Thursday, December 16, 2021

I liked me better back then

Everyone knows, often from personal experience, how music can trigger powerful emotions. Sometimes songs can also make us feel our perspectives change. That recently happened to me, and reflecting on that triggered, not emotion, but a breakthrough, a sudden self-awareness and understanding.

The video above is a song by American singer, songwriter, and record producer Lauv (real name Ari Staprans Leff). It’s his 2017 song, “I Like Me Better”, which is apparently more less autobiographical. The song was successful in New Zealand [see Footnote One, below], but I can’t remember if I ever heard it at the time, but if I did I never mentioned it on this blog.

The song, then, was basically new to me when I heard it sometime in the past three years. It may have been before the music video channel ended a few months before Nigel died, but I know for sure I’ve seen the video since the NZ music video channels resumed in the first part of 2020—before the first anniversary of Nigel’s death. When I heard the song, it made me think of my lost love, but mostly I just liked the song and the video.

Fast forward to this year, and we went through different lockdown levels, including the one between October and November that I found especially difficult. With little else to do, I spent a lot of time thinking, while also keenly aware of how unhappy I was. When the song played, it was the chorus that struck me: “I like me better when I’m with you,” and I connected with it in an entirely different way because, I realised, I liked me better when I was with Nigel.

Nothing much changed in the weeks afterward. The song often popped into my head at random, and I still liked me better when I was with Nigel. And that was when things suddenly shifted.

This past weekend, I reflected on where my life is at, and how it’s basically stalled. I thought back to some of what was on my mind during those Lockdown contemplations, and I remembered two things. First, I’d rejected the idea of even considering the possibility of finding love again. Second, I often thought of how much “I need a friend to make me happy” (part of a lyric from “Wonderful Life”, the 1986/87 hit single by British singer Black—which deserves to be talked about in detail at some point…). I was right and wrong.

I was keenly aware that I’m in absolutely no position to be emotionally available to anyone for quite some time—if I even had any idea how to meet a potential partner, and I don’t. This is, I think, an entirely sensible self-awareness, however, I realised that the only reason I’d ever even contemplated finding a new partner was to have someone “save” me from the malaise I live within. That would be one of the worst possible reasons to start a new relationship.

I had a very similar realisation about seeking friends: I just wanted someone to “save” me. The reality is that I haven’t been good at making new friends for many, many, many years. I’ve read that many adults find it increasingly difficult to make new friends, and as someone who’s basically shy and introverted, anyway, it’s even more so. All of that was at the core of my realisation: I unconciously wanted someone to “save” me.

This isn’t actually true about friends and family: Much as I might prefer them to come up with a social thing, that’s got to do with other life-long issues, such as, not wanting to intrude on someone else’s space, not wanting to make demands, etc. I don’t need or want any of them to “save” me, except, maybe, from boredom from time to time. Like a lot of people, probably, I often prefer to be entertained than to be the entertainer (not always, obviously, as this blog has well documented).

However, one way my malaise has definitely affected friends and family is that if they ask me a question, I give an honest answer—even when it’s the completely wrong thing to do: Too often, I create the wrong impression, I think. For example, my answers, or even just the flow of conversation, may lead someone to think that I hate my house (I don’t), or the area I live in (I don’t—well, “somewhat dislike” is probably fair, though that’ll be changing over the next 12 months mainly due to new roads, something I’ll be talking about as it happens). The fact is, there are things I don’t like about where I live, and some of those things I can change, but I find the processes exhausting, daunting, frustrating, or other negative emotions. Negativity is what comes shining through.

In our early years, and occasionally in the years after, Nigel would try to get me out of a negative headspace by singing the refrain from the crucifixion scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “Always look on the bright side of life…” I hated when he did that, as I’ve said in the past, because he was right. Because of him, and a couple other very positive people I know, I was able to conquer what I thought was my natural inclination toward negativity to become positive (more or less). I just can’t manage that these days.

So, what we have is a situation in which I have an almost all-encompassing malaise that can even make me fail to unbox a new computer printer for a couple weeks as I was talking about yesterday, and that, in turn, has led to a nearly all-pervasive negativity. The first I’ve found some workarounds to help me cope, and the second—well, so far, nothing. I’ve tried to just stop for a moment or two before saying anything, but that’s not a solution: I don’t want to have to second-guess everything I say, nor to self-censor to avoid being negative. What I actually want is a solution to both—and I think I may be on to something that will help both situations.

The first is to use the workarounds I’ve mentioned to help get me moving forward, because that, I know, will reduce the malaise itself because I’ll be moving as well as clearing the literal and figurative junk that’s holding me back. That, in turn, will help me to feel more positive almost by default (I know that because I’ve been there before).

I think that things will improve dramatically for me over the coming months. If I’m right, then I’ll have “saved” myself, and I may yet get back to being the sort of person I used to be. I liked me better when I was with Nigel, and I want to be that guy again—or even an improved version. I think there are others who’d like him better, too—maybe even some I haven't met yet.

Footnote One: Whenever I’ve done music-related posts, I’ve always talked about the song’s chart potions. While that seems a little odd in this context, well, traditions! "I Like Me Better" hit 8 in Australia (4x Platinum), 62 on the Billboard Canadian Hot 100 (2x Platinum), 13 in New Zealand (Platinum), 58 on UK Singles (Platinum), and 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 (4x Platinum).

Footnote Two: At the end of yesterday’s post, I alluded to this breakthrough in my thinking, adding, “But that’s a tale of its own; I just don’t know if I’ll get to that or unboxing the printer first.” I was pretty sure this post would be first: I’d already done a rough draft. The printer being unboxed first never had a chance—but what about it being done before whatever I post tomorrow? Hm…

Footnote Three: I set-up the new printer on Sunday, December 19, 2021. It works well, and I'm really happy with the choice. That means it was set up before my next post, which wasn't, in fact, the next day due to all the projects I was working on at the time.


Roger Owen Green said...

I LIKE your chart position stuff, FWIW. Sometimes I do that and sometimes not.

Tim Drake said...

I try to never think of myself as "in a malaise," I prefer to say I've become a "professional procrastinator."

Arthur Schenck said...

@Roger: I clearly like the shart stuff, too, which is why I include it even in posts where it may seem a bit irrelevant or even inappropriate. Actually, I've ever let either possibility stop me posting anything else, so…

@Tim: I probably wouldn't normally use the word "malaise", but it was more appropriate than "ennui", though I considered "Weltschmerz" for awhile, mainly because I like the sound of it.