I wanted to buy a book on assertiveness, but the shopkeeper wouldn’t sell it to me.
–Me, a few years ago*
As you’re no doubt aware from the amount I go on about it, I have a problem with confidence, being assertive and standing up to jerks. Well, it’s high time I overcame my shyness, because let’s be honest: I’m not “too polite” to ask fat people not to sit next to me on the bus, or noisy people on the Tube to shut up, I’m too cowardly!
To this end, I attended two events on Saturday. First, I saw my dating coach once again (the one whose professional name was inspired by the Joker’s female sidekick), and rather than just listening to my tales of woe regarding my recent failed romances, she taught me some useful skills for asserting myself. For example, standing with legs shoulder-width apart (my personal trainer would be proud), with big toes pointing down, shoulders back (I do tend to hunch, possibly thanks to sitting over computers 24/7) and chin up. Plus, I mustn’t keep nodding or bowing my head humbly all the time, and must instead maintain eye contact (which will apparently help freak out the bus people), as well as speaking in a more serious tone than my usual goofy, nerdy voice, and making expansive hand gestures.
In fact, I need more often to channel how I behaved towards an IT guy at work — who, having taken away my desktop computer a week before Christmas, has more recently threatened to take away our remaining monitors and thus force us all to use our pathetic laptop screens. I was almost incandescent with rage at someone who was just doing his job! And that’s how I should have dealt with my jerkoff housemate when he held the kitchen door closed, instead of rushing past him and trying to ignore his taunts…
The other event, coincidentally hosted by a friend of my dating coach (who has a far more prosaic name), was in a similar vein: body confidence. We all waved our arms and shouted incoherently, and then paired off to smile and shake hands, or sell each other our chairs, and I think I took away some useful hints from the seminar. Apart from learning to speak more clearly (not necessarily slowly, but “fast-controlled”), it seems I really need a mirror, so I can spot my bad habits (such as the aforementioned head-bowing) and do something about them, possibly involving some kind of The Prisoner-esque shock therapy.
(No, I don’t have a full-length mirror in my room, and I already spend enough time before my showers flexing my muscles in front of the bathroom mirror… wait, did I just write that? Well, good, it’s better than being ashamed of my body!)
So, with all that and a friendly interaction with a girl as well (alas, she turned out to have a boyfriend already, but she hasn’t done the Internet equivalent of slapping me in the face and still wants to be friends), I felt pretty good as I headed home… so why is it I immediately clammed up when I got back here and encountered the aforementioned housemate? He wasn’t even being a jerk (though admittedly it’s hard to tell with him, he’s one of those people who always sound like they’re making fun of you), and I can only compare the situation to souping up a car engine: you think you’ve put it together better than it was before, but when you try to start it up it immediately stalls!
It may have been due to my thinking that our fridge-freezer had died yet again (it hadn’t, or possibly I fixed it shortly afterwards, because it’s now colder than ever), or due to having spoken about him to someone else, or even due to his stupid proscription on spending house kitty money on toilet paper (yes, really, we have to buy our own T.P. and bring it to the crapper!), but I haven’t spoken to him since. Despite wanting to snap and have it out with him at the time, I feel now like I should apologise for freezing him out: this was an incident not unlike what I once almost did to “good housemate” when I happened to encounter him on Oxford Street in Spring 2011, not long after he’d drunkenly said some obnoxious words to me about (he thought) losing my virginity before I met someone I cared about, and when I was already in a low mood.
However, somehow I doubt my current housemate is shedding any tears over my treatment of him — after all, the only emotions he ever seems to display are smug amusement, sneering condescension (when something goes wrong for me) and, occasionally, annoyance (when something goes wrong for him) — and hey, he never apologised for the kitchen door incident, did he… if anything, he seemed to think I ought to apologise for being such a sourpuss! Maybe I’m inflicting a new and unfamiliar emotional state upon him, and thus restoring his humanity to some extent… in which case, I’m being as altruistic as the school bullies who tried so very, very hard to help me grow a thicker skin. Aren’t I a nice person?
Seriously, though, this is a situation I’m going to have to resolve — sometimes he seems nice and reasonable, but mostly I just feel edgy around him, as though he’s secretly laughing at me and all I’ve done to sort myself out since I moved in here. This is the kind of poisonous atmosphere I had in the final year at Caledonian Road with “bad housemate” (who almost certainly didn’t realise what a see-you-next-Tuesday he was, and would have been baffled if I’d told him), and before that, in Wood Green with the Irish guy (the one with the same birthday as me) who could get very, very angry over really minor things (and who I unfriended on Facebook after he laughed at my depression… yes, I know, first world problems and all that). I even had a similar issue sharing a room with an American in 1998-9, but he at least had taken me into the bosom of his family, and helped me out considerably, so I tolerated his occasional jerk phases (and I was hardly the best roommate in the world!).
It’s going to be very difficult building up my confidence if I don’t feel safe in my own home, and where better to assert myself? Then again, in a few months I should be in a nice low-paid IT job, and I’ll probably want to save money by moving somewhere cheaper, possibly with “best mate”… or, hah, I might even meet the girl of my dreams and live in sin — but not until I sort out my confidence, of course. Thus I have no alternative but to draw the battle line outside my bedroom door…
(* This joke made “female best friend” laugh, and “other female best friend” groan as though it was the worst joke she’d ever heard)