I was talking to a friend at lunch today and I said, “Sorry I’m being such a bummer today.” This was as I was venting some pent up frustration from yesterday and today. She said, “You don’t have to apologize; that’s what friends are for.” And then she mentioned a mutual friend who will sometimes apologize if he’s not being interesting enough on a particular day. These two comments are all it took for us to start to think about what it means when we feel like we have to fulfill a role for our friends and acquaintances and what it means for our psyches when we can’t or don’t fulfill that role.
I imagine that some of our role of what we’re expected to be is related to our gender, race, sexual orientation, and age, but probably other parts of it are visible early on. Seamus wants to be seen as cooperative and funny–and we often see him as cooperative. If he’s being whiny, about 85% of the time you can just tell him that he should try to be Pig Will (this ridiculous character that does what his parents want him to do) and he snaps right out of it. If he makes you laugh once, he keeps doing the same thing hoping you’ll laugh again and again. Clearly, he’s more successful at being cooperative. And somehow, we’ve come to expect that so it gets continually reinforced.
We’re still figuring Gilbert out, but he certainly thinks he’s funny and he wants you to know that too. Also, he’s getting a flair for the dramatic. Yesterday, he fell and hurt himself and was crying, so I was snuggling him. He stopped wailing abruptly, waddled down the hallway, got his blanket and pillow, came back, crawled up into my lap, settled himself down comfortably and started wailing again. I laughed and accused him of being a little faker, and he popped up and was fine with being called out for his subterfuge.
Because people like my laugh, I feel obligated to do it a lot. Not that it’s hard. I find most of my friends hilariously funny. And strangers on the street are pretty funny too, but I try to only laugh appropriately. If I’m not feeling up to it, then I feel the need to avoid people or apologize. Once, I was meeting some friends for lunch and one of them offered to pick me up, and I said, “No I’m in such a bad mood I need to ride my bike to blow off steam before I talk to you all.” Oh–blog epiphany!–the reason I was cranky at lunch today has got to be the fact that the pool was closed on Friday, and I didn’t get my swim in! And now I can rest knowing that!