someone seems like a skeeze at first glance, generally a good idea to stay away. Do I put people into categories? Yes, I admit it. Hippie chick. Preppy Girl. Snob. Bible Thumper. Sure, I'll get to know people after that, and I try to keep an open mind, but generally my first impressions are right. Well, at least about 99% of the time.

2) Steamrolling. I have no patience. I especially have no patience for dithering. I also, when working on a project, have no time to bother with people's hurt feelings. This is work (or school). It's not personal. The project isn't personal, and frankly I'm not going to coddle you, or dumb down the project, or take my sweet time doing something should take 5 minutes because you want it to be hearts and rainbows and come to some sort of consensus on something there doesn't need to be consensus on. If you try to make it about your feelings... well, I will overrule you, and take the project into my own hands, and frankly not have any fucking patience for your dithering ass. Too bad for you!

3) Not giving a damn what people think. Now, this is only in certain cases... I care an AWFUL LOT what people I respect think about me. But people I've written off as being dithering hearts and flowers time wasters? Not so much. So, if I don't give a damn what you think, it's because you've made it onto my "no respect" list-- ( And, well, you're probably a moron.)

4) Needing to be liked. Even by people I can't stand. Now, if I've actively given you reason to dislike me-- Eh. shoulder shrug We're cool. It's no doubt because I couldn't stand you either. But... If I haven't given you a reason to dislike me, and yet you DO dislike me??? Well, I will be much bothered by it! Sure, I'm not everyone's cup of tea, but to be actively disliked and scorned by someone you've never gone out of your way to hurt? That stings. And it will bug me.

Soooooo.... What does this have to do with dating? Or the picture of Gabriel Byrne up top? (Besides the general need for eye candy?)...

I'm getting to that....

I have a crush. A mad, gigantic, all-consuming crush. On someone I couldn't stand until yesterday. And on someone I'm pretty sure actively dislikes me and thinks I'm silly, insipid, and just generally worthy of scorn and derision (He's probably not wrong about that.) omigawd do I have a crush. I can't stop thinking about him.

The Backstory

We'll call him Muckraker. I met him this summer during a graduate course in which we were randomly assigned to the same group. Now, I hate group projects (see above), and this group was filled with rather loathsome people... The hippie chick who was fond of nonsequiters, the slacker/stoner who wanted to give other people the hard work and take the easy project, the ditherer... and a couple other not-so-loathsome people such as the foreign exchange student, Muckraker... (and well, yes. Me. I'll put myself in the not-so-loathsome category, thankuverimuch, since this is my blog.)

I assumed a lot of things about Muckraker at first glance. He is a tall, lanky, kind of weatherworn guy man in his early 40s. He reminded me of a particular vermont breed, not quite crunchy-granola flower child, because he dresses far too conservatively for that with nice leather shoes, and name brand sweaters. In my mind I scornfully assigned him faux-liberal tendancies with conservative core values and tastes. He is a quiet man, saying little until he feels he has something of importance to say. (In direct contrast to me, who usually feels free to spout off about anything, no matter how inane. Another of my bad qualities!) I assumed he was a librarian. I don't know why I did, only that everything about him seemed to suggest he lived his life behind a reference desk.

There was something disquieting about him and in the way he interacted with me. It seemed different than the way he interacted with others. He put me off-balance somehow, asking questions I didn't know the answers to... and I'm someone who always knows the answers to everything. (or I think I do. Another bad quality!). Our interactions were like running your hand against the grain of fabric, not uncomfortable enough to be unpleasant, but not quite right either.

In our group, which he called together to meet that first day, he was a consensus builder-annoying in the extreme. I had a checklist, and wanted to assign roles and get the hell out of there. I admit I pushed my point of view through, and didn't give him-- or anyone else in our group a second glance. The presentation was a disjointed disaster, but with the disasters in our group it could hardly be anything else. I passed the course and thought little about any of the people in my group after that point.

This fall I started another class, and he happened to be taking it. He's not a man who draws attention to himself, and it wasn't until about half-way through the term that I even realized he was there. One of the reasons I began to notice was because he would often comment on a comment I had made in the class. And he would often contradict me.

I hate being contradicted. (Bad trait!). I'm a good debater and I can usually argue down anyone I don't agree with. (Bad trait!) I couldn't argue him down though, and I began to leave class feeling annoyed with myself, and annoyed with him, and annoyed at myself FOR being annoyed with him. Who was HE after all to be disagreeing with me? Why is his opinion so lofty? And yet, I often found myself agreeing with the points that he had made and reconsidering my opinion. Which I hate to do. (Bad trait!)

He is never mean or intemperate, rather he is thoughtful and careful and considerate in what he says and does. I admit that I don't know how to deal with people like that. I'm all loud noises and fireworks and extreme displays of emotion. He confuses me, and I don't like not having everything figured out and put into little boxes.

After class one day I was speaking with another student, and he came up to us. I felt like he pointedly ignored me, and said to her- "I need to talk to you." I took this as further evidence of his dislike, as he couldn't even be bothered to make small talk with me. At the same time I also felt like he felt that I wasn't even worthy of mustering up enough energy to actively dislike. But I rolled my eyes and left.

This past weekend we ended up at a conference together, along with a few other people in the program. The conference was dismal, and on Saturday he missed the early morning session. The other people in our group and I ended up going out to lunch, and midway through the luncheon he showed up and sat down with us, much to my dismay. I never felt like I could be easy in his presence, always feeling like every word I said was judged.

The conversation wound it's way to various topics and I started to catch Muckraker staring at me, often with a bemused expression on his face. I couldn't interpret the looks other than to feel they were somehow both amused and critical. I asked him, point blank, "What's that look for?" He just shook his head, again with the same expression.

Somehow the conversation got to the point where I asked him, "You work in the library, right?" Confused (and seemingly amused), he answered, "no," but didn't offer up any other biographical information. Everyone else in the group seemed to know him, and background information about him, but he seemed to be deliberately not giving me any information.

Annoyed, I brushed it off and as a group we walked back to the conference. He was parked intown and offered rides back, but I opted to walk, still rather shaken by our exchanges over lunch, though uncertain as to why.

Yesterday I gave a presentation in class, a solo presentation in class. I mumbled and fumbled and made some mistakes, but generally it went ok, I thought. Muckraker didn't seem to look up from the papers he was shuffling through to pay attention, but that didn't really bother me. I was just grateful he didn't bother to ask a question I couldn't answer.

Class ended, and as we were getting up to leave Muckraker came to me.

He put his hand on the small of my back, sending shivers (delightful ones, to my surprise) up my spine. He leaned in, an expression on his face I haven't seen before... dare I say-- open and friendly? He called me a rather forward and deceptively personal nickname, one I hadn't given him leave to use, and asked if he could speak to me after class...alone...out in the hallway.

My first reaction was-- "God, what is he going to criticize me about now?" What I said was, "Why?"

He said, "I wanted to talk to you about your presentation."

Me- "What about it?"

He said, "I had a suggestion." And he also said, "Why are you looking at me like that?" (Nervous/scared expression on my face, I think.)

Me- "What is it?"

Him- "Let's talk outside."

Me. (probably rolling my eyes.) "Just tell me."

Him- "I thought you might want to consider using a different title since that one has been used before."

Me- "I think it's fine."

Him- "Ok. But it was recently used in another article on the same project."

Me- "I don't think it matters." (As you can tell, I am one smmmmooothhh operator!)

And I walked away.

And something-- a slight feeling I had-- said to me that while that may have been all he was going to say, perhaps he was going to say more. Or he would have, if I hadn't completely cut him off.

And I kept thinking about him all night. And kept tossing and turning. And I felt completely off kilter.

That exchange didn't go as I would have liked. I kept replaying it, and replaying it and replaying it in my mind. I cannot figure this guy out. Does he hate me? Or not...??? I DON'T UNDERSTAND HIM!

I always felt he treated me with the same level of amused annoyance and patience one would bestow on a particularly backward child. I recognize however that a lot of that is ME projecting those emotions onto him. He's always been quiet and respectful in actions and words, but he has always made me feel unsure of myself.

(That's why Gabriel Byrne, as professor Bhaer in Little Women is at the top of this post. I realized, that's who he reminds me of-- not in looks, but in actions and words. Always kind, but at the same time always challenging and thoughtful and unwilling to accept easy answers.)

Perhaps I need to be more unsure of myself and to have someone who (unlike Atlas) feels free and easy enough to contradict me, and yet I still respect him afterwards. In fact, I respect him more because of it.

I couldn't get him out of my mind all last night, so this morning I decided to google him. And that's when I discovered that I had been wrong about him. Really wrong about him. And really wrong to dismiss him as quickly and easily as I had when I first met him.

The guy is fucking brilliant. Amazingly, astonishingly BRILLIANT.

He was a journalist. A journalist who became a non-fiction novelist. And his books? Amazing. Amazingly brilliant. And socially conscious. And important life-altering, society-changing stories. That's not why they're important or brilliant though, it's the personal sacrifices he made to write those books.

He traveled to Siberia, and Africa, and landed in an prison in the Congo, dealt with traffickers, and inhumane conditions, and did countless other things.... He's led the life I would have always wanted to live had I been born with an ounce of bravery.

Oy vey. head meet desk

So much for mild-mannered reporter, huh? In some respects, more like superman.

Wow did I misjudge him. And all this time in class I when I talked about a crisis in Africa (and other topics) and I was annoyed that he disagreed with me... I should be thanking my lucky stars he did it so nicely instead of putting me in my place as he should have, knowing much more about the topics than I possibly could.

Is it wrong of me to judge him more favorably now that I know more about his background? Perhaps that makes me shallow. (Bad trait!) But I don't like him better now because he's a writer... but rather the topics he chose, and the personal sacrifices he made to do some very important work. That, and the fact that I was wrong about him. He challenges my preconceptions, and I know I need that.

I am madly, completely, head over heels, crushing on him. And I feel I may have ruined any chances I had. Assuming I had any at all. After all, my first impression could have been correct-- he could think of me as a silly, annoying, uninsightful kid. (Or dislike me for a myriad of other reasons! Many people do!)

Which makes me sad. And I feel very ashamed of myself.

And I can't stop thinking about him....

I want him. And I want him to want me. And I don't think that's going to happen.

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