What have we found?

The same old fears

Wish you were here

The longer I toy with the idea that the major disconnect at the root of the difficulties between Xi and myself was one of age — both literal and emotional — the more sense various things begin to make.

For example, the bizarre interaction she and I had near the end of the Spring semester, when I went to the department’s office to scan a document. I had no idea how to do it, and Xi was working the reception desk, so I asked her. She preceded to not only avoid making eye contact with me, but did her best not to speak at all. She shrugged and grunted and waved her hand vaguely at the copy machine when I asked about scanning something. When I said I didn’t know how to use the machine, she got up in something of a huff and did it for me, but again communicating only in grunts and vague, dismissive gestures.

It was classic Silent Treatment behavior, but now it occurs to me that it was also rather like a child throwing a fit. She wasn’t just being uncommunicative, she was being as unhelpful as she could be without sliding out of passive-aggression and into bald-faced aggression. Much like how a toddler will be silently defiant, not openly fighting with you, but instead being overtly uncooperative.

It also seems possible that childish behavior of that sort might explain the growing sense of anger I got from her. She wasn’t necessarily angry at me for my bad behavior (of which there was plenty, and about which she had every right to be upset), but rather she was angry because I wasn’t responding the way she expected. I have no idea what her home life was like growing up, but I’m wondering now if silent resistance wasn’t her prefered method for fighting with her parents. She’d go silent and become uncooperative, and they would…? I’m guessing they would just ignore her, until she “decided to behave”. That’s what my parents did; they assumed they could outlast me in a war of the wills, and most of the time they were right.

But back in the Spring, I was failing to play by those rules. I still tend to think of my relationship to Xi as being something like that of an uncle to a niece. Not a parent, not a peer, but something in-between. Either way, if she was switching into niece mode when she gave me the Silent Treatment, she was presumably expecting me to switch into American Uncle mode and just leave her alone until she “got over it”. Which I failed to do, and so she just got more and more angry at me, and more convinced that I was the one who was being either bull-headed, or dangerously unpredictable.

Another reason I like this particular explanation for what happened is that it plays into my desire for symmetry. I find comfort in finding symmetry in life, because it gives an illusion of order among the randomness of reality. The symmetry here is that years and years ago I had a relationship that went sour because the woman slipped into the role of mother, and I let her. Had we been friends those roles might have been okay, but we were lovers, and as you can probably imagine, things went wrong. Terribly wrong.

Of course, in this case, the symmetry is flipped, because while that relationship failed because the other person had slipped into an inappropriate role, this time things went south because I failed to properly play my uncle role. As I see it, Xi was playing the niece, but I was demanding her to act like a peer, and so the silent conflict just escalated.

The bad news is: if I’m right in that the root cause of this whole debacle is a maturity disconnect between me and Xi, then it really is all my fault. I should have realized at the time what was going on, and found an appropriate way to deal with it, or at least in which to react to it.

If I am really an adult — and not merely some 40-something man-child — then I should have spotted the scared little girl inside Xi and reacted appropriately, instead of stamping my foot and demanding that she act like the self-assured and self-assertive woman she will one day be, but hasn’t quite yet become. My guilt for doing that is largely mitigated by the fact that I was operating under the confused fog of depression. However, while depression might be a reason, it’s no excuse, so I’m still stuck with taking responsibility for the eventual fall out.

The problem is, I’m not sure I know how to do that. Especially while still stuck in a vacuum.

Now that I’m in the recovery phase of my most recent trip into the dark pit that is chronic depression, I’m more able to act like that uncle that I failed to be earlier. I don’t know if that makes up for anything, but it soothes my feelings of guilt at having failed Xi (and myself) so miserably. Anyway, what I’m saying here is that I’ve been checking up on Xi, to see how she’s doing. Well, I have been as much as I can, given the pseudo-restraining order the university has placed on me. So, what I check on periodically is Xi’s online activity, since, while she has made her Twitter account private, she’s left most of her other social media accounts at public.

And I’ve made a somewhat disconcerting discovery….

Careless social media services in China

Or: How to Track a Xi

While Twitter, Instagram, Imgur, and other US-centric services that support the sharing of pictures, will automatically scrub the EXIF data from any images that users upload, services that aren’t US-centric are apparently rather more careless about their user’s privacy. So, while any pictures that Xi shares on, for example, Instagram have no meta data in them, pictures she’s posted elsewhere will sometimes include data like:

NiNi at home… for everyone to see
  • Camera: Apple iPhone 5
  • Lens: iPhone 5 back camera 4.12mm f/2.4
  • Exposure: Auto exposure, Program AE, 1/120 sec, f/2.4, ISO 50
  • Flash: Off, Did not fire
  • Date: July 9, 2015 9:52:29AM (timezone not specified)
  • (1 month, 10 days, 23 hours, 33 minutes, 6 seconds ago, assuming image timezone of US Pacific)
  • Location: Latitude/longitude: 41° [redacted] North, 87° [redacted] West
  • Location guessed from coordinates: [redacted] Indiana Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616, USA

It doesn’t take some sort of computer wizardry to extract this information. There are online services that will not only show you all the data, but also a MAP of where the picture was taken. That’s what that screenshot is. (For some reason, that website gets the camera direction 180-degrees wrong.)

So, here I am, back in American uncle mode, worried about the fact that apparently Xi is unaware that every time she posts pictures of her toy ewe, NiNi (泥泥), she is also posting her exact location on the planet. Now, since I’m not the threat to Xi’s safety that she somehow managed to convince the university I am, there’s currently no reason of which I’m aware that she needs to keep her home address, etc., a secret. But it still concerns me to some extent — maybe there is some other, actually dangerous, guy out there to whom she’s been giving the Silent Treatment?

Thus I’m worried… but what can I do? I’m not supposed to contact her in any way, or ask a third party to contact her on my behalf, per university policy. Not that I would ask a third party to intervene anyway, since they might think I’m doing some sort of “spying” on Xi, when in fact I’m just feeling the loss, and checking her public activities.

Or, then again, maybe I am being the creepy guy. I dunno. I don’t think I am. I hope I’m not. I like to think it’s somewhat normal to periodically check on someone “you used to know”; indeed, I like to think that occasionally Xi still checks on me. But that’s probably just the hopeless schmoe in me.

And who wants a schmoe for an uncle?


It has occurred to me that not everyone will recognize the title (and subtitles) of this essay as referring to a song. If you’ve never listened to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, you should go do that. Indeed, listen to the entire album because, sometimes, albums are more than merely a collection of catchy tunes.

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