People here love wanting to check-in. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of a check-in is “an act or instance of checking-in.” It is also defined as “the act or process of reporting that you have arrived at a hotel, an airport, etc.” It says nothing about anxious people confronting anxious people about potential problems, or anxious people gathering other anxious people around to reflect on their anxiety.
And yes, I am one of those anxious people. I constantly start sentences in emails and in formal conversation with “I just wanted to check in…” and with a tone that is both soothing and condescending. I tend to say it in a higher register then I usually speak, something I tend to do when I’m trying to get someone’s attention/respect (we can make a whole blog post on those implications). And after we check-in, we’re done speaking until the next time we check-in.
I’ve always been a reflective person. Growing up without close friends and with a sister five years younger than me meant that I spent a lot of time thinking to myself, since I was all I had. I talked to myself a lot, but it was very rarely to “myself.” It started off with me pretending I was telling stories to younger children, usually around my sister’s age. As I got older, I would pretend that friends/acquaintances were asking me lots of questions that I needed to answer. Something like this:
FF (Fake Friend): Why did you do this?
Me: I just wanted to try something new.
Me: I just figured it was worth a shot to put myself out there.
FF: Was it worth a shot?
Me: Not really sure.
FF: Why aren’t you sure?
It basically continued on that trajectory until I got tired or something else distracted me. My “imaginary friends” (or enemies, maybe) never actually gave me advice, they just acted as some sort of mirror for me to reflect on what I had done.
I started doing theater, and I spent a lot of time with very outgoing, extraverted people who very easily shared their feelings about the tiniest stimuli they encountered. People who yelled “Ow!” when an ant crawled on their feet. I grew to resent those types of theater people (because not all theater people are like that), but I took note of the ease in which they were able to express their feelings. And it only helped me when I was talking to myself and writing in my diary about my feelings. I found it easier to just really get deep into my own mind and try to understand the problems I had and why I was having them. I tried not to put blocks on myself in terms of expressing my emotions (at least in school, at home I was very silent and did not express any emotion around the time I started realizing I was gay and did not really feel like my home was a home). But I started realizing that there were people that saw any expression of emotion I displayed as scary. And it very well could have to do with the stereotypes about “scary black men.” So I came to this conclusion that self-expression is raced and classed and gendered and all of that, but for practical purposes, I was going to allow myself to feel my emotions, but I was then going to figure out what I was going to do with them. It’s one thing to be angry and then realize that I’m angry. But I wouldn’t let myself just be angry and then let it fizzle out, I would channel it into something. I guess that’s called sublimation.
I sublimated. I wrote and wrote and sang and performed and scholared and wrote. Did it well enough that I got into an elite college. And I ended up being thrusted into a different culture where all of these academics were constantly desiring to check-in with each other about everything. And I went along with it, I thought “Cool, people want to take time to reflect and stuff, I believe in that.” But it started becoming this contentious issue very quickly. Not an issue in the sense that there was an “anti check-in” sentiment, but I started wondering what the purpose was of checking-in. I encountered so many different versions of checking-in, and very few, if any of them, were helpful. I had formal check-ins in non-profit settings where it just felt like we were checking in just because we were supposed to. And yet no one was actually really reflecting or being vulnerable with one another. We just listed things we did and moved on with no comment on anything we said, and I’m like “Why did we spend this time checking in in the first place?”
Then I was in more performing arts environments where the check-ins were more like check-forevers. People felt the need to vent and share everything that happened to them in that moment. It was very overwhelming, but it also made me sad in a way. It made me sad because I wondered if these people more or less turned what was supposed to be a five-minute check-in into a therapy session because they didn’t feel supported on this campus. Maybe this was one of the only times they felt they could get everything off their chest.
I started to see “check-ins” in a more capitalistic way. I figured we did them so that we could increase our productivity, and it had less to do with actual reflection. Because all of these people are checking in, but this college is filled with people who are struggling to deal with their own problems, and so we’re all throwing our shit at each other. And it’s already a struggle to process our own shit if we’ve never had to do it before in a independent, adult setting, so how are we gonna process everyone else’s? Especially if we start talking about traumatic stuff, which is what usually happened in my theater check-ins. So maybe we just checked-in so that we get the emotional part done and we can just get back into working hard for whatever it is we’re working for. Maybe a play, maybe a group project, maybe for nothing.
I don’t “check-in” with friends, the word has been ruined for me. I ask how they’re doing, and I try to do it when I know I can actually care about their answers. Cause there are people who check-in with me and don’t actually listen to me. And there are people who check-in and listen, but they don’t actually understand me. I feel like it’s possible to do it all, maybe I’m just being naive.