Tuesday, 7 October 2008


I was on the phone with a friend last night when she said to me:

"Do you remember the loaded question you asked me?"

I laughed. "I ask a lot of loaded questions, so you'll have to remind me."

"About [name]."

"Ah, yes."

"Well, it turns out I was warned to be careful around him."

"I can't say I'm surprised. I never trusted him, no matter how nice everyone else said he was."

"I know you didn't."

"It wasn't anything I could articulate, I just didn't want him within 4 ft of me. I wondered if it was me, if it had to do with being sexually abused by my uncle."

"Well, that actually gave you an early warning system that most people don't have."

She's partially right there - I would add that having a father who was charming in public and oh-so-much-less-so in private made that radar foolproof.

But it doesn't mean that I'm always certain of my instincts; in fact, when people say, "But he/she/it is so lovely; you're wrong, you're just harsh/cynical/you don't know them," I will almost always find a reason to back off and brush it off as a first impression.

Problem is, that initial instinct is always right: maybe in a softer way than I had put it, or only as part of the whole. But it is right, even as a thread, not a pattern.

That only holds if the sense falls in the middle ground, which, of course, most of the time it does. If my emotion towards someone or sense of interpersonal dynamics is extreme, positive or negative, it is also always right in degree.

After I hung up with her last night, I followed the thread back. I had spoken truly, all I could have told her was that tension in my solar plexus, the sense of a shield about three feet away from me when this man was around. My voice would become more clipped, his eyes unsettled me, possibly because they were the golden green that reminded me of a cat's, a colour I've always found unsettling and unhuman.

Then I knew.

One of the things I've always done is pick up emotional resonances: give me a man who is under tight control and I will sense the anger/sadness/sexuality underneath the sealed lid. Someone who is pretending to be happy, and I will sense the depression. I don't see people with my eyes as much as I see them with my emotional senses, from the definable character lines to the indefinable aura.

What had completely freaked me out about this man was that I could sense *nothing*. He was an emotional vacuum. If you don't know, I can't even tell you how frighteningly creepy that is.

*Shudder* Here's hoping that I never have to run into him again. I have yet to hear what made everyone else cotton on, but from what little I got, I suspect it's more than a bit sinister.

But this does cut two ways: it means that when I *do* trust, that's right, too. I have had male friends who lift me off my feet when they hug me, wrap their arms round my shoulders and pull me close, ruffle my hair and so on - all of which many feminists consider demeaning/physically dominant gestures.

But from these men, all of whom I trust implicitly, I absolutely welcome them - and would miss the gestures if they weren't made.

That trust comes from the same place, so that radar is truly a gift.

But last night's conversation - and others like it - still leave me absolutely shaken, though I couldn't tell you why.


Ariel said...

Is this a sense all of us have and could hone, which you're just more sensitive to, more aware of, and trust more? Or is it an extra sense we don't have?

I have always relied on your instincts implicitly, and I use them as a weathervane for mine - if I have a feeling about someone and I discover you share it, then I always take mine more seriously. I'm learning to take mine more seriously full stop, and the more seriously I take them the more reliable I've found them, but I'm not nearly as good as you are.


Anonymous said...

I think I know what you mean about the instinct. I was bullied a lot at school, really a lot. It has certainly sharpened my radar...

CJ said...

There's a nasty story in there somewhere. You'll hear it eventually, I bet sooner than you think.

I think everyone has the instincts, they just choose to ignore them because it makes them feel better. Unless they've learnt the hard way.