Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: The Missing Stair and the Necessary Bastard

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  • Lilith __, in reply to Heather Gaye,

    ’So what did they take? … Because it looks to me like it’s all still here”.

    OH I WANNA HIGH-FIVE THAT SO BAD

    +1

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Heather Gaye,

    +1

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Marcus Turner,

    It's hard to say, from your description, exactly where the "Missing Stair" was.

    I wasn't trying to create a situation where the fine details of my family are published so you get to pick over everything that's happened and decide how you want to judge me. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

    My point was that a short lunch with a missing stair was enough to transform my girlfriends attitude. Even through a solid layer of politeness and obligation towards family. I was agreeing with Emma that the missing stair is usually obvious.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1233 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    One of the things I appreciate most about my circle of friends is that we really don't have missing stairs. Sure we have arguments about the best way to run the country, as if any of us had any influence. But in the main, the group are all intelligent thinking considered people.

    So in some ways treading on one of the missing stairs is a nice reminder that what I experience in the group of friends is special and valuable. Sometimes it's important to be reminded that in some groups "those comments" are considered normal.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    It's quite remarkable how, as soon as I hear it put that way, I can name the missing stairs in pretty much every group I have ever been a part of. The friend whose partner quietly apologises on their behalf, the person for whom you change the meeting rules so their pet subject doesn't make it onto the agenda, the committee member to whom you give a consuming task to keep them busy while the rest of you get on....

    There have been a couple of people who were utterly toxic in my own life where getting away from them took sacrificing some of the social circles to which I introduced them, so I never got the chance to find out if the problem extended to other people or just me. Certainly I treated those people as missing stairs, worked around them, made excuses for them and devoted a lot of energy to 'managing' our interactions.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Max Rose,

    But when people start quietly but nervously asking “Will X be there on Friday?”, they become a Missing Stair.

    Seems like a necessary but not sufficient condition. I can think of people that create apprehension in my circle whom I would not call missing stairs. People don't want to avoid them because they make offensive remarks, but because they have other behavior that doesn't lend itself to relaxing in their company. Wildly fluctuating moods, for instance, so the person can be a depressed drag, or wildly angry, and you don't know what will spark them off. But when they're good, they're good.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    So in some ways treading on one of the missing stairs is a nice reminder that what I experience in the group of friends is special and valuable. Sometimes it’s important to be reminded that in some groups “those comments” are considered normal.

    There is that. My own Inner Circle is pretty great, it's the next ring out, the next set of connections, where the problems are. Which of course means there are enablers in the inner ring... but what do you do? The essential thing about these people is that normal social defusing tactics don't work on them.

    It is tempting to try to make, say, the Friend responsible for the Partner's behaviour. Take them aside for a quiet word and say, "Dave, listen, can you have a word to Doug about X? It's not fun to be around." But another adult human isn't actually their responsibility.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Marcus Turner, in reply to Moz,

    You don't deserve judgement by me or anyone else.

    (I emphasise my earlier comment about cutting remarks.)

    Since Nov 2006 • 212 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Emma Hart,

    It is tempting to try to make, say, the Friend responsible for the Partner’s behaviour. Take them aside for a quiet word and say, “Dave, listen, can you have a word to Doug about X? It’s not fun to be around.” But another adult human isn’t actually their responsibility.

    And that adds another complexity to an already difficult situation. You're asking a proxy to act on your (and the majority of the group's) behalf. And because the proxy is a whole other human being they will alter the message as it is passed along (if they are willing).

    Ultimately you are left with limited choices, changing the behaviour is the ideal outcome, achieving that goal ... that's hard.

    I can be a very skilled bastard (a consequence of that family training I mentioned upstream) but as I get more experience I am less and less convinced that being a bastard helps anyone as much as I would like (least of all me).

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4460 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __,

    I've known Missing Stairs who aren't bigots at all, just people with very low social IQ who blunder about annoying people, for instance by being unbearably patronising. They may be basically nice people, but they're the ones you invite out of a sense of duty rather than pleasure.

    On the subject of partners: one of my exes is a very introverted person who could be happily sociable for a limited time, after which point he became morose, irritable and easily offended. He was known for storming out of social gatherings, which I found hard. But it was "just his way".
    I wish we'd been able to work out some sort of system to avoid the difficulty, like setting a fixed time limit, or him giving me a signal that he'd had enough, before it became unbearable.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    There is that inhibiting, much too prevalent social nicety of "If you can't say nothing nice, don't say anything". I have always thought it was a nonsense but it does get in the way of calling a bastard a bastard

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2562 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan,

    Here’s a conundrum. I have a family full of missing stairs. Seriously. Every second one.

    But if you asked them, I’m almost positive that they’d say the problem is me.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Heather Gaye,

    But if you asked them, I’m almost positive that they’d say the problem is me.

    I was thinking about that on the back of people saying a large number of their family are missing stairs. At what proportions can you free yourself from onerous family gatherings by saying "you know - I think everybody there would have a much better time if I didn't go"?

    Morningside • Since Nov 2006 • 533 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Heather Gaye,

    At what proportions can you free yourself from onerous family gatherings by saying “you know – I think everybody there would have a much better time if I didn’t go”?

    You'll never be allowed to know that threshold, lest you treat it as a target :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings, in reply to Lilith __,

    I’ve known Missing Stairs who aren’t bigots at all, just people with very low social IQ who blunder about annoying people, for instance by being unbearably patronising. They may be basically nice people, but they’re the ones you invite out of a sense of duty rather than pleasure.

    Some of the missing stairs I've know have been genuine not-very-nice-people but others have been generally decent people who have things going on which interfere with social interactions. I have known missing stairs with poor social IQ, pain causing conditions that make them short tempered, or difficulty hearing. What makes these people missing stairs is that, instead of finding coping strategies for themselves, they out-source the problem so the people around them have to make all the accommodations.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Heather Gaye,

    At what proportions can you free yourself from onerous family gatherings by saying “you know – I think everybody there would have a much better time if I didn’t go”?

    When a) You do not want to spend the gathering fiddling with food, doing the dishes and sorting the recycling while patching up children's knees
    b) you make an appointment for the shrink they day after the gathering at the time you accept the invite
    c) you have the irresistable urge to pinprick the accepted fictions that enable appalling behaviour to be acceptable.
    One of my old friends has a one-hour rule for his wife's rellies: he goes to everything then leaves after an hour, no exceptions. He says that after 30 or so years they all accept that's what he does and attrbute it to his foibles rather than theirs -it suits everyone.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Heather Gaye,

    At what proportions can you free yourself from onerous family gatherings by saying “you know – I think everybody there would have a much better time if I didn’t go”?

    At the precise proportion when you can answer “no” to this question: “Is there any net gain to coming away from this feeling like shit, again?” I know it’s not really in the spirit of the post, but I’m perfectly happy having no contact with the uncle who told me I was only welcome at my grandmother’s funeral if I came alone. He’s not a missing stair, he’s a freaking Saw-style booby trap and to hell with him. Kind of shitty I also have nothing to do with the cousins I’m rather fond of, but they know where I live.

    Perhaps there's got to be a point where we give ourselves permission to declare missing stairs unacceptable risks.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Geoff Lealand,

    There is that inhibiting, much too prevalent social nicety of “If you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say anything”.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Isabel Hitchings,

    I have known missing stairs with poor social IQ, pain causing conditions that make them short tempered, or difficulty hearing. What makes these people missing stairs is that, instead of finding coping strategies for themselves, they out-source the problem so the people around them have to make all the accommodations.

    So much this. Thank you Isabel.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Perhaps there’s got to be a point where we give ourselves permission to declare missing stairs unacceptable risks.

    Jesus fuck yes. And everyone gets to make their own call about where their tipping point is.

    But if you asked them, I’m almost positive that they’d say the problem is me.

    You mean the way you shoe-horn your ridiculous homo-loving liberal views into every unrelated conversation and then get pissy when people disagree with you? Like that?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4651 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    I have a family full of missing stairs. Seriously. Every second one.

    That happens. I’m fortunate my close family is not like that, but there is an over-representation of missing stairs of many hues in the wider family network. Those people are painful and destructive, and unable to be avoided. I am careful about limiting my exposure to them, epecially one on one: otherwise I get toxic.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2899 posts Report Reply

  • Megan Wegan, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Just like that. Except that I don't. My coping mechanisms for hanging out with my family involve variously: drinking too much, biting my tongue, and crying in the bathroom when they make rape jokes. "I love them, but..." is a fairly common utterance.

    Or it was. I basically decided that , after the event you referenced, that it's just not worth my mental health to hear that shit, and so I bite every time. Because "they're just winding you up" isn't actually am excuse to be a horrible human being.

    Welly • Since Jul 2008 • 1275 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Hebe,

    One of my old friends has a one-hour rule for his wife’s rellies: he goes to everything then leaves after an hour, no exceptions. He says that after 30 or so years they all accept that’s what he does and attribute it to his foibles rather than theirs -it suits everyone.

    That sounds like an excellent solution. It's much easier to all be friendly if it's for a limited time. Look at what happens to so many families at Christmas - too much time together.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3894 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    I find that sometimes, polite ignorance, just on the right side of mocking, is a fun place to be. Really? What an interesting thing to say. Explain to me how that works? Does that actually happen? Wow! Do you know the person that happened to? Etc etc. (Joke variation: don't get it. Oh, I see, and that's the funny part, right?)

    Other times, sorry I just have to go and talk to Emma about something is the only viable solution.

    Then there was the time I told my brother in law he could either fucking pull his head in or get out of my house before I threw him out.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Emma Hart,

    Jesus fuck yes. And everyone gets to make their own call about where their tipping point is.

    Of course. Mine in influenced by having my bullshit tolerance tapped out very early in life, and an unusually high comfort level with my own company. :) That said, there's this weird idea that looking after your well-being (and not developing a rictus grin every time some dickbag decides to deny your personhood) is somehow "selfish" or "anti-social." Maybe, if your idea of 'society' is casual racism, homophobia and misogyny, the problem isn't with the people who decide they've got better places to be.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

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