Remember... don't mention the penises growing out of uncle Norman's ears
At some time in our life, each of us has been the recipient of a preparatory chat regarding a person we are about to meet. A typical example often occurs within a relationship. One partner will tell another partner that the uncle they’re about to meet possesses some idiosyncrasies that make him somewhat difficult to bear.
“Just so you know, honey, uncle Mark can’t stop talking about his penis and it’s not uncommon for him to show it to people.”
Quite often, these will include little suggestions about what not to say or do in order to avoid something untoward.
“You can’t mention the war, coloured people or dubstep around my mother. It sets something off inside her and she just starts hurting people… this was how my last boyfriend died. Just talk about fruit. Fruit is safe… I think.”
Situations of this nature are pretty common. There are some kooky people out there and chances are some of them reside somewhere within your circle of everyday interaction. When given the preparatory chat, we usually just take it in its stride and act in accordance to the warning. What many of us probably don’t consider however is that we may be the subject of someone else’s preparatory chat. We may possess some quirk deemed odd enough that it warrants warning.
This year, I became aware that I inspire preparatory chats. My younger brother recently became the recipient of a new girlfriend. I’m not sure how it happened, but I think it involved filling out some forms and sending them to the appropriate government body. Their relationship was deemed sufficiently successful and, as a result, the young lady was introduced to the family. It’s always intimidating to endure an introduction to your partner’s family. The level of unspoken judgment is high and for many, that initial introduction can wreak unpleasant consequences regarding familial relations.
Anyway… It was during a birthday celebration for a family member earlier this year that my brother decided to bite the bullet and introduce his girl to us. We weren’t given much in the way of preparation. I guess it’s usually the outnumbered that require the preparation in such situations. I had no preconceptions about my brother’s new squeeze because I wasn’t given any. His girlfriend on the other hand, had us thoroughly preconceived.
It turns out I’m the weird one…
During the celebratory BBQ lunch that my sister and her husband had lovingly prepared, we were seated at the table, each of us silently judging my brother’s new girlfriend. My brother’s new girlfriend was doing her best to appear outwardly comfortable. During a superficial conversation I made a throwaway remark (about what, I honestly can’t recall). As I had expected from my family, they responded with a mild chuckle. This would normally be the end of it. But my brother’s new girlfriend hadn’t chuckled… not even politely. Like the rest of us, she hadn’t been programmed to respond appropriately to my banter. My brother, acutely aware of his partner’s discomfort, flashed her a sympathetic look. I studied this very closely, determined to base my opinion of my brother’s girlfriend based solely upon her reaction to this moment. Then, loud enough so we could all hear, but quiet enough to maintain the façade of a private conversation, my brother said to his girlfriend:
“See… I told you he was a bit weird.”
My sister quickly responded with the following:
“Matthew’s just Matthew. He says what he says.” She looked at my brother’s girlfriend and said to her, “you’ll get used to it.”
The slightest hint of polite smile curled her lips and that was that. Lunch continued with the same level of superficial conversation we had enjoyed prior to the incident… with one minor difference. I no longer participated. I didn’t know what to say. I could either live up to my brother’s warning regarding my oddity, or I could prove him wrong by being as normal as any single person has ever been. Both options struck me as disingenuous. Were I to knowingly take on the roll of weird older brother (whether that’s what I am or not), wouldn’t I be patronizing my brother and his girlfriend? If I became ‘normal’, would that make my brother look like a liar? Neither option seemed satisfying, so I remained quiet.
I don’t know if I’m weird. I’m not sure what the word really implies about one’s personality. Surely such a perception lies solely in the eye of the beholder? One thing I do know, my brother (probably my whole family) have decided that I possess personality traits that go against whatever it means to be ‘normal’. Forgetting for one moment that I don’t believe normalcy exists when talking about the human condition, aspects of my personality apparently deviate from what one considers typical. It’s true that I value absurdity and inject this value system into my everyday conduct, but is that enough for someone to require a warning before dealing with me? Maybe there’s something I don’t know about myself that everyone around me can see clear as day. Perhaps it is this sense of the personal unknown that disquiets me and forces me into loops of introspection.
One thing I do know is my brother broke a cardinal rule of the preparatory chat… under no circumstances do you let the subject of the chat know that any warning has been given. Now I wonder what he said to his girlfriend. Furthermore, if my brother felt such an action was necessary, then perhaps (most likely) others have received warnings about me to. I know I’ve certainly warned friends and family about people I am required to introduce them to. In the moment, it’s as though you’re doing both parties a favour, but are you really? Aren’t we ultimately just painting portraits of people without allowing the subjects see how they’ve been portrayed?
All preconception is based upon the observation of someone. It’s just a shame that we allow these preconceptions to shape our opinion of a person. Believe me… you possess some trait that, at some point in time, has been relayed in a warning given to someone. Next time you give (or take heed of) a warning, keep that in mind. Who we are is the sum of what those around us have perceived us to be. There’s a different version of ourselves to match each person we know.
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- Matthew Revert
Filed under: Everything Else is Anecdote | Tagged: family, girlfriend, preconception, warnings, Weird | Leave a Comment »