On Being Stood Up (A little doodle composed while killing unexpectedly free time)

I was stood up last night.

First of all: OMG, WTF? Who does that?? Does he not know who he’s dealing with?

Secondly: As someone who is compulsively, neurotically, prompt, hyper-vigilant, and plagued with an exaggerated sense of responsibility for everything and everyone, I have a very, very hard time understanding what would have to happen in a person’s mind and soul to make it all right to stand someone up.

It’s interesting the way we use the word “stand.” You can stand firm, stand your ground, stand up for your beliefs, stand up against oppression and bullying, stand up and be counted. You can refuse to stand for some imposition, or burden. It may be that you can’t stand liver, or the sound of someone chewing gum, or people who are habitually late. You can stand by someone in a time of need or crisis. You can stand by and wait for instructions. You can be an innocent bystander, or an incurious bystander who saw and heard nothing. You can stand and deliver. You can find yourself in a standoff. You can be standoffish. You can stand around and get in everyone’s way: don’t just stand there, do something!

To “stand” means, in general, to remain motionless. When you feel like you have nothing to do, where there is nothing to be done, when the other person lets you down and doesn’t show up, then just standing around becomes a purgatorial condition of helpless endurance. To stand can mean to accept or tolerate—perhaps with passive suffering, or passive complicity. But standing can also be assertive, an act of resistance. When you won’t stand for something, when you can’t stand it anymore, you’re refusing to be patient and accepting, you’ve reached your limit, your line in the sand—this is where you’ll make your stand, this far and no farther. When you stand up for something, or for someone, you’re acting on (presumably) good principles of justice and fairness.

When one person stands up another, the passive and active, resistant and stubborn connotations of “stand” all come into play at once, without any of the good, mitigating principles. Where most standing is, in its many conditions, something one experiences oneself, to stand someone up is to misconstrue the positive conditions within oneself, and impose the negative conditions on another: “I’m going to stand up for my own selfishness, I’m taking a stand against social obligations and courtesy, I’m not going to stand for one more moment of potential discomfort. Therefore, I’ll make the other person stand around pointlessly; the other person will have to stand being treated with disrespect and indifference; the other person can be an insignificant bystander to my own breathtaking act of egotism.”

That’s all by way of saying—just to be clear—that standing someone up is a completely unjustifiable, antisocial act of impropriety.

There are grand, romantic stories in the past of missed connections, of one person, waiting in fervent, loving hope for another who never comes—death, accident, cruel intervention by a scheming rival, unlikely but melodramatic plot machination that irrationally but suspensefully keeps our heroine waiting in vain. In real-life 21st century social situations, this almost never happens. Trying to get to the other person and being thwarted—by traffic or weather, or unromantic bosses or airline ticket agents—that happens. But sooner or later, the one held back finds her way to the one who waits (and texts from the airport or the snowstorm-induced gridlock when she has a chance).

But standing someone up is not about two people being thwarted—it’s about one person deliberately thwarting the other. The prosaic scenario of standing someone up is always the same—two people agree to meet. One person’s vanity, and a belief or expectation about some better opportunity takes precedence over the needs or interests of another. Sometimes the person concocts a flimsy or elaborate excuse—a lie—sent by text to defy proof or investigation or confrontation. Sometimes the person simply fails to show up, and the one who waits, waits; she stands around for a certain amount of time, feeling foolish, then gives up and goes home and reads Milton: “they also serve who only stand and wait.”

Why start something you can’t stand to finish? I’ve tried to imagine what semblance of rationalization goes on in the mind of the one who stands up another and—really, it’s an irrational mess in there. To have learned (is this learning, or the absence of learning?) to be indifferent to the feelings of others, you must have had others be indifferent to your feelings, a lot. You must have seen a lot of people treating others with indifference, and come to think: “this is what people do, they act as though there’s no such thing as ‘people,’ there’s only ‘me’ and things that I find gratifying or tedious, things that I stand up for, things I can’t be expected to stand, and things I just stand up.” Such a worldview is a product of mutually-imposed suffering, wherein you perpetuators of suffering are completely unaware that all you need to do to stop it all is just stop: take a stand, and start treating others the way you’d want to be treated yourselves. You might get stood up a little in the process (not very pleasant, is it?), but stand firm, stand and deliver, make a stand. Don’t just stand there, do something.

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