Imaginary vs. Natural Relationships
Natural Relationship (NR): Given any two persons, there is a natural way that both would interact with one another. It could be adversarial, harmonious, synergetic, neutral, and so on. “Natural” does not mean it is positive. Just as a relationship between a mouse and a cat is naturally adversarial, there are naturally adversarial relationships between two people with no faults of their own.
Imaginary Relationship (IR): Imaginary Relationship can potentially override or interfere with the Natural Relationship. It could make a Natural Relationship more harmonious or more adversarial.
Social etiquettes and manners are strategies used in Imaginary Relationships in order to get along with one another.
If the relationship is naturally harmonious, these protocols can largely be ignored; it would still remain relatively harmonious.
Most of us naturally gravitate towards harmonious NRs.
A person can choose or refuse to enter into an Imaginary Relationship.
A skillful salesperson, for instance, is adept at maintaining harmonious IRs with a variety of people, including those who are naturally adversarial to him.
NR and IR are opposite ends of the spectrum. They are not discrete entities. As such, only relative distinctions can be made.
Some consistently relate to others imaginarily. All of their relationships then become imaginary. They may not be able to have rewarding or intimate relationships with others. They may eventually feel alienated from themselves.
Some consistently try to relate to others naturally. This requires that one disregard established social protocols, which can be seen as socially abrasive, provocative, confrontational, offensive, or intrusive.
Not all human conflicts can be avoided, like adversarial Natural Relationships, but adversarial Imaginary Relationships can be avoided. Much of our everyday fights, arguments, conflicts, and even wars are results of adversarial Imaginary Relationships. Two people or even two nations that could otherwise get along well (harmonious NR) can find themselves in conflicts or wars with one another because of the adversarial IR.
An Imaginary Relationship is a game whose rules are defined by our culture. We are trained to play it. Its purpose is to manage and control relationships.
Society’s Stupid Conventions
There are a number of situations where convention prevents communication, pressures people into doing things they do not want to, and makes it too dangerous to even attempt problem solving (at least that involves the other people).
For example take politeness. The stakes are offending people if you are not polite, and being outcast from doing activities with them. Asking them their ideas about politeness itself and attempting to discuss bears exactly the same risk: being offending people and being outcast. If you don’t like particular thing expected of you, too bad. You can’t expect sympathy. If you reveal your interest in acting contrary to politeness you’ll be seen as dangerous to decorum and watched and held to an extra high standard. So you’re pressured into acting politely to be safe, and reason never gets to play any role in the decision of how everyone should act.
This can happen even if everyone there hates politeness, because no one dares to say so. Few people dare to send off signals that they don’t actually like expected decorum. If you do break a social convention then, even if everyone there agrees with you, the likely result is to be condemned. The reason is they still think everyone else prefers politeness, so they all have to ostracize you to avoid taking a risk themselves.
You might try to defend yourself. You might say, “I don’t want to do that.” At this point you can expect replies like, “So what? Everyone else has to.” and, “What makes you so special?” Neither of those replies attempts to address what is the best way to act. They simply are thinking more like the status quo is good enough for everyone else and getting offended you’d imply it isn’t good. Do you think you’re better, or something horrid like that?
At a birthday party you are expected to bring presents. This is dumb. How should I know what he wants better than he does? And the presents are supposed to be surprises: you can’t just ask what he wants you to get him. And you aren’t allowed to bring money. Money is the best thing to give because it gives him the power to get what he wants. But convention hates it. You were supposed to think about what he would want and get a “personal” gift. If everyone gives each other money on their birthdays, the total result is everyone ends up with the same amount of money.
If you question or criticize any of this stuff people think you are trying to get out of doing it, so others have to do the work for you. They view it as bad work that should be divided so everyone suffers equally. They don’t imagine there is a positive solution where everyone is happy. They just accept there is some amount of pain required and any attempt to find a solution for yourself that doesn’t hurt is just trying to cheat everyone else.
Dating has a lot of ways of suppressing communication. Like when you ask a girl out you are supposed to decide where to go. You do this with confidence and self-assuredness. You do not do this through discussion with her of where would be nice. If you say you don’t know where you want to take her, you seem like not much of a man, shy and embarrassed, don’t know what you want, that kind of thing.
At the end of the date you can’t ask if the other person wants to kiss, or have sex. That’s taboo. That “ruins the mood”, surprises people, and lowers the chance of doing either. You have to figure it out without explicit communication. And also after a certain number of dates you have to have sex — there is a lot of pressure to. If you don’t, the relationship is “not going anywhere” so what’s the point? Which reminds me there is always this pressure in romantic relationships to have progress, which sounds good, but what it means is to move towards getting married, and you have to get married by the end of about 2 years or a lot of advice says you never will and you quite possibly break up, quite possibly over the issue of marriage. “If you won’t commit to be with me forever and ever, right now, because we’re so perfect for each other, then I never want to see you again, it’s completely over.”
If you want to kiss and she doesn’t, that isn’t a matter for problem solving. Discussion will be interpreted as pressure. Asking why she doesn’t want to and saying reasons you do is trying to force your want in to her pants. You aren’t supposed to discuss, criticize, and agree. You just go on a few more dates and see if she changes her mind, and if not stop wasting money on her meals and dump her.
At funerals you have to be sad. You can’t bring a book of jokes and spend a lot of the time laughing, even if they are really funny. People will get mad. And God forbid you argue this point. Giving reasons it’s OK to be happy not somber is “disrespecting the dead”. Arguing with that is disrespecting the dead more. Criticizing that is also disrespecting the dead. There’s just no way out of it. Respecting the dead means following the convention whether you want to or not, and whether it’s fun and enjoyable or not (it isn’t). Also funerals waste a lot of money. So do coffins or urns. Why seal away a dead body? It’s dead. Who cares? The whole thing reeks of superstition. Oh and if you just stay home that’s disrespectful too. If he was your friend you are expected to go. People will hold it against you for years if you’d rather go to your frisbee game or World of Warcraft raid.
Weddings are perhaps worse. You know that parts where everyone is asked if they know any reasons these people should not be wed? That’s a lie. A dirty lie. It’s a trap. They just want to pretend they are doing the right thing. But if you actually say any reasons (and it’s easy to think of lots) then everyone will gasp in shock and turn to you angrily. You will have disrespected the whole wedding. You won’t be invited to the next one (when they remarry other people after their divorce — what? it’s common.) Everyone will be really offended. Certainly they won’t actually discuss your reasons. The only things you can say there are like, “he cheated on her” or “he’s a Russian spy”. You can’t say, “marriage is a bad idea because…”. And you can’t say that any other time either. People don’t want to hear it.
More: http://curi.us/blog/post/1262-xxi (Seriously, read the whole thing. It’s hilarious.)