Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Emotional Deadlines

I love to observe people around me and their behavior patterns. There are many things that I have learned through observation that have proven to be extremely accurate and very useful. Usually, even though you can create general rules based on it, it’s always fun to try to view the individual uniqueness in expressing that general rule. Sometimes it’s about one person, other times it’s about two or three and their interactions, yet when something so distinctive happens that you have a large group of people change their behavior, you’re thinking you must be onto something.

Emotional Deadlines aren’t as common as the average relationship issue, but one is going to go through something like that at least once in their lives. It could be finishing high-school, university, having to leave the country, or just have a several-year work program end. You can even get caught up in something like this if an old crush you never expressed your feelings towards suddenly has to move far away. Any major change in the lifestyle you were used to regarding people you have certain affinities towards, can create the symptoms of the ‘emotional deadline’.

There was this working program which included a whole lot of people. They had been working together as a team for quite a few years, sharing the good, sharing the bad. I like to picture people working like that as a lot of animals who have to be in the same cage for a few hours per day. After the accommodation has settled in, you can see them start to bond, to nuzzle into each other and occasionally try to establish a form of hierarchy through fighting, then act as if nothing had ever happened, and keep going on like that. So these people I knew had that ‘pack’ bond. Each of them was different in his or her own way, yet together, in the group, each seemed to have their own distinctive role.

Up to now, nothing is out of the ordinary, observation describes a normal human working group. But as the program’s deadline crept nearer, slow and gradual changes started occurring. By the time it was less than one year before the program ended and everybody would have to find another job and part from the X hours per day togetherness that they got so used to, a specific tension started building up, a tension that had stayed dormant for all those years. The little crushes and sympathies between group members, the tiny “likes” or innocent flirting, all fell under the domination of “what if”. “What if I’ll never get a chance to be with that person?” So, after X years in which these potential couples have done nothing to build something in that direction, they felt a compulsive attraction to do so now. But “now” is “too late” and so the struggle between doing it compulsively and not doing it because of other various reasons (e.g. having to move out of town after the program ends, being engaged or married, having various prejudice about certain aspects of the other, same reasons that probably prevented the idea of a relationship earlier) creates a constant interior tension, and while certain parts of the psyche focus on solving that tension, more primordial impulses find their way outside into the subject’s behavior.

And so, after spending time daily with this work group, I noticed that around one year before the deadline, boys and girls ‘paired up’ (not coupled up) and started giving each other the teasing-type of attention that kids usually display when they like one-another: poking, pushing, tickling, grabbing, lifting and carrying the other person around; I noticed that all these actions were done with more physical contact than truly necessary, with a clear purpose of releasing pent-up sexual tension. Of course, as the months progressed, it “spread like wildfire” and there were more and more people doing it. It started to seem like it was some type of disease to which me and a female friend of mine were naturally immune and we were the only ones outside of the box to be able to see clearly inside. What was driving these people into this irrational, noisy, flesh-hungry, childish behavior? Was the power of “what if” and the fear of maybe having missed something so strong that it could just overwrite rational thought and bring out impulses people can’t control and fail to be completely aware of? Are the frustrations of various social conventions that would be against a relationship with a colleague in such a battle with the strong, almost animal-like desire to be with that person, that they render the subject completely brain-dead towards analyzing their own actions? I think one of the problems that people entrapped by this inner tension face is the apparent impossibility of defining what they would want from their poke-tickle-partner. And since they can’t do that, they’ll just keep it into a “safe in-between area”. What happens, though, is that as time passes and the deadline is getting closer and closer, that “safe in-between area” is being granted more and more space. If one year before the deadline, the area was made out of pokes and spontaneous hugs, half a year before the deadline, the area already contained groping and feeling-up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see people flashing each other in public one week before the deadline.

I won’t go on about the further specific situations that were involved in this involuntary experiment. Truth be told, these people don’t have it easy either. Perhaps if they’d be able to get out of the box for even a short while, they’d facepalm and wonder what the hell was in their head behaving like that. Each person had their very own drama to get by, learning to let go is not an easy lesson and the coping mechanisms can amaze even the greatest skeptic. Seeing a phenomenon so intense spread to tens of people in an extremely short period of time was indeed fascinating. In science, this is known as “group toxicity” and you can find it in plentiful lab mice sharing the same box. If one or two start becoming aggressive, the others are bound to follow.

So what have we learned from all this? First of all, rational thought can be overwritten by basic instincts that have built up over years and years. Fear is also a catalyst for this reaction; the fear of losing something you never had/ fear of maybe not getting another chance to make things “right” even though people have failed to define what that “right” really means to them. Thus we get to definition, without defining to ourselves what it is that we want, we fall into our own conflict and end up creating that “safe” area which I have talked about earlier. The “safe” area is, in fact, anything but safe, because it is the gateway to compromises that can eventually go against who we are and what we stand for. The only real safety that can get us through in case we enter such a crisis is facing our own selves, putting abstract chaos into notions we can apply in the actual world we live in. It is our duty to know what we want, since no sane person would want somebody else to decide that for them.

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