Friday, April 15, 2022

People Resist Being Categorized

I have two friends with unusual jobs. Both of them buy and sell vintage guitar equipment for a living. And they didn't know each other. So I figured they probably should, and sent an email to both, inviting them to say "hi", figuring people in that line of work might appreciate some network expansion.

I should have known better. "I think you people should meet!" emails always trigger awkward silence. I knew that. But I figured the sheer specificity would make this different. If you know two albinos, or Komodo dragon owners, or parents of quadruplets you put 'em together! Right?

Wrong. Neither replied.

I am 1% as pushy as I once was, but nevertheless pushed back. "Hey, are you guys going to greet each other, or just leave me feeling like an asshole for trying to do you both a solid?" One budged. "'sup." The other, a couple days later, managed to choke out a furtive "nicetomeetyou." And......CUT!

People resist being categorized. Don't stick me in a cubbyhole. Even if it might be helpful to me!

I was friends with both halves of a famous two-man painting partnership. I had dinner plans with one, but we needed another person, so I invited his partner, not realizing they hated each other. While I knew both of them pretty well, I'd maintained a fan's perspective on the partnership itself. Those irrepressible mavericks!

Dinner was excruciating. Even if they had a decent working relationship, they'd obviously have been well sick of each other. But I felt like I was doing the logical thing. Similar things obviously go together!

It's natural to mentally associate Laurel with Hardy, but people - even people who've flagrantly self-categorized! - resist being categorized.

I can't hang out with one of my oldest friends. Whenever we do, he brings along his other food writer friends, all fanemies of mine. I can't be in a room with any of them. They alternate between obnoxious slurpy ass-kissing (I was an early influence in their evolution into a supremely influential food authority! I should be immensely proud of the all-knowing gastro wizard I played some small role in encouraging to gloriously blossom!) and needling, challenging, and skull-sledge-hammering (I wrote about the phenomenon here). Anything but just enjoying a meal like normal human beings.

My friend doesn't notice any of this. He just drinks in the satisfaction of having assembled his awesome chowhounding posse. A complete shiny glass menagerie, right there in front of him! No missing pieces!

People resist being categorized!

Here's a sentence you can't write nowadays:
Most tall people dislike small cars.
There is 100% certainty that someone will angrily lash back:
I'm tall, and I'm perfectly fine with small cars!
As part of my life trajectory toward increasing laissez-faire with Crazy (closely associated with my renunciation of pushiness), I've learned not to try to explain the term "most" to such people, or how it differs from "all". I resist the urge to diagram it for them. I know it won't help.

"Many" might be safer than "most", right? Nope. You see, every tall person is THE tall person. Anything you say about any/many/most/some tall people - about any category they're in - speaks directly to them (it's narcissism; as I endlessly try to explain, narcissism isn't aberrational)...and it galls them. A lot.
Don't presume to tell me how I feel about small cars!
Same for any characteristic. "Deaf people often wear hearing aids," or "Many children enjoy spaghetti." Nope. If you write any such thing, readers will respond huffily. Because they resist being categorized. Even though that's not what you're doing, and it wasn't about them in the first place, and sane people realize the voices on the TV aren't talking specifically to them.

Many of my friends aren't particularly educated. They didn't pay attention in school, and don't read much, so they don't know stuff. To me, it doesn't matter. I know lots of stuff, and it hasn't gotten me very far. And there are myriad faculties unrelated to knowledge, and I admire them at least as much as the ability to call out the dates of the Peloponnesian Wars.

The problem is that I'm their "smart" friend. Which means I will be invited to meet their other smart friend. And the other smart friend will inevitably be some dude who spends all day on the Internet researching bizarre conspiracy theories, or who only cares about sea slugs. The other smart friend will be highly arrogant (that's the trigger that makes people recognize intelligence), and will not want to talk about anything but conspiracies or sea slugs.

I'd gladly use up a genie wish to extricate myself from the "smart friend" category.

I had a friend, a nice guy, who was married to a kind and hard-working woman. Neither were glossy types; just good solid folks with talent and intelligence. The woman happened to have immense breasts, but she dressed modestly and did not in any way present herself as the owner/bearer of any remarkable anatomical feature. She was a fully-dimensional real person, not particularly sexualized.

I once attended a party with this couple, and my friend's ex-girlfriend was also there. She, too, turned out to be a very nice, not-particularly-sexualized woman with, yep, immense breasts.

I mulled it over, trying to understand my cringing reaction to seeing the three of them awkwardly socializing. Finally I struck upon a perfect analogy: It's like if your wife, who just happens to wear an eyepatch, ran into your previous girlfriend...also wearing an eyepatch. Yikes.

Categorization can impose itself in inconvenient and embarrassing ways.

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