How To Be Emotional And Not Alienate Your Friends

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There was a consensus in my beloved island-nation, the Dominican Republic: foreigners were these emotionally handicapped creatures who shat on your feelings.

Something was wrong with them, we all thought. Why didn’t they pick fights with bank tellers or supermarket cashiers or bus drivers (like we did?)

And good luck to you if you fancied them! Dating a foreigner in the Dominican Republic was akin to going down a rabbit hole of emotional fuckeduppedness.

Take my cousin, who complained about her German boyfriend all the time. She’d call him frio — “cold as ice” — unwilling to open up and show her his “softer side.”  

My uncle’s French girlfriend suffered from the same kind of indifference. The word he used to describe her was frigida, meaning “frigid.” Yet another variation of the word “cold.”  

Using icy terms to describe these foreigners’ lack of emotions made sense to the average Dominican. We figured that they came from countries that experienced harsh winters. Somehow, the cold had seeped into their bones — we all agreed — and rendered their emotional potentials useless.

Growing up in the DR, it wasn’t any wonder how emotional “my people” were: parents, teachers, shoe-shine boys. We were all alike. To feel was ingrained in our society and culture. It was a way of life.

Also, we had telenovelas to teach us how to navigate our emotional dissonance! (Cue unenthusiastic yay.)

A big Suazo family tradition was to gather around the TV after dinner, tune into Telemundo and spend hours watching the latest soap operas. We’d get caught up in a tangled web of melodrama and relished every second of it!

To further our emotional education, we learned to dance as soon as we could walk. We were taught to “feel” the music: salsa, merengue, bachata, even música Americana. We were told to trust in our hips (‘cause they don’t lie). And we were encouraged to emote.

What’s more, our parents disciplined us for not showing enough emotion.

Oh, you have no more wailing and grief to offer? Go to your room and don’t come out in three days! What about dinner, you ask? How about you EAT SHIT!  

Displays of emotion were so common in the DR that suppressing them was completely unbecoming of us. If you were a stoic, you were ostracized by the general populace.

Furthermore, emotionality was not defined by gender, nor bound to it. In other words, the “macho” Dominican male was as emotional as the “nagging” Dominican female, if not more so.  

I remember riding my bike around town. I’d pedal my way to the community pool, the ice cream parlor, the arcades at the mall. All the while, it seemed as though I was pedaling through a symphony of emotions.

I saw a wife drag her husband’s mistress by the hair, out of her house and onto the street gutter. The cheating husband following behind with his pants down to his knees, flashing his tighty-whities, yelling at his wife to stop being crazy. 

In catholic school, there was this one teacher who cried every time they played “Ave Maria” over the speakerphones at noon (this happened without fail, same time, every day).  

Emotional outbursts were, for lack of a better term, authentically Dominican. So you could imagine my intrigue upon discovering (once we moved back to New York City) that emotions can lead to some pretty bad outcomes.

I was urged by my American peers to refrain from tapping into my deep pool of Dominican emotions when reacting or making a decision about…well…anything and everything.

If I couldn’t help it, they said — if I felt the need to employ an emotional approach to solve one of my many many problems —  the very least I could do was run it by a “reason filter.” 

I wondered, was it really that terrible to decide on something out of pure emotion? Was it a no-no to think strictly about the way we felt before arriving at some sort of catharsis or plan-of-action? 

Did reason supersede emotion?

Was it Pacman in a labyrinth of pebbled-food and ghosts?

If Spock were a real person, gay and proud (and if I could get over his freakishly mutated ears), I wondered whether or not we’d be compatible. After all, Vulcans were the direct antithesis to Dominicans. Their unfeeling ways clashed with our very-much-so feeling ways.  

In “Emotion and Peace of Mind,” author Richard Sorabji wrote, “one objection to emotions is that they are disturbing and so preclude tranquility.”

This idea was popularized by the ancient Greeks. Cicero, for example, used the Latin words pathos, which means “to feel and/or experience emotion,” and perturbatio, which means “disturbance,” interchangeably.

Today, when you look up “emotion” on thesaurus.com, you’ll find the word “feeling” about halfway down the page, and underneath that, a sub-category of like-minded words like “ardor,” “discernment,” “intensity,” and “sensitivity.” A spectrum of words denoting heaviness.

Anger — another heavy-handed word — is a common emotion, often featured in emotional outbursts. It’s a quick reaction programmed in our brain, ready to dispense when we experience indignation or unfairness. 

And when compounded with jealousy, it can make you do some fucked up Othello-style shit (hopefully not as tragic!)

But is it useful?

According to Sorabji, “anger is sometimes useful because other people may need to be given a message. It is sometimes the best way to curb the bully or rowdy or simply to alert someone that the feelings of others need to be considered.”

By the way, in his chapter, “The Case for and against Eradication of Emotion, Sorabji was against, not for, the complete removal of emotion.

Because let’s face it: 

A) Although they can be omitted at times, emotions simply can’t be eradicated from the nervous system. So stop smoking weed and watching “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” in hopes that one day it might be. 

B) Studies have shown that emotion and motivation are closely related. You remember motivation, right? That thing we need to get out of bed each morning? Imagine a world without it. Apocalyptic, no? 

The key is to find a healthy balance between reason and emotion.

Find it and delight.  

And as Spock would say, “live long and prosper.”

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