1: Operating Manual

It sometimes feels like the average person is given a metaphorical operator’s manual at some point in their early socialization. Maybe not a completed manual, but a pretty solid start on one. This manual details the basics of both verbal and non-verbal communication. Where there are gaps, the user naturally picks things up from those around them and the lessons appear in their manual for later reference. I like to think that most of those people are given a Windows operating system manual. It sometimes feels like-not only was I given a Mac manual-it was given to me with whole pages torn out or missing, lines drawn through or fuzzed out, sections written in a different language….

The majority of people seem to be able to refer directly to their manual or learn quickly from others what to add to theirs, pages being organically added to their operating guide with relative ease. It feels like I’ve had to cobble together the missing pages based on social research, observation, and sheer trial and error.

I’ve taped in handwritten pages, crossed out, and rewritten…only to rip out pages and start all over again. I’ve made wild leaps to “normal” behaviors based on what I read in novels or saw on TV or watched in anime. My manual looks like the world’s most scatterbrained, sleep-deprived college freshman used it for note-taking with memos scrawled in the margin, half-erased, and stained with no small amount of tears staining the text.

Over time, my operating manual may look as thick as someone who naturally came built in with an easily created, neat one. But in actuality, my operating manual is a book made through struggle and not-a-little suffering.

While most social users seem to be able to learn from their manual and then put it aside (referring to it only in rare cases such as “What do I say when I need a break from my partner?”), I almost never put mine down. I’m constantly referring to it (for the most part subconsciously), recording results, and grumbling over the inconsistencies and the infuriating lack of any 100% certain, rational pattern in people’s behavior.

No wonder social interaction leaves me so drained. It’s a very rare person indeed that makes me forget about all (ok, MOST) of what I’ve cobbled together into my manual, set it aside, and just BE with them. So rare that I can count on one hand the number of people I can completely stop analyzing (again, mostly) and just interact in whatever way comes to my mind.

It’s exhausting.
[image description: “Purple Shamrock” plants (Purple, 3-leaved leaves) with two small, pale pink flowers peeking up from between the leaves.]

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