One thing people say about getting older is the increased lack of fucks given. I not only care less about what others think, but am mildly amused when I get the chance to step on people’s toes in subtle, insignificant ways. (Not when real feelings, relationships, or work is involved though—I’ve been exhausted by a work crushee and don’t know how to manage our awkward dynamic, which also carries its professional silver linings.)
How liberating it is, to walk around without social anxiety. I’m sure others have perfected their social graces and witty comebacks at much earlier ages, but for most of my life, I’ve generally been a high-strung type—sometimes when I run around the lake or walk next to the subway tracks, my body tenses up uncontrollably at the thought that someone is going to flip their lid and push me in. I’ve also had depressing phases in which smiling at a barista or making eye contact with a stranger takes more energy than I can muster.
But how liberating it is, to get out of my own head. To do something attention-seeking. To stop worrying about pleasing people, staying out of the way, and remaining diplomatic all the live-long day. It is helping me build some much-needed character.
Last week a girlfriend and I met up after work for one of our rare catch-ups. As we were taking our first sips and getting past the small talk, a man on his laptop (at a downtown bar at 6pm) announced that we could sit at his table. At least, that’s what I think he said amidst the noise and my excitement. When I ignored him, he threw his hands up in distress and rescinded his offer.
Moral: Your “chivalry” is negated when you become an asshole the second people aren’t jumping to attention and accepting your offer.
A few days after that, in line at the café near Berkeley, an unkempt man in his 70s holding a Chinese language book of similar age asked me if I spoke Chinese, and then proceeded to practice his Mandarin on me, asking me to define select words, introducing his life story…I couldn’t only think one thing—Asian fetishist who preys on exchange students around college campuses, offering “language exchange” lessons. I’m not proud of making kneejerk judgements–refusing to respond in Chinese, keeping eyes glued to my phone, answering in monosyllables–but I left my fucks in my other jacket. He still hovered, waiting for something like an apology. When he didn’t get one, I guess he felt the need to explain himself and why he was learning. People will do the funniest things when you assess them in silence.
Moral: I only talk in Chinese to people I am close to in a specific way—this doesn’t even include many of my friends. Unless I’m being paid, you’re not a part of that select circle. Years of being asked by kids in Ohio to “say something” so they could mimic it back with 0% accuracy has tapped out my tolerance.
After I left the cafe, I ran into friends outside my yoga studio, where people were perched outside eating and studying. A man in a huge truck stopped at a stoplight in front of us, looked over, and started laughing and yelling in what sounded like a bad impression of Chinese. “I can’t understand you! Move on!” I yelled back. Next, I hear someone yelling behind me, and I turn to see it’s his friend, yelling back in an unidentifiable, exotic language.
Moral: It’s good to be wrong sometimes.
P.S. Happy Chinese New Year!