When Empathy Becomes Solipsism

When Empathy Becomes Solipsism

Oh man, so does some sunshine and warm weather change everything or what? It’s funny, every year it seems New York does this—goes from chilly, rainy, will-it-ever-get-warm-again spring to all of a sudden: SUMMER. And every year I almost don’t believe it’s going to happen. This year it managed to coincide with the start of summer holiday, so that’s even more awesome.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this a million times, but I am a person whose mood is very much controlled by the weather, so though sad news about other people continues apace—two friends who’ve been cohabiting since college recently broke up—I’m feeling less depressed about it all.

For the holiday, two college friends and I went to visit a third college friend in his new house in New Jersey. He and his wife moved in January from Brooklyn, partially because she works in New Jersey, partially because they got so much more for their money out there, but mostly I think because they want to start a family, and because a house and a yard suits them more than a small apartment.

To be clear, this isn’t like Jersey City or Newark (Brooklyn-esque, in part), or even Montclair (classic suburbs)—they’re in a very small town in Passaic county, and their back yard opens into a state protected watershed wilderness area. It’s nearly the woods. They have a bear problem, if that helps paint a picture.

Their house is great. It’s a big three-bedroom ranch style place, with an awesome deck and yard and screened in porch (which, fun fact, is apparently known as a Florida room.) Considering that these are my peers and I don’t even have a back yard, it’s pretty impressive that they could buy a huge, gorgeous house.

And yet, I know that I would never, ever want to live there. It’s a half hour drive to the bus station, after which it’s another half hour into the city. Not that far, I suppose—many people living within the five boroughs have a longer commute to work. But like most non-city areas, it requires a person to have a car, and to drive to get anywhere. I’m not really a fan of having to have a car.

Also, all of their neighbors are older, with kids and stuff. It’s just incredibly grown up, I guess, is what I’m saying. Which really seems to suit them. They’ve got real person furniture (Frank and I can barely furnish our new apartment), they have cars and good jobs and want children. All this makes me realize that I have a real problem with the fact that people I care about can like and/or want things I don’t, and that’s okay.

I know I’m not the only person that suffers from this issue. I think it’s natural to assume that the people you identify with want similar things out of life, or to try and put yourself in the place of people you know, and understand their situations through your own eyes.

It’s hard and something I really need to work on to realize that that’s often not a useful way of understanding the world. These friends are really happy in New Jersey, and the fact that a woodland life isn’t where I’m at right now doesn’t mean that I’m immature or that they’re rushing into adulthood.

Same with all the people I know breaking up. Just because I would be completely devastated to separate from Frank, that doesn’t mean that some of them, while sad, don't feel they’re moving in the right direction—doing a difficult thing that is for the best.

Empathy is a good quality to have, but it also needs to be practiced in moderation or you start to make everything that’s happening around you about you, instead of about the people it’s happening to. This is something I’m trying to learn to balance. I mean, I write about my love life on the internet; I’m obviously somewhat of a narcissist, but I’m trying to keep it under control. Sunshine will help. Sunshine and beer. I’ve got a barbecue to attend, actually. Goodbye, internet.

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