• July 23, 2020, 12:36 a.m.
  • |
  • Public

Bored to tears already? Yeah, me too. I’m also fed up with these overly-mentioned terms:
• Social (and physical) distancing.
• The New Normal.
• Self-quarantine.

However, the term ‘distancing’ has given me some perspectives lately:

For starters, last Eid Holiday. You see, in Indonesia, there’s this tradition where families hold gatherings and invite people over for an all-day feast. We visit friends and neighbours.

That’s actually fun, until we get to…small talks. You know, relatives or neighbours asking you some of these questions or comments, year after year after FREAKING year:
• “So who’s your boyfriend/girlfriend now?”
• “What? You’re still single at this age?”
• “When will you get married?”
• “When are you getting married?”
• “What? No kids yet? How long have you been married anyway?”
• “Only one kid? Your little one needs another sibling – at least one or two.” (What do they really know, seriously? They don’t even ask the toddler.)
• “Wow. You have lots of kids. I’m sure you must be overwhelmed.” (Oh, thank you for the not-so-needed comments.)
• “All girls? Don’t you want to try to get a son this time?” (As if they can do that the same way they order take-outs from their favourite deli.)

I know, I know. Such rude and intrusive questions/comments, eh? Unfortunately, that’s just how our culture works here. (Well, most of the time.) The sad thing is, many elders still believe that they’re entitled to throw you those lines in public without caring – whether you’d feel comfortable or not. Consider age their legal right. (Yes, it’s my sarcasm.)

In short, you get your feelings invalidated…like, a lot. You must have the thickest of skin or you’ll get into a useless fight.

This year? Thank God. In a way, you might have missed the usual traditions, but at least you didn’t have to put up with such drama. If you had used Zoom for free for a chat with your distant family and relatives last Eid holiday, you had to be effective with the 40 minutes’ session before getting disconnected.

Don’t get me wrong. I try not to hold any grudges here. (Believe me, I seriously do.) I just feel deeply reluctant myself when somebody treats family gatherings as life appraisals between members, comparing who’s already got what and who’s better at this and that…and many more.

The Benefits of Distance
Indonesians are generally sociable. Most of us are still tied to our families. We tend to make friends wherever we go. Plenty of us can even turn strangers into friends before turning them again into families too – or at least soul siblings by choice.

In fact, plenty of us still talk to our old school friends as we age. Sometimes it’s about real closeness, other times it’s more about maintaining relations / friendships, just for the sake of it. I know my sister still keeps in touch with friends she’s known since grade school. There’s nothing bad about it at all. In a way, she’s more like Ma.

This is why many Indonesians are still struggling with the idea of #socialdistancing. (Well, unless you’re introverts.) Most of them are not used to being alone and isolated for so long. Unfilled silence gets them anxious.

No wonder some of them have dared break the rules regarding travelling, meeting people, and being in the crowd in public spaces. Aside from the fact that many still have to go to work (or lose their jobs if not), they can’t stand isolation.

However, distance also has its own benefits, though.

For starters, you get to know yourself better – if distance happens to get you really alone. You learn to recognize yourself more, your strengths and flaws. You learn to rely on yourself even more than before, including how to make yourself feel happy.

If you know how to be happy with just yourself, then you won’t feel too sad when no one is around. You reduce your expectations on people, like on how you think they should make you feel.

Once you can do that, you won’t feel too disappointed if they let you down. You’ll try not to take everything way too personally.

Distancing versus Blocking
Meanwhile, blocking is everyone’s last resort when distancing no longer works. Honestly, I still hate doing this. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to get on with everybody.

Of course, as I get older, I’ve realized that it’s impossible. You can’t make everybody like you or feel happy with the way you are, no matter how hard you try. The same thing goes vice versa.

So I started adjusting more to reality and becoming more flexible. I’ve become more pragmatic too, although with the risk of being misunderstood as ‘cold and unfeeling’. I admit that I’m still emotional at times. Still, I don’t want that to ruin my whole day.

There are some people that I’ve already blocked online and offline too. I used to think it was a sign of cowardice, one’s inability to deal with differences.

Now I see that as a way to be much kinder to yourself. After all, your mental health matters too.

You don’t have to put up with everything you can’t really bear. You have the right to choose. If possible, sometimes it’s okay to just step back, distance yourself for a while, assess the situation from afar, or even place some serious boundaries between you and whatever makes you feel uncomfortable or unhappy.

For how long? It depends on how long you need it to be.


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