Midlife Mayhem – Can’t You Just Tell Everyone I’m Dead

Words of desperation from a despairing man, on the brink of a cosy Sunday lunch with close friends. ‘A Dead Man Walking’ sprung to mind as I laughed nervously at him, but the implications were more serious – he is an introvert in crisis. Telling everyone he was dead, however, was never an option. But should something happen to me, I do worry that no one will know the truth about the Howard Hughes-esque recluse, who lives in the house, at the end of our street.

It’s not a question of him not liking people, or that he is fashionably eccentric, just cripplingly shy. So even though Sunday’s guest list included some of his dearest friends, the thought of being dropped into potentially unknown territory, because there may have been infiltrators (i.e.people he didn’t know), filled him with social anxiety.

His preparation involved relentlessly firing the names on the guest list at me, a ‘clearance’ system of sorts, a practise usually the domain of law enforcement agencies. At work he has no choice, but on home ground he exercises his free will to anonymity, within the frustrating constraints (for him) of being married to a serial social organiser.

So when he uttered those seemingly glib words to ‘tell everyone I’m dead’, I knew that the avoidance disorder was taking control. You see, he had been thwarted in a misguided escape plan just before we left, when he thought I was offering him a ‘get out of jail free’ card by feeling unwell, (when in fact, cancelling became an option because my inflamed throat was threatening to compromise my drinking prowess). I watched the build-up of pressure dissipate from his face with that tiny nugget of hope, and I felt something akin to pity for him. Then it dawned on me that he had assumed that he could stay with me. I had to burst his bubble – the bubble about no longer being a child!

Apparently, the thought of a boozy lunch with my mates can render him immobile with fear if the stars aren’t aligned, and only a thorough risk assessment can manage his anxiety. I managed to ignore his pathetic last-ditched suggestion of ‘cuddling on the sofa  with a romantic DVD’ and began loading the car, as the last flick we’d watched together was ‘Four Weddings’, back in the nineties. As soul mates, I am as aware of his misanthropist tactics as he is of my vulnerabilities. I am so used to his spin, that surrendering to his bargaining pleas would be the equivalent of allowing the dog to eat chocolate; I have to be cruel to be kind, before his anxiety becomes toxic.

Howard Hughes, former aviator, engineer, indus...
Howard Hughes, former aviator, engineer, industrialist, film producer and director (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How can a successful, professional man be so constrained by shyness? And how do I cope with these early onset hermit symptoms, which threaten to destroy the social bonds I have so carefully cultivated, in spite of his resistance? Our social life has developed into a game of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ with rules, terms and conditions and maddening negotiations. Social arrangements are permitted only once a weekend, on a strictly rotating basis and only with people who ‘understand’ him. New friends need the persistence of a mosquito.

They say that opposites attract, but how can I organise the party if no  guests are permitted? I dream of the community of a retirement village, while he dreams of acreage, high fencing and separate bedrooms.

My analogy of friendships, like cars that need servicing, falls on deaf ears, while every week he conspires against me, diminishing face-to-face social time with all but our direct line. And as the diary fills, so too does his trepidation, and he says it’s time to move suburb again.

Hermit Street – EC1 Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com (EZTD)

8 thoughts on “Midlife Mayhem – Can’t You Just Tell Everyone I’m Dead

  1. My old man read this and said, ‘i didn’t realise we were so alike – I dream of acreage and high fences’. May be you and I having a ball in the retriement village!


  2. Excellent post. I used to be checking constantly this weblog and I am impressed! Extremely helpful information specifically the remaining part 🙂 I handle such information much. I used to be looking for this certain info for a long time. Thanks and good luck.


  3. Just found this one (as I am new to your blog please have mercy)…and boy, does it resonate. I identify closely with your man on this subject.

    Shyness is horrible. I wonder sometimes if it isn’t the most prevalent undiagnosed (or recognized) disability. For those who don’t experience it, it seems to be difficult to understand, while for me – who counts himself among the shy – I have an insight into the gregarious world because I can play that role, stressful though it is.

    For anyone who doesn’t get it; shy for me (as just one example) means the following illustrations are real:

    *Meeting people is scary – what do they think when they meet me? Am I being judged? Do I meet their expectations? Am I good enough?
    * I hate the telephone – chances are I might answer it and be speaking with someone for the first time, which is a major challenge.
    * The doorbell rings – I’ve lost count of the number of times when, alone in the house, I have not answered the door, just to avoid a stressful first encounter.
    *Desperately shy with girls as a young man, to the point where by the age of 18 I’d not only never had a girlfriend but had indeed, in line with the old cliché; never been kissed.

    When presented with no options (at work, for example), I can do it, but at a cost to myself. Being professional and efficient is something I do, not somebody I am. The ‘shy thing’ extends into many facets of life; even blogging reasonably anonymously feels like the top of my tin hat is peeping over the top of the trench.

    Sure, I have the ‘for god’s sake, get over it’ meme running through my head at times, but I’ve been doing this for almost forty years now, and I’m really rather good at it – it’s not second nature, it’s IN my nature. Perversely, however, I have in the past actually enjoyed getting on stage and singing (although whether the audience enjoyed it is open to debate), and I shudder to admit; the odd bit (as in REALLY odd) of karaoke – although alcoholic foritude was involved upon each occasion. As a young kid I was outgoing and the class comedian – I wish I knew what happened…

    I’m on your man’s side here ( I shall call him Herman), and if we could ever summon up the courage to meet one another, I’d awkwardly shake Herman’s hand (in silence of course) buy him a drink (without asking him what he wanted), mumble something incoherent and, avoiding eye contact at all costs, quickly shuffle to the opposite end of the bar.


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