A Little Emotional Maturity?

2019 has been a very interesting year so far. I haven’t really blogged much, being consumed with the real world, but I feel like I’ve learned a lot. In May last year I said I wasn’t necessarily happy with how I’d changed recently. I’ve definitely changed again, and while it’s definitely a bit early to say, I think I’m going to be happier with this one.

At the very least, I’ve learned a lot and have an improved understanding of myself, people, and the world. Some of this has been updated mental models, and some of it has been emotional journeys toward things that my brain has known for a while already. For better or worse, a lot of those journeys are still incomplete. At any rate, here’s a sampling:

On Emotions

  • Model emotions as a collection of separate values (a la “Mood” in the various The Sims games), not as a single specific value (“I am happy/sad/etc”).
  • Model the emotional impact of experiences as velocity changes rather than position changes. The concrete example is stupidly obvious, but: something can make you happier without making you happy.
  • Trying to figure out how I feel about a given thing in abstract is actually weirdly difficult because of the above two points. My emotional state at any given time is a complex tapestry of recent experiences and biological signals (hunger, etc), and only truly exceptional stimuli will manage to dominate all that. Most things still move the needle, but expect it to be subtle and hard to pick apart.

All of these are somewhat embarrassing to admit to because I certainly played The Sims as a kid, so you’d think at the very least I’d have better absorbed its model, but clearly it’s taken me some time to realize how complicated emotions can be. I’ll class this set not exactly as new knowledge, but something I’m trying to remember not to over-simplify from now on.

On Expectations

  • It relieves a ton of pressure on all sorts of things to ask yourself “does this make me happy happier” instead of “is this universally optimal in all possible futures”. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  • I grew up with a lot of specific cultural narratives about how a lot of parts of life were supposed to work. This has left me with some weird subconscious expectations that don’t really materialize except as cognitive dissonance when they aren’t being met. Noticing these is extremely difficult, but weeding them out tends to be rewarding.
  • I am an introvert, so all people take energy to interact with, despite my occasional expectations to the contrary. Immediate family may be the exception that proves the rule? There’s probably a whole blog’s worth of content here on trust vs familiarity and the interaction of those two things.

My emotions are mostly on board with this set, but my brain still needs to give the occasional reminder.

On Relationships

These ones, on the other hand, are mostly things where my brain has been quietly at odds with itself for a while. Recently my conscious brain has been attempting to drag my emotions through that journey kicking and screaming. Very much a work in progress.

  • There’s no such thing as “The One”. Technically you could take the distribution of “compatibleness” for all people and point to the person at the far end of that distribution, but you’re so statistically unlikely to meet them they might as well not exist.
  • Infatuation is not love. Infatuation has obviously never been sufficient for a happy relationship (c.f. Romeo and Juliet), but neither is it even strictly necessary. People emotionally bond in all sorts of interesting (and sometimes even positive!) ways that don’t require mutual insanity.
  • Piggy-backing on the last one: relationships should not be all-consuming. Even if you somehow meet the person at the very far end of that “compatibleness” distribution, losing yourself so completely in somebody else is not healthy.

This post needs some sort of pithy closer, but I got nothing. The changes I’m aiming for may be positive, but they are not easy. This year has already been stressful and tiring for other reasons (work, etc.), but I guess there’s never a perfect time to do stuff like this.


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