Consider the following scenario:
An overweight woman and her husband walk into a trendy clothiers, and she goes into the back to try on some slinky outfit that she knows is at least a size too small. She comes out of the dressing room looking squeezed and
pinched into something that's blatantly too tight, and asks her husband sitting on the couch, "Does this dress make me look fat?"
We laugh, but there's an important effect at work here. The woman is not seeking an answer to the question. She's seeking reassurance. She has to know that the dress doesn't fit, that her hips and stomach bulge from beneath the fabric like great globs of pork-fat wrapped in cellophane. She can't possibly be blind to the fact that it emphasizes every curve she shouldn't have and doesn't do anything for the ones that she should. What she wants is not to be told whether or not the dress makes her look fat, because it does. What she wants is to be told that, in her husband's eyes she is beautiful.
However, therein lies the Great Paradox. If she asks to be told that she's beautiful, the compliment is meaningless. Having requested praise, receiving it counts for nothing. You got what you asked to be given, and that doesn't
satiate the need for approval. For it to truly be what she wants, it must be unrequested, unexpected. Not undeserved or unnecessary, to be sure, but it must be spontaneous. The husband must say, "Honey, you look great" without ever having been asked for such a statement, because to ask for it is to invalidate the answer.
I am that woman. My life is the dress.
I have this need, this raw craving for real that lurks within my skull like a demon. I can tell you in the abstract what I want. I can discuss generalities, possibilities, and probabilities until my tongue is numb. Until someone asks me for detail, or expresses an interest, that's the most I can say. Anything more, and I've ruined the spell.
If I tell you what I want without you asking me, it doesn't mean anything to me when you give it to me, because you aren't responding to my wishes; you're only cranking the handle on the rote-response generator. You don't really know what I want; you're only responding to my input, like a machine. You aren't real; you're just a mirror, showing me what I want to see. I don't want to see myself in your mirror. I want to see you.
Scenario Number Two:
Your friend holds a party. He says it's invite-only. You've got some vague and tenuous plans for that weekend, but nothing certain. You say as much. Your friend asks you if you want an invitation. You beg off, because of
those plans. Your friend shrugs and goes on his merry way. All next week, you hear everyone you know talking about the party, and how you should've been there. If you'd taken the invite when it was offered, then you'd have
felt like you invited yourself and really weren't part of the crowd, and you really did have other plans, even if they were sketchy. If you'd gotten an invite in the mail like all the other guests, though, you'd have gone, because then you'd have known that your friend really did want you there, and the invite would've felt genuine.
Is it psychosis? Probably. Is it neurosis? Certainly. Is it broken? Yes. Is it confusing? Likely. Is it curable? Doubtful.
I need to feel like I belong. Even as I scream my individuality to the heavens, I need to know that I'm an accepted member of my group. It's worse than the dress. It's the party. Even if you ask me if I want something, I'm not likely to say yes because some part of my skull will rise up an insist that you're only asking me because I've made a nuisance of myself, like all the other people I know that have asked to be let into private affairs. Even to my own mind, I'm no better than the little fat kid standing outside the cool kids' clubhouse asking to be let inside, or worse, making a big show of how much I don't want to be a part of any ol' stupid club, all the while hungrily peeking through the windows, trying not to get caught.
When I receive a compliment without solicitation from a stranger praising one of my stories, it's the most incredible high in the world. Why can't I feel that when someone dear to me offers me something? Why must I reject it? Why can't I believe in its reality? Why does my brain mandate such an important difference between being offered something, and being given that same thing outright?
I guess it goes back to the dress. If the wife walks out and the husband says, "Would you like me to compliment you?" in response to her solitication of opinion, she'd be insulted. She'd probably be even more insulted than if he had told her that she could stand to lose a few pounds. He's taken what should have been an unwritten subtext and made it blatant, and in so doing he's exposed the absurdity of the whole scenario. She wants to know that she's beautiful in his eyes. She wants the unrequested reassurance that he finds her attractive despite her size, and so she deliberately calls her weight into issue by trying on a dress that's too tight and asking if it makes her look bad. She has to know, at least subconsciously, that her actions are childish, but to confess that is to admit her weakness, to acknowledge her lack of self-esteem. What she wants is to win without admitting that she's
playing the game. Asking if she wants to be told how good she looks is bringing the game into the focus, kind of like asking a D&D character for zir alignment.
I can go one better than she can. I can admit that the game exists. I can even admit in the abstract that I play it, even knowing that it can't be won. I'm not proud of that truth, but I think I can take some pride in the admission. I may not be emotionally healthy, but I'm cognizant of my damage and try to take steps to correct it when I can and work around it when I can't.
Nobody stays in Atlantis by faking reality in any manner whatsoever.