Friday, September 21, 2012

Anxious and dating

Painfully awkward at dating. Fuck it, I've got whiskey.
I've never even seen Mad Men. But I like whiskey.
First dates are horrible. Two people getting to know each other, sussing out whether they want to see the other person again, while often being too nervous too reveal particularly much of their personality.

It's worse when you're predisposed to anxious thinking. Even having learnt to deal with it pretty well now, there are certain situations that deem themselves important enough to grant it power.

The doubts, the questions, the 'what ifs' - all return a little, then a lot if you let them. The pressures outweigh the prospects. The ruminations outweigh the romance.

In five years of singledom I've covered many dating scenarios - the online dating date, the friend of a friend date, the work colleague date. I've courted, been courted, rejected, been rejected. Had a couple of one-night-stands, even more one-night-spoons, even a short, intense quasi-relationship.

I don't date a lot. I don't feel the need and, well, I'm no good at it.

There are compounding factors to the whole anxiety thing. It took me a long time to be understand females. I grew up with two brothers and no sisters, went to an all-boys high school, had no real female friends through my teens (or fake ones for that matter). I had not the slightest idea of how to talk to girls. All I knew was to avoid the failsafe schoolyard conversation topics of farts, footy and gay-jokes.

I did grow up with the fantastic notion that a girl would waltz into my life, see through my crippling shyness, and make me happy, distracting me totally and perpetually from all those stupid thoughts and constant 'worrying' (later to be diagnosed as OCD and anxiety disorder!)

Somehow I found myself (sadly that's not much of an overstatement) in a relationship when I was 18 that lasted six years, and I came out the other side at 24 with a much better understanding of women, a growing number of female friends - actually many of my closest - but still no real dating experience.

Five years on, things are quite different. I'm far more confident, capable and calm. I am surrounded by women at work and in social life, they probably more than half of my closest friends and confidantes.

Still. I don't enjoy dating. It's bad enough with someone you've gotten to know, decided you like, clumsily courted, built up the courage to ask out. Meeting someone from the online dating world is a whole other experience, and one I'm going through at the moment.

I find much more intense meeting a person with the immediate pressure of prospective relations.. You might call it 'intimi-dating'. Perhaps not. But I don't enjoy it.

I hate small talk. I hate talking about work. I play it safe, don't bang on about issues I'm passionate about that they might have no interest in. I actually had multiple dates with a girl who said she would never talk politics. Oh the thought of it!

I get ahead of myself, my mind fast forwards, I project thoughts, doubts and feelings. She's talking to me and my mind is trying to run three simultaneous processes: trying to think of something to say when silence falls; trying to assess our compatibility; and finally - given least importance in my tense, distorted mind - listening to what she's actually saying.

I'm naturally cautious. I don't want to throw uncertainty to the wind and find myself suddenly in a relationship I never really wanted. Past mistakes haunt me.

If I'm somewhat interested, then there's a new collection of doubts. Should I kiss her? When? How to do it without awkwardness (impossible!)? What if that leads her on? What if I don't and she thinks I have no interest? What if I do and it doesn't clear my head of all these goddamned thoughts?!!?What next? And when? Will this lead to inevitable hurt? I remember when I was 12 my parents got me a dog after years of me pestering - when we got her I was consumed with the painful thought of becoming attached to this creature that would die and hurt me someday. If the present didn't provide it, I could find sufficient anxiety in the future.

I warm to people slowly, and it's an amazing, crazy few who see through my (now much thinner) veneer of anxiety-riddled bullshit to the comfortable, awesome person I really am. So my initial assumption is the date's gone badly and she won't want to see me again. Mostly I've been right - hooray! What's wrong with all these girls that they can't see that I'm a catch, I'll wonder. A few times I've been wrong. Then I get suspicious. What's wrong with her if she thinks I'm worthy of more time after a pathetic, fumbling performance where I let her buy my hot chocolate?! Do I want to date someone who would choose to spend more time with me, especially having only met the socially inept me??

The level of interest she shows will influence the doubts and questions prodding my mind. I absolutely do not endorse the 'Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen' advice, but there is a little anxious logic (which may be an oxymoron) behind it.

Where she's showing clear interest and the ball's been pretty much in my court to make the move, often all my thoughts are drawn to reasons not to pursue it - my anxiety monster reminds me of things I may not find attractive or elements missing that I adored in others.

What would my friends think of her? What would I have thought of her if I'd just spotted her in a bar or on the street without this whole context messing with my mind? What of my cherished, now well-established independence!? I don't want to be tethered to any single person. I want to continue to draw inspiration, love and life from a range of people in my life.

But then there's also been those I fancied who were far less forward with their interest, and all I could think of were the things I loved about her! Over-analysing the number and content of messages, trying to figure out her real feelings. And then she'd give me a little rope and I'd start wondering whether I was just overplaying my feelings and looking for a relationship for the sake of a relationship because I think it would be a good distraction from my anxiety, despite the fact this whole line of thinking is driven by anxiety.

Anyway, the solution is quite simple. Just take things as they come. Live in the moment. Enjoy the company of a nice person. Be honest with them, and yourself, and not worrying about what you may or may not feel. No expectations, no disappointments.

But that doesn't mean you can't dream a little. Indeed, if you find yourself doing so, it's a  good sign.

My experiences have taught me to never let my own doubts and insecurity affect my relationships, or potential relationships, with others. Let go of what you can't control, cherish what you have and be excited by what could be without a care for what will not.

I'm still learning to put that into practice though. I still get anxious feet.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Indigenous Exceptionalism - MWF review

Article written for Right Now, and appears on the website with other human rights reviews here.

Is ‘race’ is an inherently negative word and is it time we stopped using it?

‘Racism’ has been a useful term for defining and addressing undesirable attitudes and conduct, but race – a term devised by European explorers – is often a simplistic, generalised method of identification that relies on physical appearance, rather than nationality, culture, ancestry or any meaningful feature of identity. We are, after all, members of a single human race, comprised of millions of ethnicities.

Professor Marcia Langton, Chair of Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne, was part of an expert panel set up by the federal government to look into recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Australian Constitution. In a Melbourne Writers Festival address, titled Indigenous Exceptionalism, she discussed race and the need to remove reference to it in the Constitution.

Until 1967, the Constitution allowed the parliament to legislate in the interests of “the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.

Following the referendum of 1967 the words “other than the aboriginal race in any State” were removed.

However, the lingering reference to ‘race’ remains problematic, and the panel’s recommendations, handed down in January this year, included removing it, as well as acknowledging Indigenous Australians as the first peoples of Australia and the aspiration for cultural maintenance, including languages.

Professor Langton called recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution “a large, fraught topic full of legal, as well as moral, challenges.”

She called race an out-dated, crude concept – historically used to justify colonialism by portraying non-white peoples as inferior – and one that is “such a discredited biological and social construct that its citation in a democratic constitution is undesirable.”

“Defining Aboriginal people as a race, as the Constitution does,” she said “sets up the conditions for Indigenous people to be treated, not just as different, but exceptional and, moreover, inherently incapable of joining the Australian polity and society.”

“In the slowly building campaign for constitutional recognition of Indigenous people, it is vital that we broaden the understanding that the constitutional tradition of treating Aborigines as a race must be replaced with the idea of first peoples,” Professor Langton said.

The problem of race is evident in comments such as those by Andrew Bolt, who was found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) in 2011, for implying that some fair-skinned Aboriginals were not true Aboriginals. Such perceptions are based on appearance rather than lineage and ties to place and culture.

Professor Langton actually shares Bolt’s cynicism towards some claims to Aboriginality by people seeking access to special treatment. The difference is, however, that her criticism is not based on skin tone but abuses of special treatment by those who cannot be described as disadvantaged, and those who claim Aboriginality on paper to claim benefit, but not in public.

Where temporary special assistance is required, she argued, the test for assistance must be economic disadvantage not Aboriginal ancestry. Aboriginality does not automatically equate to economic disadvantage and Professor Langton believes the entitlement mentality that has developed is poisoning Aboriginal society just as much as it is poisoning Australian attitudes towards Indigenous people.

The challenge ahead is addressing “the poorly understood friction between bringing Indigenous Australians firmly into the national polity and, on the other hand, maintaining their exceptional status as inextricably different.”

Despite her strong stance, Professor Langton believes a referendum should not be rushed, citing Australia’s record of rejecting constitutional change and the potentially harmful outcomes a negative result would have. Not only does she fear defeat would prevent the change being made in her lifetime, but she believes it would also lead to disappointment and bitterness among the Indigenous community, and Australia being seen internationally as racist.

Whether you agree with her views or not, Professor Langton is a formidable speaker and one of those wonderfully fascinating and considered people who seem impossible to pin down on the traditional political spectrum, making it all the more difficult to dismiss her argument’s challenge to one’s own perceptions. On such an important issue, even if a symbolic one, it is important for us all to keep an open mind and consider our own perceptions.