|flickr user DonkeyHotey|
Because I thought it was normal, of course.
The "boiling frog" experiment goes like this: throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, and of course it'll panic and immediately jump out. Put a frog in a pot of cold water and slowly raise the temperature, and the frog will boil to death while never noticing anything's wrong. (This isn't actually true, by the way. Frogs in real life will jump out when the water gets hot, no matter how slow you go, because frogs are sensible like that. But it makes a great metaphor.)
And the "boiling family" experiment goes like this: visit a family where every mundane conversation is an emotionally charged battle of wills and passive-aggressive posturing is the only way to express emotions, and you'll think "these people are fucked up!" Grow up in a family like that, and you'll think "I'm fucked up!"
For a long time, I thought I would never have any social skills. I just wasn't good at people. Couldn't make friends, couldn't figure out when or how to talk, kept creeping out or annoying people without understanding why. Then this weekend I had a little mini-revelation: I was bad at social skills because I never learned any at home. (I am naturally awkward, but nowhere near as much as I thought I was.) I had to learn things like "how to make small talk that isn't grossly inappropriate references to suicide" and "how to say what you want instead of giving bizarre hints and then screaming when people don't read your mind" starting at about age eighteen. No wonder I was in my twenties before I could have such a thing as a casual conversation.
When you're immersed in an environment, especially when you're immersed in it from childhood, it takes a lot of time and distance to realize it was an environment, and not "just life."
It sounds like a sad or angry discovery, but it's kind of a wonderful one, because when you're in the frog-boiler you honestly believe that you're never going to be any happier. That every relationship you'll have as an adult will be like the ones you grew up with. That every time, in your entire life, that you knock over a glass of water, you will be screamed at and sometimes slapped for it, and this is right and normal and the only way to avoid it is to never be clumsy ever.
Finding out that this isn't so, that in the real world most people just go "oh darn, I'll get a towel," is one of the giant ongoing joys in my life. And reorienting myself so that I expect people to go "oh darn, I'll get a towel" is one of the giant challenges in my life.
It's work, and work I definitely have not finished, to shake the habits and ways of coping I learned growing up. (I still have way too much of the "conflict means violence so hide or cower at the first hint of conflict" stuck in my head, and a little bit of "people only tell you what they want via secret signals so constantly evaluate everything as a signal.") It's also a tremendous source of power and confidence when I get it right.
...Yeah, I can't really connect this post to sex. I mean, it's got lots to do with sex, considering how much the shift from "people communicate by incomprehensible hints followed by hissyfits" to "people communicate with goddamn words" has improved my sex life. But I don't think I can work "vagina" into this one.
My next post will be all about vagina.