We Learn Nothing

🔸 It’s one of the maddening perversities of human psychology that we only notice we’re alive when we’re reminded we’re going to die,

🔸 You can’t feel crazily grateful to be alive your whole life any more than you can stay passionately in love forever—or grieve forever, for that matter.

Most people inevitably return to a certain emotional baseline after circumstantial highs and lows.

🔸 This is one of the things we rely on our friends for: to think better of us than we think of ourselves. It makes us feel better, but it also makes us be better; we try to be the person they believe we are.

🔸 It sounds like we’re all telling ourselves the same story over and over: How They Tried to Fuck Me Over, sometimes with the happy denouement: But I Showed Them!

🔸 It sometimes seems as if most of the news consists of outrage porn, selected specifically to pander to our impulse to judge and punish, to get us off on righteous indignation.

🔸 Most of us liberals are so worried that we might secretly be racists that we’re convinced this means we cannot really be racists.)

🔸 These are people who have been vigilantly on the lookout for something to be offended by, and found it. And they share the same flawed premise as most conspiracy theories: that the world is way more well planned and organized than it really is. They ascribe a malevolent intentionality to what is more likely simple ineptitude or neglect. Most people are just too self-absorbed, well-meaning, and lazy to bother orchestrating Machiavellian plans to slight or insult us. It’s more often a boring, complicated story of wrong assumptions, miscommunication, bad administration, and cover-ups—people trying, and mostly failing, to do the right thing, hurting each other not because that’s their intention but because it’s impossible to avoid.

🔸 One reason people go to mass rallies is to become stupider and surer of themselves than they are when they’re alone.

🔸 If your beliefs or convictions matter more to you than people—if they require you to act as though you were a worse person than you are—you may have lost perspective.

🔸 Time makes us all betray ourselves and get back to the busywork of living. Before a year had gone by, the same everyday anxieties and frustrations began creeping back.

🔸 Defriending isn’t just unrecognized by some social oversight; it’s protected by its own protocol, a code of silence. Demanding an explanation wouldn’t just be undignified; it would violate the whole tacit contract on which friendship is founded. The same thing that makes friendship so valuable is what makes it so tenuous: it is purely voluntary.

One reason we rush so quickly to the vulgar satisfactions of judgment, and love to revel in our righteous outrage, is that it spares us from the impotent pain of empathy, and the harder, messier work of understanding.

🔸 It’s always a sad revelation when a good friend acquires a girlfriend or a husband and disappears. You realize that, for them, your friendship was always only a matter of convenience, a fallback, and they simply don’t need you anymore.

🔸 People are drawn to each other because they’re giving each other something they both need, and they drift apart again when they’ve aren’t getting it or don’t need it anymore.

🔸 “I am becoming convinced that confronting [people] with ‘facts,’ although necessary to better understand our predicament, will be almost completely ineffectual when it comes to altering our course. Facts will become secondary and accessing raw emotions will be required for change.”

🔸 When somebody tells us something that would be disturbing or inconvenient for us to believe, we reflexively scrutinize that person for some excuse to discredit him.

🔸 We think of color blindness as a defect, but it enables those afflicted with it to see through camouflage.

🔸 But boredom is seldom as uncomplicated as a simple lack of interest; it’s more often a numbing cover for something deeper.

🔸 We’re all anxiously sizing up how everyone else’s decisions have worked out to reassure ourselves that our own are vindicated—that we are, in some sense, winning.

🔸 Young adulthood is an anomalous time in people’s lives; they’re as unlike themselves as they’re ever going to be, experimenting with substances and sex, ideology and religion, trying on different identities before their personalities set. Some people flirt briefly with being freethinking bohemians before moving back to the suburbs to become their parents.

You can’t feel crazily grateful to be alive your whole life any more than you can stay passionately in love forever—or grieve forever, for that matter.

🔸 The obscene wealth of free time at my command must’ve seemed unimaginably exotic to them, since their next thousand Saturdays are already booked. (The constant external demands of frantic busyness provide a kind of existential reassurance.)

🔸 “It’s not as if being married means you’re any less alone.” This sounded to me a little like a rich person telling a poor one that money doesn’t buy happiness, but I knew what she meant.

🔸 One of the hardest things to look at is the life we didn’t lead, the path not taken, potential left unfulfilled.

🔸 I’ve also had enough experience with the mentally ill and addicted to know that the people in most desperate need of help are often the most adamantly unhelpable. Not only will you fail to help them, but they will deplete every bit of help you have—your money, time, patience, and kindness—and then move on to the next pushover as unthinkingly as a swarm of locusts devouring a field.

🔸 Quite a lot of what passes itself off as a dialogue about our society consists of people trying to justify their own choices (pursuing a creative career instead of making money; breastfeeding over formula; not having children in an overpopulated world) as the only right or natural ones by denouncing others’ as selfish and wrong. So it’s easy to overlook that it all arises out of insecurity. Hidden beneath all this smug certainty is a desperate cluelessness, and the naked 3 A.M. terror of regret.

🔸 I understand now that a lot of what I felt on those trips was the ache that young adults, still unformed and adrift and very much aware of it, feel on looking at someone who’s far enough ahead of them on life’s timeline to seem more settled in the world and at peace with themselves, but still close enough to beckon them on and call back, See, it’s not so bad up here, keep going, you’ll be fine.

The Referendum is a phenomenon typical of (but not limited to) midlife, whereby people, increasingly aware of the finiteness of their time in the world, the limitations placed on them by their choices so far, and the narrowing options remaining to them, start judging their peers’ different choices with reactions ranging from envy to contempt.

🔸 It’s easy to demonstrate how progressive and open-minded and loyal you are when it costs you nothing.

🔸 Acting any differently toward women than I did around men—even just softening my voice when I talked to them—made me feel faintly calculating and fake.

🔸 The only people who seem to believe in the phenomenon of men and women just being good friends all seem to have good friends who are pining miserably after them, waiting for them to break up with their significant others. Not to say that friendship between men and women is impossible, but there are few of these friendships in which sex doesn’t at some point become an issue, if only to be acknowledged or dismissed.

🔸 Just showing up turns out to be one of the kindest, most selfless things you can do for someone. And it isn’t only selfless.

🔸 Forty is also an age when our life spans start to look alarmingly finite,

🔸 Studies have confirmed what’s pretty obvious—having children makes people even unhappier. But what people want, above all else, is not to be happy; they want to devote themselves to something, to give themselves away.

🔸 I wanted to give them hypocritical advice, forbid them to do anything I’d ever enjoyed, shield them from the kinds of people I’d spent decades cultivating friendships with.

🔸 We want to be hurt, astonished, reminded we’re alive.

Like it or not, you are a certain kind of person. Life is, in this respect, like that game in which you’re assigned an identity scrawled on a piece of paper that everyone else can see, but you can’t, and you have to try to deduce from other people’s hints and snickers who you are.

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