It's Wednesday night, 9:37 p.m. I'm strewn across my couch in sweat pants and a sweatshirt ripe with food stains and god knows what else watching a Dylan documentary via Netflix absentmindedly fondling my testicles a second glass of gin within arm's reach and through it all I'm occasionally doing some made up version of half-assed yoga, my stiff frame convoluted in humiliating ways. It's a very private orgy, perverse in its own way: the grotesquerie of the private quotidian.
And I am at peace. I may not be at my best, lucid and sharp and energetic. But nor am I at my worst — distracted depressed not-even-despairing. No, this is a basic form of maintenance, both physical and mental. I am tending, self nursing, self medicating, resting the ol' noggin and gathering forces for whatever may come.
I am living.
Now, what happens when there's someone else in the room? Or perhaps not even in the room but in the same apartment — a roommate, friend, or lover? What becomes of my experience?
It changes dramatically. Suddenly, rather than tending I am negotiating, participating in the elaborate terms of the social contract. This can't be avoided. Even if the two of us are not talking or looking at each other, there is an exchange — of energies, smells, and sounds, of signs and sighs. We are in dialogue, however silent.
It's not just a matter of not being able to do certain things like pick your nose or masturbate. The social demands — that's its nature. It processes you, makes sense of you — you may think it's just you being you but in the social world, it's you acting on the world, on others. The simplest gesture is an exchange of some sort. In your silence, you speak and others reply.
Of course, even in your solitude the social is there. All sorts of eyes look at you when you're alone — virtual parents and siblings and friends and would-be friends and past friends and might-be lovers. But, as they're virtual, it's easier to ignore them, to go about your business as if it were your own.
(The social web complicates this. It allows us to be be alone while with others and, at the same time, it disallows our solitude. We are jacked in, one way or another. Many of my friends — mid 40s — have almost no interweb presence for precisely this reason.)
But put these bodies in the same space and everything — yes, everything — changes. There is an expenditure demanded of you, a toll; at the very least, you must recognize the other's existence. And that, however slight — and it's rarely that slight — takes its literal toll. Something is asked of you. To refuse is to participate; to respond is to participate. The social entwines and thoroughly. For you might be as oblivious as
you can be but if the other person is more sensitive to your sounds and
smells, your movements and meanings, it necessarily implicates you. You
get up to pee and she looks up as you pass — not to mention hears the
timbre of your stream. The
social is insidious.
This is why I feel like friends can always blow each other off. Part of the friendship contract I enter is that both parties recognize that the social is demanding and that if one of us is not equipped for the exchange, he reserves the right to cancel any rendezvous. This is the most generous, friendly thing you can do: let your friends be when they need to be, no questions asked.
Needless to say, this is much more complicated when negotiating a new lover. Inevitably, this need for solitude is interpreted as rejection rather than what it is: an affirmation of oneself.
Oh, to be in the company of another but feel alone! That demands an enormous, an unspeaksable, strength.