The Complexities of Human Interaction, or, How to Know Your Friends

A thing happened recently that put my connections with other people into question. Unfortunately I can’t go into specifics, but it brought to light a few different things in relation to my personal relationships with quite a number of people, and made me wonder exactly how strong the bond between people is – and what kind of tests those bonds can withstand.

To put things into perspective, let me offer an analogy. Imagine, if you will, that you are a doctor. One day, a friend tells you that someone you both know has cancer, but doesn’t want to talk about it. They’ve refused to see a specialist, haven’t started any treatment, and don’t have a plan to deal with it – but they are telling everyone around them what’s happened. (If this seems an unlikely scenario, I actually have an uncle who once did exactly this.)

As a doctor, you feel a responsibility to help this person, but you’re not an oncologist, and don’t have the knowledge or skills to treat them. Instead, you approach someone who is a cancer specialist, and describe the situation to them. You don’t tell them any names, and you don’t give them anything that could identify the person you’re talking about – you just provided a general idea of what’s going on, in order to gain advice and perspective on how to help.

However, after you see the specialist, word gets back to the cancer-sufferer that you spoke to a specialist about them. They accuse you of name-dropping, going behind their back, and suddenly cut you off almost completely without giving you an opportunity to explain what actually happened.

This is the scenario I find myself in today, not with someone I know suffering from cancer, but rather with an extremely toxic work environment. A number of people at my place of work have started ostracizing me for sharing their feelings with managers, despite having done so anonymously, and with the sole intent of trying to lessen the toxicity of the atmosphere and make it an enjoyable place to work once more.

It’s particularly frustrating because virtually no one who has behaved like this has actually approached me, asked me what was going on, or even shown the courtesy to judge me based on what I’ve actually done, and not on what they’ve heard second-hand.

It’s also fascinating from a human interaction perspective, because it has really highlighted to me just how easily people can fall into a dark place of mistrust and paranoia, just from a few tidbits of misinformation. Quite suddenly rumor becomes fact, and in the space of a few moments, someone who was once trusted and liked becomes a pariah.

The most hurtful part is the fact that these are people I trusted myself, people I connected with … people I thought of as friends. For my part, of course, I still do, but I don’t really know what they all think.

There are couple people, however, who didn’t buy in to the hype; a couple of folk who either trusted me as a friend, or at the very least approached me to know the truth of the matter. Some of these people I would have expected; others were a little bit of a surprise, but a welcome one, naturally.

Fear and mistrust are terrible things, and lead to toxic, destructive relationships. I don’t know whether these broken relationships will ever be repaired, and if they are, if they’ll end up as strong as they once were. I understand that this is how people feel, and I understand that I might have done things that, on the surface, appeared to support those feelings of mistrust.

However, the one thing I’ve learned is that a person’s feelings, thoughts and emotions can override logical observation – but in people with a higher level of emotional maturity, they don’t allow it to. To those who came to me, and those who trusted me, and those who stopped to ask what was really true – I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are the reason I can still face going to work.

For the rest of my friends … I still love you. I don’t blame you, and I hope we can soon mend the rift between us.

And for everyone else in the world, please remember: things are not always what they seem. Someone who might seem detrimental might actually be trying to help, and those who profess to help might not be so altruistic in their motives. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust your friends – only that, if you actually value their friendship, provide them the courtesy of asking them the truth directly, rather than relying on second- and third-hand rumors.

Movie Night: The Lobster

Year: 2015
Genre: Black Comedy … ?
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Jessica Barden

In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in forty-five days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.

There is very little lobster in The Lobster. In fact, I don’t think there was one at all.

This film carries with it the dubious accolade of being one of the most bizarre movies I’ve watched in recent years. I read the above description before watching it, and I’m not sure whether I should or shouldn’t have; it certainly helps explain a lot of the exposition, but there’s a sense of utterly nonsensical mystery that stems from not knowing the premise from the outset.

The Lobster bears many of the hallmarks of an indie film trying its best to not fit into any particular genre; billed as a black comedy, there were moments I laughed perhaps only because I thought it was meant to be funny, and not because it actually was. In fact, there were more scenes I found outright disturbing than I found funny. It’s interesting, as these are some of the same comments aimed at my alter-ego young adult novel, 22 Scars – that it tries almost too hard to be edgy, at the expense of plot and character clarity.

For example, very few characters are named, and only when necessary; even Rachel Weisz is known only as the short-sighted woman. Another key character is referred to throughout the film as the heartless woman. There are no place names – only The Hotel and The City – and even when these settings are abandoned for the wild woods, there is very little reference to anything grounded in reality.

In fact, the very premise – that single adults are transformed into animals if they fail to find a partner in 45 days – becomes something of a MacGuffin to the themes of love and lust. The point of the movie – if there even is one – is tenuously that love can’t be forced, but can be found in the strangest of places. To this end, it hardly matters that the threat hanging over the characters’ heads is transfiguration – it could have been death or exile, for all it matters – but rather that there simply be some impetus for the characters to connect with each other in a context where they have very little other reason to.

In the end, there are enough bizarre moments to elicit a kind of disbelieving guffaw – in some ways, a funnier film than Crazy Rich Asians, which we had watched earlier in the day – but they are overshadowed by the wide brushstrokes of disturbing insanity, including a woman jumping from a window and breaking her neck but not dying, and a frankly cringe-inducing final scene. I would hardly label The Lobster as a comedy – black or otherwise – but perhaps closer to an essay on love; a kind of parable for a society that praises social relationships for their appearance rather than their substance.

Either way, The Lobster is a film that I would recommend only to those who have the nerve to stomach some truly troubling material, and despite that recommendation, hardly one I would watch again any time soon. As one of my friends put it, there were multiple moments throughout where I asked myself why I was still watching it at all.

4/10 would watch again.

Thought of the Week: And an Antisocial New Year to You, Too


I have another 351 days to remember that the date has a new number at the end of it. This leaves me worse off than last year – I had an extra day.

I also have another 351 days to fail commitments and break promises. So far, it’s going well. One meaningful point is that it’s nearly ten years exactly since my wife and I first started going out. (The anniversary’s a little ambiguous, since we never really had a first ‘date’.) A number like that tends to get you reflecting, and the biggest question it brought up for me was, “what happened to us?”.

This was actually a question I’d been asking myself for some time, but the answer never really seemed to present itself until it was voiced. We disagree, we argue, we fight, we shout…and, well, when we were getting to know each other, we didn’t. I know that sounds pretty obvious, and I expect it’s the course of almost any ten-year relationship, but it brings up the question of why. We know each other better, of course, which means we’re more comfortable with each other, and more able to express our thoughts and frustrations (or at least, more willing to express our frustrations). It also means we take each other for granted a lot, as well. We say and do things to each other that would send first date screaming through the door.

It was this comparison, really, that stuck to me: I don’t treat my wife the way I did when we were going out. I show her anger, apathy, bitterness and depression. I show her a wild inconsistency between caring and thoughtful and callous and selfish. And it suddenly hit me that if I had treated her like this ten years ago, we wouldn’t be married and have a son today. And that seemed a little unkind.

So that was my commitment. I wanted to try and be a “New Satis”; one who spoke to his wife the way he did when they met. It’s been working (sort of); whether it lasts or not only time can tell, but so far almost every word, action and thought comes with a little tag of “is this what you’d’ve done ten years ago?”. That tag, of course, doesn’t always translate into a meaningful action, but it’s a start.

I’ve attempted these sort of changes before with little success, though what gives me hope for this one is the ability to filter my life through the lens of the past. However, the biggest thing that stands out for me is that, when my wife and I were dating, we weren’t spending every moment together. The façade, the mask – I could put it in place to be with her. Now, it’s at home that the mask of sociality comes off. In public, at work, every day, I put on this brave mask of congeniality, a lie that isn’t me.

There have always been things ‘wrong’ with me, some of which I’ve discussed. The catatonia, the rages, the obsessions and inappropriateness, the total mental shutdowns and repeated behaviors; the inability to change and to learn; these are things I’ve lived with for so long, and my wife and I have long chuckled at how I seem to display a number of autistic characteristics. And then the extreme discomfort in social situations – the fakery it takes just to navigate a dinner party, or a work conversation – hit me.

There is an Autistic Quotient test created by Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge in 2001 (you can take it here). It was designed as way to filter for autistic spectrum disorders in adults (as opposed to children) prior to a detailed professional assessment. It’s been used successfully to help identify people with Aspergers Syndrome, and is actually quite simple. You score points for “abnormal” behavior, from 0 to 50. In general, an average adult scores somewhere between 10 – 20 (no one’s perfect). The cutoff for identifying Aspergers/High Functioning Autism is 32.

I score 37.

Well, thank you, world. I now have something new to bring to my psychologist.

Mind you, it’s not a diagnosis, and there’re still probably a whole lot of other things wrong with me anyway, but still – it doesn’t leave me feeling all that enthusiastic about trying to become that “New Satis”.

We’ll have to see how things go; perhaps I’m just being a drama queen (my wife would agree with that!). However, there is a part of me that almost feels relieved; after decades of trying to find some kind of answer to my insanity, perhaps I’ve finally found it. Or something, anyway.

So…what is the new year bringing you?


Incidentally, my wife’s score was 9.