Monday, December 21, 2015

Living Social - is a "Social Life" all it is cracked up to be?

Some folks sacrifice their own lives to have a social life - is it worth it?

Friendship is a funny thing.   It seems we can't live without friends, and some folks need friends more than others.   One of the worst tortures designed by man is solitary confinement.   It is not some physical deprivation that drives people insane in solitary cells, but the lack of human contact that many think is essential to our well-being.

In those Supermax cells where they put terrorists and serial killers away for life, the same is true.  It isn't a bad cell, by world standards.  You get three meals a day, exercise in the prison yard, and even books to read.  The problem is, you do this all alone, for years on end.   You don't see another prisoner or even the guard bringing your food (which is fed through a slot).   Your human contact is minimized - for security reasons, of course - but the net effect is to drive people slowly insane.   Not that I feel sorry for them - after all, they were the ones attacking society, not vice-versa.

Recently, I've met some folks who are lonely.  Maybe they lost a spouse or just moved to a new place and are having trouble meeting people.   The net result is the same, they want to "meet people and make friends" - a plea you see all the time on on-line sites.   The need to be social is strong among many people, perhaps too strong.

I noted in an earlier posting about the fellow who worked three jobs to pay off his mortgage that he was criticized online for, among other things, not having a social life.   It was posited - as if it were self-evident - that having a "social life" was more important than being financially secure.  It struck me as odd.

But then I thought about it and I realized a number of things.   Starting in about 7th grade, kids seem to find that their social lives are more important to them than schoolwork or family even.   Kids will do all sorts of self-destructive things, in order to be accepted by their peers.   Parents call it "peer pressure" but it really is social pressure.

Girls will pretend to be bad at math, so that boys will like them.   Kids will skip school and smoke cigarettes behind the barn (or pot or both) to appear "cool" to the other kids.   Kids start fights, bully, intimidate, vandalize, go goth or emo or gangsta whatever the social trend is at the moment, in order to be accepted by one peer group or another.

Of course, if you take the long view, you realize that these peer groups will exist for no more than four years.  And many folks re-invent themselves in college - appeasing a new peer group for another four years - and then re-invent themselves again when they graduate.

In some respects, being a social outcast - looking at society from the outside in - can be a priceless advantage.   For me, school was all about studying and getting good grades - at least at first.  I never really understood the mentality behind most of my fellow students, who spent more time passing notes and giggling and talking about each other than anything else.

Some psychologists call this "social grooming" and it is interesting that when I went from our elementary school (which was small enough that you knew everyone in your class) to high school (where there were hundreds of students) the incidence of social grooming increased.  Throw in the onset of puberty, and you have a perfect storm.

Sadly, many young kids look at high school as some sort of new norm, and not just the four-year transitional period in their lives which will soon be forgotten.   They put socialization and popularity at the top of their priorities, not realizing that being Prom King or whatever, is not something you'll put on your resume later on in life (you could, I suppose, just to amuse the HR person before he tosses it in the trash).

As adults, some folks never move beyond this high school mentality.   Kids in college (who are kids nowadays, no longer earning the right to be called "young adults") continue the four years of high school, albeit with less supervision. Protesting the macaroni and cheese as being "culturally inauthentic" or whatever is now more important than studying for finals.  Hey, if the professor gives you a bad grade, you just protest and have him fired, right?

And sadly, this is overflowing to the "workplace" today.   We no long work in America anymore, we go to a "workplace" which according to our television cues is not a place you do actual work but a place to socialize and of course, act outraged when your "rights" are trampled upon.

And after work, of course, you have to "go out" with friends, particularly on the weekends.  Why stay home and do laundry and read a book when you can go to a noisy crowded bar, spend all your weekly income on overpriced and watered-down drinks, end up getting date-raped and a lovely STD?   It's a complete package of misery is what it is.

And yet many people are obsessed with having a "social life" - going out with the same people again and again, and then gossiping about whoever isn't present.   And it goes on forever, it seems.   Even here on old people island, the "social" thing is strong.   If you don't go to Parcheesi club every Thursday, you are deemed a "hermit".

There is, however, too much of a good thing.   While it is good to see friends once in a while, overdoing it on the social scene can result in a depletion of your emotional energy and your estate.   Constant partying and dining out is going to wear on you mentally, physically, and monetarily.

And if you place yourself in the position of desperately needing to be accepted by other people, you've given up what little power you have in your life.   Because like the "mean girls" in high school, once they figure out you are desperate to be accepted, they will figuratively and literally beat you up - mentally and even physically.

People do a lot of bad things - and a lot of self-destructive things - in order to be "accepted" by what they perceive as their peer group.   One of the pivotal moments in my life occurred at age 25 when I realized that my "peeps" were a bunch of drug-addled losers.   And while I liked them, I realized that I had to escape that circling-the-drain lifestyle and move on with life.

Years later, I was on a discussion group that talked about changing your life and I mentioned that getting away from drugs - and my drug friends - was an essential step in turning my life around.   The response was rather sad and predictable.  One fellow posted, "Yo, so you ditched your friends!" as if somehow having "friends" was more important than my own happiness, or that I owed them something.

But I realized that there are a lot of sad and pathetic people out there who think that their perceived social standing and social life is the most important thing to them.   And often these people end up in a variety of troubles.   For example, they put their friendships and social life ahead of their marriage and family life (after all, the husband is almost a stranger, right?  And what your girlfriends think is far more important!).

I guess like everything else, moderation is the key.  If you put "social life" at the top of your list of priorities, I think you are headed for a world of woe.  Because being popular and socializing is fun and all, but it certainly isn't a very deep or important part of life.