Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Time alone

The elder teen has been thinking lately about balancing her need for solitude with other demands on her time. Equipped with linguistic terminology, she describes this struggle in terms of linguistic politeness: desires for approval, acceptance, admiration, etc. (iow connection) are "positive face wants" and desires for autonomy and independence are "negative face wants."

Don'cha love the language? As an introvert, I object to the label "negative face wants." Why don't we call them "positive autonomy wants" and the opposite "negative autonomy wants"? Or "autonomy wants" vs "co-dependence wants"?

OK, OK, I was just kidding. Sheesh, I know that we introverts constitute a minority. And that's probably why the phrase "positive face wants" is used, rather than "negative autonomy wants" or "co-dependency wants" or "enmeshment desires." Oops, sorry -- let me use positive words for "negative face" rather than trying to push down my extroverted friends. And some of my best friends are extroverts. Really.

So what if I have high solitude needs, but I also believe it's important to extend myself as Isaiah 58 says, following the exhortation in 1 John 3 to love with our hands and feet, not just in words? What do I say when someone wants to have lunch with me today and I don't?

People are already accustomed to my being somewhat of a loner, but in any case the workplace offers a higher respect for autonomy than a college dormitory does. So for me it's easy: "Sorry, I'm doing something else."

But if your friends are accustomed to grabbing you for lunch, and you're in a college dorm, then well... here's a possibility.
  1. Separate. Go somewhere people can't find you. Turn off the cell phone. This doesn't always work. When it happened to Jesus in Matthew 14, he had compassion and healed the sick. But he eventually sent them away and went off to pray alone.
  2. If you want to tell people ahead of time (this might be considerate) that "I'm fasting" or you're need time to be alone (this sounds very mysterious), that might be good... I was gonna say "put that on your answering machine" but people probably just send text messages, don't they? Is there a way to set up autoreply for text?
  3. If someone asks you to have lunch today, "Oooh, could tomorrow work for you?" If they ask what you're up to today, "Today I need to be alone" might work. Or "I'm fasting." Follow it up immediately with "But love to share the lunch hour with you tomorrow!" (Or whatever)
That's what comes to mind so far, anyway.

What if they push, want to know what's going on, etc etc etc? This brings up the question, "What, you have to be polite, but they get to be invasive and rude?" Which brings me to this thing we learned about at a church seminar last weekend:

TALQ style

The presenters were Les and Leslie (I'm not making this up) Parrott (pronounced like the bird), and one of the many important points they made is that people have different safety needs in conversations. Violating these tends to make them nervous. And you don't want to make your husband or wife nervous, because that tends to push life along a trajectory nobody wants. Here are the needs:
  • Time: you want your time to be safe, lest someone make it impossible for you to do stuff. This is one of mine. I may have hopes for the day -- sometimes the lovely Carol has asked me to build or fix or read or write something for her for example. But if she demands my time, to the point where I feel my hopes for the day are threatened, then that hurts. I get nervous. Take too much of my time and I may get snippy. If I can figure out how to get time to do that stuff on a different day (and I feel assured that I really will get that time), I can calm down.
  • Approval: you want your self-esteem to be safe; you want to be accepted and admired and approved of. Statistically, women overall tend to have a little higher emphasis on this one than men do. Just a little, though. This was explained in a way that led me to think it was correlated with the "F" of the Meyers-Briggs typology, but if so I guess it's a little correlated, not a lot.
  • Loyalty. From the description I think it might more properly be called "routine" or "tradition". The excellent book How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It points out that men tend to value this. Again this is not universal, but it's true for me. I really like it when I can find what I need in the kitchen or bathroom in the same place every time. I like going to the same grocery store; I know where stuff is. And so on.
  • Quality refers to the way things get decided. Do we want to make sure we follow the process to come to the best decision possible? Am I often heard saying, "H'm, not quite sure; need more data" -- or "Let's just do it already; if it's wrong, we'll find out soon and fix it then"?
If "T" is your highest "safety need" but your friends tend to emphasize the "A," then, well, this calls for wisdom. That's why I suggested an immediate followup: "But does lunch tomorrow work for you?"

Not sure how well that would work, but it's a start....

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