Monday, January 26, 2015

Social Snubs

In a continuation of the general theme of my last post, I thought it would be beneficial to discuss a specific type of negative act inflicted on others and the damage that it causes. For obvious reasons, people don't like to think about these sorts of things, because they recall painful experiences. In looking back at my life, however, I have found it advantageous to examine in some detail the major social snubs I've received, because it has the same therapeutic value as psychoanalysis - and you can do it at your leisure without paying anyone!

The first major social snub that I underwent was in fifth or sixth grade. During recess, a boy told me that Mrs. Davis had told Mrs. Fischer that I was a "hood." Mrs. Davis was the mother of Teddy Davis, one of my classmates, and they were a wealthy family that lived in a large house in a rich part of town near Long Island Sound. I had spent the night there once, and Mrs. Davis had complimented me on my manners, so I was shocked and puzzled when I heard this. Mrs. Fischer, by the way, was the mother of another classmate, Mark, whose father was a doctor. In those days, being called a hood was a real insult. This was the peak of the doo-wop period in popular music, and there were in fact many lower-middle-class Italian immigrants living in the area who looked like classic greasers. Some of them even rode motorcycles, belonged to gangs and had connections with organized crime. I had no exposure to, let alone participation in, any of that, and after thinking about it for years, I decided that the insult must have had to do with the fact that we had moved to an apartment building. Prior to then, I hadn't known that there was a stigma associated with living in an apartment. I have since noticed that, especially in the suburbs, it is seen as a sign of being incompetent, irresponsible, lazy or lower class. Later on, in seventh and eighth grades, I was a borderline juvenile delinquent for a while, but never in my life did I deserve the label "hood."

After sixth grade Teddy Davis went to private schools, and I never saw him again. The Davises became for me the quintessential snobby Wasp family. It is impossible to know what prompted Mrs. Davis to make the statement, if in fact she did, but it certainly had an effect on my social self-image for many years. From that point on I became aware of the stigma associated with having less money than other people. Throughout high school I was conscious of the fact that nearly all of my friends had wealthier parents than mine. I didn't then and still don't care about being wealthy, and this set me on a path that led to my current tendency to be a social critic.

The next big snub, which is not how I thought of it at the time or how most people would, occurred when my wife divorced me in 1985. Because of the fuzziness of her thinking, it is often difficult to make out her motives. There was no obvious reason for the divorce: no infidelities, abusive behavior or alcoholism. I had been unemployed early in the marriage but by the time of the divorce I had a steady full-time job and was enrolled in a part-time M.B.A. program. After thinking about this for many years, I now believe that the divorce is best seen as a social snub. To figure this one out, I had to do an analysis of my ex-wife in absentia.

As mentioned in an earlier post, my ex-wife had a somewhat incoherent outlook on life because it contained two incompatible elements. On the one hand, she wanted to be a free-spirited hippie who didn't conform to parental demands, and on the other hand she wanted to have an upper-middle-class lifestyle in which her milieu would bestow high social status upon her. When we were married she worked as an R.N., and by the time we had our children she had developed a crush on her obstetrician, who delivered both of them. I think in the back of her mind she wanted to be like her Aunt Helen, who was married to a successful surgeon, lived an artsy upper-middle-class life and was a stay-at-home mother. Never mind that Aunt Helen was totally subservient to her husband, and that when he was at home it was as if God were present. My ex-wife's infatuation with doctors continues to this day in the form of making her medical care a full-time hobby, complete with medical tourism across the continent. As a practical matter, though, it hasn't worked out well at all: not long after the divorce, a doctor attempted to date rape her, and she hasn't dated since.

In this case, because my ex-wife was unable to explain her intentions well, I am drawing the conclusion that I was rejected socially because I did not provide sufficient prospect of supporting her in the manner that she expected, including social status, which a doctor might readily do. Our friends, her parents and I opposed the divorce, so it seems to make the most sense to see it as a move on her part to upgrade her social image by discarding an element which she thought detracted from it. For my part, I don't bear a grudge personally, but I do hold it against her that she was an incompetent mother. Even there I am willing to cut her slack, because I consider her mentally ill. She has paid a price by having the remainder of her life turn out far less ideal than she could ever have imagined.

A third significant snub occurred when my current partner suddenly and unexpectedly dumped me in 2002. We had known each other for a year, had been getting along well and had been on vacations together to Quebec and Venice. Soon we reconciled, but things were intermittently rocky until 2004, when we permanently reconciled. We have been living together since 2007. In this case, oddly, the snub was precipitated by a friend of my partner, otherwise I wouldn't be discussing it here.

This snub was reminiscent of my first snub, because it involved a Waspy person from Connecticut (though her ethnic background is Italian). Her nickname is Tweed, and she lives on the wealthy North Shore of Chicago. She is married to a lawyer, and my partner came to know her socially many years ago. Her ex-husband is also a lawyer and the husbands once worked at the same firm. I met Tweed at a Thanksgiving dinner at her house, and she later privately advised my partner, who had been dating various people after the divorce, telling her to dump me because I didn't measure up. In this instance the likely deficiency was money. Although my partner's ex-husband doesn't have much of a personality, lacks social skills, didn't care about raising children and would rather work than go on vacations, he had a high income and a respectable job, and those, apparently, are what count. I could have used Tweed's husband as another example in my post on uxoriousness. To my way of thinking, Tweed is out of control, and her husband doesn't have the nerve to do anything about it. Like a classic uxorious male, he follows her commands. Here, again, I think early compromises may play a hidden role. The main parameters are that Tweed is an attractive Waspy person with East Coast panache and her husband is a short Jewish guy from Iowa, probably harboring insecurities about all three. Technically we are on good terms with Tweed and her husband, and we attended the lavish wedding they held for one of their daughters in Cooperstown, New York the summer before last. However, there will probably never be any reason to see either of them ever again, which suits me. They strike me as superficial people who have adopted a lifestyle that was never of interest to me.

On the basis of these examples one might conclude that social snubs often have something to do with money. They have made me especially wary of Waspy people, and when we moved to Vermont I was a little concerned about running into a lot of them. Fortunately it appears that Vermont Wasps are more likely to be interested in frugality than conspicuous consumption, and that Vermont isn't the most attractive venue for social climbers. Overall I think money plays somewhat more of a social role in the Northeast than it does in the Midwest, because there has been more of it here for much longer. Most Midwesterners lived on farms up until about a century ago, and, living there myself for forty years, I detected far less emphasis on snobbery than I did growing up in New York, which has plenty of old money. I feel that I am fortunate in having the ability to ignore negative social pressures such as the ones mentioned here, but I think they are more problematic for most people, who are less secure and less aware of the workings of their social environments.

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