sever all/some/no ties

Yesterday when I got off work I walked in the almost-rain to the ferry and rode it to DUMBO for a book launch. On the ferry I bought ‘snacking chocolate’ (it’s like, chocolate with pretzels in it and it does say snacking chocolate on the bag) and a beer in a plastic cup with a straw. I tried to go on the open top of the ferry but it was closed re: impending rain. So I sat by the window and ate my chocolate and drank my beer and looked at Manhattan and thought, as I often do, this is pretty cool. ‘This' being the everyday things one ends up doing in New York that are actually remarkable in their own quiet way when you take a moment to think about them.

I got off the ferry and it wasn’t time for the book launch so I went for a cocktail at Atrium, where one of my old coworkers apparently waited on Ivanka Trump. Ew. The cocktail was delicious though and I succumbed to dollar oysters. I’ve been avoiding them lately because finances but six once in a while can’t terribly damage the already broken bank. I read Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, it comes out in October—I probably won’t review it because I don’t think I have anything particularly noteworthy to add to the conversation, and I think that clogging the already underread review market with “this book by a famous author is pretty good” takes only serves to make it less interesting to outsiders, but, the book is very good. Very different from goon squad, much less experimental in form, but very engaging and of course well told.

At the book launch I immediately found people I knew which is an exciting development for me in book launches, where I’m used to knowing no one or only seeing people who I know vaguely and thus being awkward. Instead I had humans to talk to the whole time! The conversation between the two writers was so funny and I imagine it’s because they’re friends in real life. I support this. I love literary events, obviously, I go to them multiple times a week, but they can easily veer into boring. When it’s people who know each other laughing and gooning, it is not boring, it is fun.

I got through the event without buying any books. I already had a review copy of the book being launched and the only other book I’ve been looking for is How to Murder Your Life, but they didn’t have it! Tragic. I’ve been wanting to read it because I’ve recently become obsessed with Gawker and I read that A.J. Daulerio used to date Cat Marnell, so I figured her book probably has a good amount of gossip from that era to help in my obsession. 

My Gawker fascination started not ten years ago but actually just last week. I was at a gathering of humans drinking pina coladas and gossiping about the shitty New York Times opinion page, and someone brought up that one of our friends plays a not-minor role in the Gawker documentary, Nobody Speak. I haven’t watched said documentary but then we got to talking about Gawker and I said that I wanted to read a history of it and someone suggested Brian Abram’s Oral History, and I said why would I read an Oral History that sounds like something you listen to. But apparently this is an internet genre, the oral history. 

I read the Oral History and it is everything a person who loves gossip and New York media and gossip about New York media could possibly want. I’ve been thinking a lot with friends and on my own about the nature of gossip lately. It gets such a bad rap (in no small part I’m sure because it’s associated with women,) but gossip is what allows women to build a social analysis of the men around them and keep an oral record (an oral history if you will) of the shitty things they do, and protect themselves from future creepiness and or shiftiness at the hands of those men. Gossip also allows people to process painful social scenarios and analyze them in ways that enable them to build a better existence or at the very least move forward with all kinds of shitty interpersonal pain. It’s like therapy but without spending $250. 

Recently I had a somewhat disturbing conversation, but I haven’t been able to discuss it with anyone in New York because the core of the conversation was something that I can’t repeat. The thing that’s a secret is not particularly relevant, but the way that the person tried to involve me in the situation was unsettling. Since I haven’t been able to talk about it, as the days have gone on I’ve found myself fixating on the ways I felt the way this was targeted at me were inappropriate, and how the burden placed on me in the situation was not only unfair but made me feel trashy, used, and scapegoated. Normally I’d process this with my friends and move forward relatively quickly, but due to the lines that I can’t in good conscience cross, it’s been eaten away at my personal and social psyche.

I don’t think this person had the specific intention of hurting me, or that they realized how damning the conversation felt to me, but regardless of the intention, I felt and continue to residually feel like shit and like I’ve made mistakes with regard to setting boundaries in my life and making myself available as an emotional outlet to people when I'm not necessarily an appropriate outlet in the given scenario.

At least since college but probably for most of my life one of my harbored beliefs has been that all relationships are significant and deserve to be treated on an equal plane, friendships, professional relationships, lovers, etc, and that relationships should be able to cross boundaries that society has put in place to keep them segregated. This is of course in opposition to the idea that romantic relationships are held up above all other kinds of relationships, and the idea that there is something ‘inappropriate’ in relationships that fall outside of the traditional boundaries.

I still agree with this, obviously. But as I spend more time in the world, I notice two things: one, obviously, it gets harder to maintain, but I’ll get back to that. Two, the way that people value and respect romantic relationships over any other sort of bond has become not just eye roll worthy and annoying, but cruel and insidious. It’s somehow socially acceptable to treat people like shit who you aren’t in an agreed upon relationship with, but a huge human felony to treat people like shit whom you’re dating. Um, they’re all people! 

Honestly, I don’t even think that treating people like shit in the general sense is the worst cardinal sin in the book. I’ve worked through my life to develop a thicker skin and that when I think back on the sleights of my youth, I am more in the ‘whatever’ camp than the ‘still angry, omg it fucked up my life’ camp. What I’m more protesting here is the idea that casual dating and friendship and socializing are some kind of free for all in being an asshole where there’s no accountability while the only people who deserve to be treated well consistently are those who are well practiced enough in the social graces of dating that someone has deemed them worthy of a 'serious relationship.’ The idea that there’s more social pity for a woman who has been cheated on than a woman who spends every week getting shit on and socially trampled by dudes she isn't dating is fucking insane. Someone only deserves our empathy if a man deigned her worthy of dating in the first place? Okay. The shitty things a guy did to a woman (or vice versa blah blah) are permissible because he didn’t think of her as enough of a ‘serious dating candidate’ to treat well? ALRIGHT. 

I still believe that people should not follow the traditional boundaries of relationship/friendship/coworker and should feel comfortable talking about/doing whatever with anyone as long as it’s agreed upon by both parties, and there’s a somewhat equal exchange of whatever it be, information, intimacy, emotional support, but I now realize that I’ve done a poor job of protecting myself in the process of letting my social life be a wild west no man’s land. I want the no man’s land to still exist, but I think I need to start keeping tabs on the ways in which these boundary-less bonds tax on me emotionally. 

In college we had this running joke about severing all ties. My friends and I in my small alternative program would regularly have run ins with either student government or the frats and inevitably in the fall out someone would say ‘Johnston has severed all ties with [x part of the greater university.]’ It’s not like the people who said it were in on the joke! It was just, for whatever reason, their go-to way of expressing their disdain that we nonsense students of the integrative were free agents who could do things that fucked with the power structure. So we took it on as a mantle and would chant it at meetings and would gamely sever ties with anyone who crossed our paths.

The thing is, and was, though, that looking back, I personally never really severed all the ties with anyone. I wrote a satirical play about hazing in Greek life that gained me the vitriol of the entire Panhellenic council, and sure I got screamed at by drunk girls and kicked out of parties, but I still organized keg races with frat boys. (And slept with them.) I was, on the one hand, all for the severing of institutional ties, but on the other hand, I was too lazy, too bored, too social, too drunk, to sever the casual ties that were the underpinning of my social universe: my ability to leave my dorm room wasted on a Thursday night and go anywhere I wanted on campus, be welcomed into any house, take shots with any acquaintance, repeat any benign piece of gossip to anyone I ran into at a party. 

To have the type of social landscape that I enjoy, I think to almost equal degrees you need to not have too many boundaries and not truly sever ties. But, as with most youthful aspirations, I can concede that some amendments need to be made to protect oneself from unnecessary emotional trauma.