I talk to you the way I do - so familiarly - because I don’t really have friends. The monstrous kind of being I am makes friends slowly and painfully, and I’m extremely clumsy, so I have a tendency to squash and stomp small, fragile things. But I’m also like one of those giant mountain dogs that thinks they’re still a puppy - I am terribly afraid of big stompy things like myself, and would like to climb in your lap and be soothed about it, and I just can’t get it through my head that I’m ten times your size. I seem to be “too much” for most people just standing around, before I even open my mouth.
I’ve never gotten my filter calibrated quite right. When I’m feeling out of place, I’m non-verbal, “that quiet guy,” the person nobody knows enough about to ever have a problem with, just a pair of hands to help. That’s okay, staying quiet doesn’t bother me. I like knowing what to do and getting it done. I wish every job was like that; I find it soothing and fulfilling to know my purpose in a given situation and execute it properly without a lot of social or emotional labor getting in the way.
On the other end of the spectrum, when I’m fully comfortable with you, I have… god, just no boundaries. We gotta work up new boundaries custom for every new person, and the floodgates default to open. I grew up in Arizona, where you can’t fry an egg on the pavement because your sneakers are melting, and so when I was in my 20s and living with a loose polyamorous conglomeration of young geeks, I rarely wore clothing around the house. In my prime I could go from fully equipped for the outside world to fully nude in under seven seconds, and did each and every day upon arriving home from work.
One afternoon after I’d gotten back, a dear friend dropped in for a visit. This was a friend I’d also spent some years cohabitating with - someone accustomed to tolerating a lot - and so I answered the door in my birthday suit and ushered them in. The friend had brought a friend, a new boyfriend about whom I’d been hearing for weeks.
After about… forty minutes of sitting cross-legged on the couch with my goolies out, enjoying a beverage and the company of good friends, it occurred to me that despite feeling immediately comfortable with this young man, despite having heard enough about him over the past months to feel as if I was dating him myself… I had not, actually, before this moment, met this man in person. We played games together, that’s how these kids met, but we had not up until that day been in the same physical space at the same time. This was his first introduction to me.
But what can you do, right? We’ve been talking about World of Warcraft for half an hour while I sit here like I just got hacked, empty-handed and bare-assed for no legitimate reason. He hasn’t fled or begged his boyfriend to shield his tender eyes, so I guess it’s cool, this is how we relate now - clothes-person to non-clothes-person.
We did end up living together a few months later, and he told me that he was flattered, at the time, that I felt so immediately comfortable with him. He laughed when I said I’d simply forgotten that he wasn’t already acquainted with me in all my glory, but that’s the thing - I do that with everybody. I don’t know where the line is, I have some boundaries that are miles thick and made of concrete, some that are made of Saltine crackers glued together with Cheez-Whiz, and I’ve been told at some point in my life that every single one of them is in the wrong place. Besides that, I’m not great with names, my imagination is vivid and my memory is bad, so I can rarely be 100% sure what I’ve said or done with any given person.
So when I’m thrown into a social situation and I don’t know how to act, can’t remember what my position is here, don’t know what kind of relationship we have or if I’m even supposed to be here… my approach is, “Okay, I’m gonna go ahead and treat every person like we’re best friends, and if that results in behavior that anyone has a problem with, I’ll trust them to be an adult and let me know about it.”
I respond to all people who aren’t immediately hostile with the same level of abstract fondness and fellowship, assuming them to be essentially benign and having the same basic needs and beliefs that I do. That’s not about morals or whatever, it’s more of an animal thing - I assume generally that all people want to be loved and respected, to have their needs met, to have meaningful work to do, to get through the day without too much friction or stress, to avoid undue pain and inconvenience. At the end of the day, we all just want to go home and take our pants off, okay? We’re brothers in that. We can agree on rules for a functioning society on that fundamental basis.