Introverts And Ambivalent Relationships

I couldn’t believe when I read this on the Art of Manliness blog, a self help for anyone really, but it’s good stuff on how to be a good man.

I saw my life flashing before my eyes as I’ve been winnowing relationships somewhat based on this formula, just on my terms. When I felt someone wasn’t loyal to our relationship, it starts going downhill until I draw the Maginot line and it’s over. I treat others like they treat me.

I didn’t realize how much of a drag on your mental health these relationships are. It has been for me, but I’d made a conscious decision to end them whenever possible when they got toxic for me.

Sometimes it’s Mauerbauertraurigheit, but that is a last resort for me and I have no control over leaving people when that happens. Mostly, I reach a moment of truth and fade away. I don’t ghost people, but I actively avoid them and decline as much as possible until they get the hint. Most of the time, I just get forgotten. For those that persist, I lay it out and it is never pretty.

Here are some excerpts, but I’m highlighting only parts of it, what was the blinking light to me. Here goes….

Then there is a category of people which sits right in between. You might call them “frenemies,” though the “enemy” part of that compound can feel like too strong a descriptor. Social scientists have a better term for these kinds of ties: “ambivalent relationships.”

Both positive and negative elements exist in every relationship. In a good, supportive relationship, the positive significantly outweighs the negative. In a bad, aversive relationship, the negative significantly outweighs the positive. In an ambivalent relationship, neither the positive nor the negative predominates; your feelings about the person are decidedly mixed. Sometimes this person is encouraging, and sometimes they’re critical. Sometimes they’re fun, and sometimes they’re a drag. Sometimes they’re there for you, and sometimes they’re not. Sometimes you really like and even love them, and sometimes they bug the ever-living tar out of you. 

We can have ambivalent relationships with co-workers, friends, family, and even our spouses. And while we don’t tend to think about our ambivalent relationships as much as we do those on the more polarized ends of the affection spectrum, they actually make up about half of our social networks. 

Here’s how it is for me in their words:

Sometimes the connection you feel with someone is very strong when you first meet, but over the subsequent years and decades, you change, and they change, so that your lifestyles, outlooks, and personalities end up more and more disparate. You still think of yourselves as friends, and still have a bond built on a shared history, but your connection is more conflicted than it once was. (Social media really sucks on this one).

Sometimes you’re friends with someone because your spouse is friends with their spouse. They’re not someone you would have actively chosen to be friends with, but because you spend time together as couples, you end up in a relationship, albeit an ambivalent one. (I hate this one. I’ve yet to connect with any of them as they weren’t my friends, they were her friend’s spouse that I was forced to hang with, but we never would otherwise.)

Sometimes you’re just thrown together with people. There are office colleagues and fellow church congregants and roommates who you neither strongly like nor strongly dislike, but that you come to feel quite familiar with because of how much time you spend together. Sometimes this familiarity rises to the level of affection, and sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes the relationship just kind of is what it is. (Still, I’ve never really made a close friend from this group. They are people I have to put up with for a period of time. I know how much time that is and it is a countdown until whatever social engagement I’m forced into is over).

Here is one that rings home:

And, of course, there’s the whole dynamic of family. You may have grown up around certain blood relations, but you otherwise share little in common, and the fact you still get together is based more on biological bonds, and the expectations around filial piety and familial obligation, than genuine desire and enjoyment. You’re in fact more likely to have ambivalent relationships with family members than friends, which makes sense; while relationships with friends are a matter of voluntary choice, you end up connected to family members by chance.

I have little in common with any biological family anymore. Most are gone, but for the ones that are left, if we weren’t related, we’d never talk (and with most, we don’t). The ones that are left seemed to agree with me to keep each other at arms length. I avoid funerals and weddings if at all possible as I don’t need to catch up. I don’t want to talk about my life to people who are strangers other than the biological relationship.

As I recall growing up, my siblings weren’t my friends. Most of the time they would rather try to get me in trouble starting with telling on me to parents on stuff I didn’t do, progressing to talking shit about me to mutual acquaintances just to tear me down publicly or socially. We were forced together as a group, but I don’t come away with fond memories of a childhood spent together. We don’t do anything other than the perfunctory requirements and no one really says anything. Even on vacation when young, I was off on my own on any downtime.

I know I never looked forward to any overnight trip to visit any relatives, even as a kid. I thought most of them were a bit creepy. As an introvert, I pulled away from the social gatherings that usually happened around a big meal. It was dreadful. I didn’t even know I was introverted, it naturally happened.

As far as other relatives, I’m fortunate to have my outlaws living in another country. I’ve done stuff with them, but they for the most part revert to bashing either the USA, or try to make America a socialist country like theirs. They consistently trash what is morally right and I’m tired of trying to engage with them. I’ve been fed up with it since 9/11 when they told me America overreacted.

I couldn’t figure these relationships out because I wasn’t born socially gifted like others. Being an introvert, I do have powers of observation and body language skills I’ve had to develop to determine friend or foe. It also helps me determine who is going to waste my time or try to get me to do shit I don’t want to do anymore. Now, I say no. I cut people out (thank you Covid, an introvert’s dream)

The article goes on to say…

Why Ambivalent Relationships Are So Terrible for You

Supportive relationships have been shown to buffer stress, boost resilience, and improve physical and mental health.

Aversive relationships have been shown to amplify stress, diminish resilience, and damage physical and mental health.

You might think that because ambivalent relationships feel middle-of-the-road, their impact on your life would be similarly neutral. But in fact, multiple studies have shown that their effect is significantly and uniformly negative, and that “ambivalent relationships not only are less effective at helping individuals cope with stress but also may be sources of stress themselves.”

Studies have found that your blood pressure goes up more when you interact with someone with whom you have an ambivalent relationship, than it does when you interact with someone with whom you have a supportive relationship. Even just anticipating interacting with an ambivalent tie triggers a greater increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Researchers speculate that this heightened stress response is due to the unpredictability of an ambivalent relationship: Are you going to enjoy your time with this person or are you going to get in a fight? Are you going to have fun or just feel annoyed? Are they going to be supportive or critical? 

We might hypothesize a couple other reasons that cardiovascular reactivity increases when interacting with ambivalent ties. 

One is the greater exercise of self-control you have to muster during one of these interactions; you have to check yourself from rolling your eyes, showing signs of your boredom or frustration, offering an overly harsh rebuttal to an opinion you strongly disagree with — and this takes effort. The heightened stress response experienced around ambivalent ties may also be due to the psychic split you feel over whether you even want to be hanging out with this person at all. You don’t dread seeing them the way you might the dentist, but you don’t really look forward to seeing them, either. The interaction feels more compulsory than voluntary, more obligatory than willful, and we feel a measure of frustration when we don’t experience ourselves as fully autonomous and have to do things that are contrary to our personal desires. (This is how I almost always feel anymore. I have to work up to want to go out with someone and want to know when it will end if I have to go. There are very few I look forward to seeing anymore. Most people who think we are friends don’t know that we aren’t).

Here’s the really surprising thing: blood pressure not only rises more when you’re interacting with an ambivalent tie versus a supportive one, it also rises more when you’re interacting with an ambivalent tie than it does when you’re interacting with an aversive one. In other words, you feel more stressed when interacting with someone you like/dislike, than you do when interacting with someone you entirely dislike. 

I end it by saying not for me. The trouble is in the interaction with people. When I just don’t, my blood pressure is better and any stress over socializing is avoided.

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