Blanking, Blocking & Bitching

Posted by Dan | Posted in Blog, Misanthropy, Rants | Posted on 01-08-2014

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blanking

verb

The act of intentionally (and often obviously) not acknowledging a person’s existence. Similar to ignoring and not speaking to, but without providing the recipient with a preface or explanation.

The Tautological Mantra of the Blanker:

“I’m not talking to you, but I’m not telling you why I’m not talking to you because I’m not talking to you.”

Her name was Kayleigh, and we shared a carton of Ribena at playtime. {Can we skip the anecdote? I’m in a rush.}

Blanking in Popular Culture

Blanking in Popular Culture

One day she wasn’t at our meeting spot. I waited patiently as I finished my half of the carton, then decided to look for her. I found her huddled amid a group of girls. Upon noticing me, her eyes widened and she quickly turned away. I found this behaviour rather baffling so I approached and asked the back of her head why she hadn’t been at our usual spot (to no avail). Then I offered her Ribena.

Perhaps it was the temptation of a sugary fruit drink that did it, but she turned her head a little bit and replied: “I can’t; I’m not talking to you.”

“You can’t TELL him you’re not talking to him,” snapped another member of the group.

“Oh, sorry.”

I felt confused and uncomfortable, feelings which stayed with me the whole afternoon. The grief of losing a close friend  compounded by absolute bafflement as to why  made it impossible to concentrate on my finger painting. Had I done something wrong? I racked my brains but couldn’t remember being bad; I certainly hadn’t been told off recently. How long would this last? Was it one of those things people forget about after lunch (like the time Cherry pulled Vicky’s hair because she wouldn’t get off the swing) or one of those BIG mistakes that ends a friendship for a whole week (like when Ben ate James’s Wagon Wheel)? I needed to understand. When the bell rang for hometime I ran up to her and bluntly asked: “Hi Kayleigh, why aren’t you talking to me?”

She bit her lip, unsure whether answering this question was also forbidden. She eyed the cloakroom for an answer but there was no sign of her posse. She caved:

“I can’t talk to you because you’re gay.”

I asked what gay was. She said it’s when other people aren’t supposed to talk to you, and explained that yesterday Morgan had been the first back in after lunch and had proclaimed “Last person who sits down is gay!” Unfortunately I’d been in the little boys’ room at the time of the announcement, which meant I was now gay and we were no longer friends. Before we parted ways I apologised for being gay.

The following day I knew what I had to do: I shoved lunch into my face as fast as possible, ensured I peed particularly early, then spent the rest of lunchtime hanging around the door to the classroom. I clocked Morgan and a few others doing the same as the bell neared, but enough of the class were busy playing to provide me with a winning chance. As I waited, I wondered whether I also had the authority to announce a contest determining someone’s social status. Fortunately it didn’t matter, as at that moment the bell rang and Morgan & Co stormed through the door screaming “LAST ONE TO SIT DOWN’S GAAAAAY!”

I raced inside and hurled myself painfully into my chair. I knew the pained bottom was worth it as I looked around the room, triumphant: there were empty seats galore. I gave a knowing smile to Kayleigh as she walked in, which she returned. Some other poor kid became ostracised that day (because only one person can be gay at a time) and my friendships and social status were restored. I ensured I wasn’t late after lunch each day until the game was forgotten, and I had my Ribena buddy back for the rest of term.

I’d love to be able to look back on that encounter as one of those silly things kids do because they don’t understand the world yet. Yet I see it as the maturest instance of blanking I’ve ever experienced.

While initially painful and confusing, through honest communication the issue affecting our friendship was identified, enabling me to take the necessary action to resolve it and give the story a happy ending.

Adult blankers don’t allow that to happen. They know that even brief communication is anathema to their plans and would never go so far as to give a reason for their behaviour. They are masters of illusion, putting waiting staff to shame with their skills at avoiding eye contact and pretending not to hear you.

It concerns me that some adults real, actual adults with jobs and mortgages and stuff  genuinely seem to think that blanking and its online equivalent, blocking, are acceptable ways to behave. Much like “don’t hurt people” or “don’t pee on the toilet seat”, it seems a life lesson some have inexplicably failed to learn, and those around them are either too polite or oblivious to take them aside and ask “Um, what the hell are you doing?”

Now I’m not talking about Stalky McStabtroll or Jim SendMeNudesPlz. There are some creepy people out there who block buttons were invented for, and you don’t owe strangers an explanation for not talking to them. This is the equivalent of wearing headphones when walking past a street preacher or charity mugger: you can stop and take the time to engage them if you wish, but you have no obligation to.

I’m talking about people who are actually in your life. People you have a relationship with, who sooner or later you will physically encounter. Friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances. Someone who, to some extent, has had an impact on your life. It’s when these people get the blanking, blocking and bitching treatment that my blood boils.

 

Here’s how I assume it works:

You’re at a family gathering when Aunt Gertrude does something that rubs you the wrong way. Perhaps she makes a humorous quip about your weight or hugs you in a way which makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it’s a one-off or maybe it’s something she always does and this is just the final straw. Whatever it is, it’s something that matters a lot more to you than she realises and probably says more about you than her.

You’re dumbfounded. How DARE she?! This isn’t something you can just sweep under the rug and forget about; this is something profound enough to alter your whole opinion of her. You diplomatically leave the room and avoid direct conversation with her for the rest of the afternoon.

That night it’s still playing on your mind. You decide you don’t want to talk to her right at the moment. She’s not someone you have constant contact with, but she is your aunt and she’s not going away any time soon. You’ve always been there for each other and you know deep down she’s not a bad person, but any objective picture of her character is shrouded by what she did this afternoon: in your view she’s jumped from Beloved Family Member to Worse Than Hitler. Your mind is having trouble recalibrating and you’re uncertain how to proceed, creating both an uncomfortable feeling and a desire to avoid her.

Suddenly, you know what you have to do. You throw off the covers and leap out of bed, announcing:

“I’ve got it! The solution is so simple: I just have to convey how inappropriate I found her actions by not replying to her texts and not really acknowledging her the next time we’re together. At first she’ll dismiss it as me being distracted or something, but if I keep it up at every family gathering eventually she’ll realise that I’m blanking her. This will definitely cause her memory to immediately recall the throwaway comment she made several months earlier, recognise the error of her ways, and change into someone I can speak to again!”

The plan is put into action: messages are ignored, looks are evaded, and eventually people pick up on it. You’re meticulous in ensuring the helpfulness of others doesn’t interfere with the plan: if people ask, you say that it’s not your place to say and you’re not pointing any fingers but Aunt Gertrude may have been involved in driving a bus load of orphaned kittens off a cliff, and you don’t want anyone to put words in your mouth but maybe don’t let her near your kids. The story varies depending on the gullibility of the audience but you stick to 3 sacred rules:

  1. Under no circumstances give information which might be used constructively
  2. Her inherent evilness is 100% objective and factors like self-reflection, perspective, context, communication and cognitive dissonance definitely have nothing to do with it
  3. If Aunt Gertrude herself asks if everything’s okay, wear a large smile and reassure her it is. Deny everything

After 6 months of this, Aunt Gertrude still hasn’t sought repentance. You’d assumed that by now she would have issued a public broadcast, personally apologising for making you feel uncomfortable and vowing never to do so again. Occasionally there are times when you can’t escape the room fast enough and she corners you, asking how you are and if you’re okay and wishing you well… you bat off her platitudes with monosyllabic chirps and grunts as you race for the doorway, knowing full well it’s just an evil ploy to make you forget about what she did. But you’re not that weak-willed: you vow to yourself that you’ll keep trying, and if she doesn’t magically gain an insight into her abhorrent behaviour then you’ll just keep pretending she doesn’t exist until one of you dies.

 

 

How basic communication could have made Frozen a much shorter film

How basic communication could have made Frozen a much shorter film

I shouldn’t have to, but considering people actually do this shit I’m going to break it down for you. So let’s take a look at some of the reasons that blanking is just really, really dumb:-

1) People aren’t psychic

Just because something is obvious or a big deal to you doesn’t mean everyone else sees it that way. If you have a problem with someone, tell them or nothing will ever change.

While I’d encourage rational discussion, here’s a useful tip for those who insist on silence: if you don’t want someone to talk to you, tell them that. Surprisingly, it significantly reduces the chance of them trying to talk to you.

2) It’s unhealthy

Blanking is an avoidance tactic. Psychologists have shown that prolonged avoidance can be extremely damaging; it’s much healthier to confront your problems and accept (or resolve) them rather than avoiding them.

It’s understandable that you may be hesitant to confront the issue and pretending the other person doesn’t exist is definitely easier in the short term — but maybe you should just grow the fuck up? Identify the reason and ensure both you and Aunt Gertrude are clear on what it is. Once you’re both clear on what the issue is and have all your cards on the table, pull your head out of the sand and talk about the problem. Provided you’re both willing to repair the relationship you’ll be able to reach an amicable resolution, but even if you don’t feel that’s possible at least ensure both parties leave with closure and a valuable life lesson in how to (or not to) behave towards others.

3) It’s a barrier to reconciliation

Relationships drift apart and there’s nothing wrong with that, but that doesn’t mean the other person ceases to exist. There’s a pretty huge difference between “Oh yeah, I remember them. We never really hang out anymore” and “They might as well have taken out a restraining order.” This is especially true of blocking, which applies a weird filter to your technology so you can pretend a particular person is dead. If you don’t want to see what a person’s up to every minute of the day then just unfriend/unfollow them. Going that extra mile to ensure they’re forever denied from so much as wishing you a happy birthday is like nuking the ashes of the burned bridge: needlessly excessive and kinda weird.

4) It isn’t fair on others

Great, now every time I arrange a gathering I’m gonna have to choose between you or Aunt Gertrude? Or at the very least I’ll have to carefully coordinate it so you’re sat at opposite ends of the room and spend the whole time hoping no drama will erupt. Thanks for that.

5) You’re torturing someone

“They’ll get the hint eventually.”

The most malicious thing about blanking is its subtlety: its ability to play on a person’s doubts and fears. Fearing that someone might be ignoring you but having no idea why they would be, if they even are is a horrible feeling because it causes you to start doubting aspects of yourself. If your imagination works anything like mine your thoughts can quite quickly jump from “they probably just didn’t notice me” to “I think they’re ignoring me” to “I must have done something bad without realising it, I need to rethink and analyse every little thing I’ve ever said and done which could have been misinterpreted as something bad.” As it has no precursor  you have to just gradually figure out that you’re being blanked  it makes working out the reason (if there even is one) even more difficult. For someone like myself who needs logical explanations before being able to find closure it can be absolute agony.

Cutting a friend or family member out of your life is not a decision I believe anyone should take lightly. But to do so without even having the decency or maturity to inform them of that decision (let alone explaining why) instead leaving them to figure it out for themselves — is selfish and cruel. And if you do it to a person you know suffers from anxiety or depression I would go as far as to say you’re being malicious.

 

 

I really can’t think of many situations where blanking is a good idea. Surely resolution is better for everyone involved? Communicating; understanding; forgiving; learning and growing as people. Should these things not be actively sought after rather than flatly denied the chance of ever happening? Admittedly my words are fused with idealism; I acknowledge there are some people you well and truly don’t want to ever see or hear from again, presumably because they’ve done something so extreme you deem it unforgivable or because you have a concern for your safety or sanity. But many cases have far pettier motivators, and I think the two main ones are fear and arrogance: fear of confronting a problem (or belief that running away from problems is preferable to facing them) is common and understandable, but letting fear control your life will hold you back and keep you from growing as a person. On the flip-side to fear is arrogance: something else which keeps you from growing this time from a confidence so great that you don’t see the point in changing; a deficit in humility where problems could never be your fault because you’re perfect. These are the people who cling to that narcissistic line by Marilyn Monroe and believe themselves to be above others and friendships to be conditional: they don’t grant the solace of an explanation because — in their view the other person was 100% responsible for the problem so clearly knows what they’ve done. I suspect these people don’t exactly lose sleep when cutting someone out of their life.

I believe grudges are pointless and, hard as it can be, I try to forgive everyone who has ever hurt me. But forgiving isn’t the same as forgetting: I carry the experiences with me and do my best to learn from them. When I have hurt people the guilt consumes me: the idea of causing pain to someone I care about is agony and I will become obsessed with finding out exactly what I did wrong so as to make amends and ensure I never do it again. Being denied a rational, adult conversation about what happened so we can see each other’s perspectives… this weighs on my mind heaviest of all because I’m terrified of unknowingly being a bad person. Of not knowing what I’ve done wrong and why I’ve lost a friend. I’m very introspective, and at times can be a little too willing to assume something is entirely my fault, even if that’s actually not the case at all.

The truth is none of us are perfect and we are all constantly learning how to be better people. Some of the best ways to do this are to talk and to listen. To not shy away from the truth, whatever it is. To be honest with yourself as well as with others, for you need to acknowledge your shortcomings before you can work to overcome them.

The next time you’re tempted to run away from a problem in a relationship, consider how much more could be gained if instead you grit your teeth, bear the initial awkwardness of saying exactly what’s on your mind, and communicate with calm, clarity and awareness.

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