Sunday, August 19, 2007
BAD NEWS JANE SAYS
I have a pattern, dating back to middle school, of having a female friend who is a real jerk. These jerks aren't my only female friends. I've been lucky to know lots of really cool girls. But I do fall into these friendships with impossible to get rid of girls and each time I am left in a moral quandary about how to handle it.
The latest I'm going to call Sally because I've never met anyone with that name. Sally is such a jerk. I can't go out with Sally because she is so unpleasant to people. She talks over them, she tells long and pointless stories, she makes insulting comments about people when they are standing close enough to hear, she brags about herself, she says nasty things about big segments of the population without checking to see if anyone around belongs to those segments, she is always bringing up inside jokes and references that exclude people, and she won't let anyone (meaning me) get a word in edgewise.
Sally and I were friends as kids, and she moved back into town when I needed a room mate. She moved in and quickly attached herself to my hip. Sally invited herself along no matter where I went or who I was hanging out with, and as a result I started getting really unhappy really fast. I couldn't meet any boys, because if any came over to talk to me Sally would monopolize the conversation and usually insult them. People who had been inviting me out stopped doing it because Sally was sure to come along.
I moved out, which was really difficult to do. When I told Sally I was moving out she accused me of trying to end the friendship and leaving her stranded. She cried a lot. She said she had a history of being dumped by female friends. As you can probably guess, Sally had talked to me a lot about how insecure she feels, and I even suggested seeing a therapist. Sally said there was no point to seeing a therapist, because her problem is that she's insecure and she already knows that. Since I've moved out I've been a lot happier. I still constantly have to dodge doing things I don't want to do with her, because she'll call me up and say "This is what we're going to do saturday night, aren't you excited?"
But I feel like a scumbag. Because Sally tells everyone I'm her best friend and I am absolutely not. Even were she a nice person we don't have similar interests. Even though she is really rude and awful to me (things about me she has made disparaging remarks about: my hair, my clothes, my college, the food I eat, the tv I watch, my dog, my boyfriends) I feel like I'm being a coward by slinking off and not being straight with her. I can't figure out a way to say, "Hey, you're insecure because people don't like you because you're mean to them. You need to be nicer to people." I think if I said that to her she'd accuse me of being just like those other girls who dumped her, and cry, and tell everyone that I'm an awful person. And I bet those other girls who dumped her are a lot like me.
How do I stay clear of friendships like this? Am I a jerk for slinking off without a big confrontation? None of my relationships with guys have been this way. Sally is the fourth 'friend' I've had like this. Although besides the four out and out jerks, there have been lots of female friends I haven't been so hot on over the years.
By the way, I am my mid twenties, way too old for this kind of girl drama.
Not a Junior High Girl
I remember one summer back when I was your age, I was standing in the kitchen in my apartment, in a totally shitty mood, complaining about something to my boyfriend and maybe even partially blaming him for it, since he was the only person in the room. When I finished, he looked at me and smiled and said, "Hmmm. Bad News Jane is back, huh? Well, nobody wants to play with Bad News Jane on the playground, you know why? That's right, because she's bad news.
Your friend is a serious Bad News Jane. Even though she knows she's insecure, she's too proud to take a long, hard look at herself and say, "OK, I'm insecure because people act like they like me, but they really don't. They're afraid of me and that pisses me off, and I refuse to change! OK, but I'm insecure partially because I know no one wants to be around me (even though I am pretty entertaining and they're just pussies!)."
There's a lot of inner conflict in this picture. Obviously Sally wants to pretend that the world is a cruel place where great people like her get shafted all the time. Plenty of us are prone to telling that story, particularly in our 20s when we're just starting to figure friendships out instead of expecting them to run smoothly with little or no maintenance.
But the equation is very simple, actually: Nobody wants to play with Bad News Jane on the playground. She comes out to play, and everyone runs away.
Now, I've had lots of difficult friends over the years, and I've been a difficult friend, too, and there is a difference between someone who just talks a lot of shit and is occasionally self-involved (sums up about 50% of the smart women I know) and someone who is insulting, weird around groups, and causes trouble for you. I feel bad for Bad News Sally, though, because she really doesn't get it. She sees you as her only friend, and she relies on you and has no idea what's going on. I know that sounds unbelievable, but it's true. So many harsh people have no idea how harsh they are.
I'm sure she thinks she's just very honest. And let's face it, most people are serious pussies who don't want to hear anything truthful about themselves or anyone else, they just want to play nice, batting the little smalltalk kickball back and forth until the bell rings and recess is over. When I was 25, the fact that people walked around, talking about nothing, being polite and avoiding conflict made me really angry. I wanted to stir shit up. I wanted to talk about heavy stuff, or gossip, or get down to the nitty gritty. I had lots of friends, but I was still lonely and I had a bad attitude and I was suspicious of people. All perfectly natural, at that age, but it's also perfectly natural for people who are reasonably happy-go-lucky to steer clear of someone like that. I know I steer clear of suspicious, angry people now.
The point is, you need to tell Sally that she's too harsh and it doesn't work. Tell her she insults you too much, and she probably doesn't realize it or remember, but it's unpleasant. Tell her these things very gently -- for christsakes, do not write them in an email. Tell her over the phone if you have to. But she needs to know, gently, that she really needs to work on her anger and her lashing out. I would NOT go off on her, even though you could and would like to and will be tempted to once you start talking. I just think you need to say, "Look, you make it really hard to hang out with you. This is not just your personality, either. You're making bad choices, you're cruel and you're merciless. You really do need to sort some things out so that you don't feel like hurting other people all of the time." Life just isn't that boring that she needs to stir things up constantly. Maybe going out drinking with 20-somethings is boring, but if that's the case, find something else to do, don't take it out on everyone else.
You don't need to announce that you're avoiding her. She can figure it out. I wouldn't even announce that the friendship is over - you've known her for a long time. This is just the next step, telling her the truth and seeing how it sits. You just need to say: "I feel like it's my duty to tell you this, because it feels dishonest not to discuss it. I know it'll make you mad, but I think there are a few things that it would help you, in the long run, to hear."
Ooo, it's tough. I know. But if you go into it with the right spirit (do not call when you're mad!), you can say what you need to say without injuring her unnecessarily or sending her on the war path.
And if she does freak out, oh well. She really does need to grow up and look around and know that she's got to deal with herself if she wants to have friends and a happy life. It's sad, because I'm sure she really is in a fog about who she is. It's so easy to be in a fog in your 20s. Everyone's out drinking and hanging out, and you get rewarded for being loud and controversial and fucking shit up. And it's fun. She might not even have bad intentions -- although the talking shit within earshot thing is pretty extreme and nasty. But no one really calls you out when you're young, and people want to be entertained.
Most of the really difficult people I've known sort of faced themselves in their late 20s and got their shit in gear. There is hope that she'll figure her stuff out and really become a nice person, once she's humbled into reevaluating her current social formula. But she does need you, her only friend, to help her see the truth. No one else is going to help.
And then you can move on. Agree to have coffee here and there, but refuse to hang out with her in situations that will make you crazy. She's an old friend of yours, so maybe you'll want to stay in touch. Maybe not. But the only way to know for sure (and to not be haunted by your disappearing act) is to be honest. If she flips, then you know she can't handle the truth, therefore she's not someone you can maintain a friendship anyway. Or, maybe she flips and then figures it out and comes around and asks to hang out again -- that'll be a good sign that she's a more humble person or has done some hard work. But either way, you have to talk to her, because right now it's bothering you, you feel guilty, and you know you're the only person who CAN talk to her. If you were only friends for a year or so and then you figured out she was nuts, I'd say to hell with it, but you've known her for a long time, and you owe it to your history together to be straight with her, even if it means you'll have to endure her attacks.
Either way, rest assured that people get much more bearable and easy to handle in your 30s. Not only that, but you learn to spot the Bad News Janes from a mile away, and avoid them like the plague. They're a lot of fun, sure, but it's not worth it.
That said, though -- Ugh, I have to throw in this caveat! -- I do believe in holding on to Bad News Janes who you have a long history with. Slowly but surely, your friendship can evolve into something that's really worthwhile. It might take some space and boundaries and mutual respect and patience, but it's really great to stay in touch with really old friends. I have a few friends who used to be pretty unhinged, and I think they'd say the same of me, but we've figured it out and our friendships are so important to us now. We've been forced to be honest at times, to shut up at other times, but most of all we've learned accept each other and to learn from each other. That probably sounds idealistic, and Sally might not be much of a candidate for that. But you won't know either way until you tell her the truth, with as much open-hearted humility as possible. She'll hate it regardless, but even if she shuts you out, it's an important thing for you to do for yourself, to honor the history you have with her and to be open to the possibilities and the unknowns of friendship.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
2007: A SPACE CITY ODYSSEY
I fell in love with a woman, I'm a man FYI. She's in a difficult situation, finishing her PhD and soon will be looking for a job in academia as an overworked scholar. Her mother casts a web such that, when they talk her mother finds ways to keep my lover on the phone and not let her get to work. My love feels great guilt when she doesn't call. When we were first copulating she would talk to her mom once a week or less. My lover was healthier then. Now she talks to her mom daily, and now days my love acts like her mother with me. She talks, and I listen but run out of steam and get bored after about two hours or so of listening. She talks about her sister, rivals in the department, her sister's husband. She's acting like her mother to me. She bitches about how dull it is to listen to her Mom talk about death, and ironically calls me up and talks about death. I mean, I get the joke, but who is it on?
Lately when things don't go well, like her car breaks down in the drive way, which really sucks, she rages and she calls me to be supportive. I am supportive, I tell her its just a car and I'll call her a cab, and its just a day and really everything is going to be ok. She rages at me for not listening to her. Things like this go on for days.
I'm prone to losing my ego walls. As boy and a young man right out of college my mother used to ask me to live with her, and she tells me how depressed she is when I'm not around. Parts of me want to fix my mother's life, and now parts of me want to fix my love's life.
After another fucking fight, usually after a fight I go home, am angry and then plead for us to just be nice to each other, and I'm sorry, I'm always sorry. I have this unhealthy fear of abandonment. Anyway our last "fight" which wasn't fighting, just her raging, she said "You're just like my father." Which hurt. My Dad, I love him, but he's weak and controlled by his 2nd wife. All of this after she spent an hour detailing how my family are like Nazis and would of supported Hitler if the year were 1938. So I left, only more thoroughly than usual. I left town and stayed with some college buds in Space City, and watched movies and baseball games. Oh, and I sexually objectified women as if that would cure my still tender feelings for my presumably ex-love. I mean, if you can't sexually objectify women at a meat market, then its time to form a lynch mob. Simply put, where is the rutting in my life?
While I drove out of town she kept calling me, and angrily demanding I return (after she had said "LEAVE, NEVER COME BACK, I NEVER WANT TO SEE YOU AGAIN). I said I can't and if I don't leave I'd stay in this crappy emotional dynamic and I'm sick of groveling, apologizing, asking for forgiveness. Anyway on Monday she called me and very angrily said "All right, I'm sick of being accused of ruining your birthdays (one really, where she told me I was boring to talk to (and I said, "Man, you're a bitch") and then demanded I apologize to her in front of a grocery store, to which I replied, "What, so I can suck your dick you fucking bitch?" That was the unhappy birthday). If you send an email Thursday simply stating where you would like to go, I'll take you, but only if we don't talk about our relationship." To which I replied "Ok, that'd be great. It just really hurt when you said I was exactly like my father" and she said, angrily, "What you want a fucking apology, I'm sorry, OK?" and I said "Yeah I do. Thanks." and today is Thursday and tomorrow is Friday, my birthday. I do want to go out with her but am I being a stupid ass glutton for punishment living in a fantasy that we're going to be OK? Part of me thinks that if I maintain very rigid ego walls and follow through on my wants, like watching TV and not talking to her, she will become more independent. Anyway I know it, I see it, what i don't know is why I don't feel it. I guess I'm working on it.
Anyway this is driving me nuts. Why in God's Name would I want to see her? Do I want to be right? Am I acting like one of those loser characters in Sartre's "No Exit"?
Anyway I hope you smack me up with some bits of truth because I could use some constructive re-enforcement.
Just A Guy Looking For Emotional Health After Another Fucked Up Childhood
First of all, and most importantly, where the hell is Space City? Are there space monsters and Princess Leia types in metal bikinis there? If so, I can understand all of the objectifying and copulating that goes on there.
Onward. You know, your story was hard to follow. Like when you and your girlfriend were in front of the grocery store, and she said you were boring and you called her a bitch and she said apologize and you told her that you weren't about to suck her dick like that? First of all, it's a little strange that your angry rhetoric implies that she has a penis, particularly given your worries about ego boundaries and becoming your whipped father. But it's not just that. I can't keep track of which of you is which, because you sound exactly the same. You both crank it up to eleven when you're pissed off at each other. You don't hold back. One of you is an asshole, then the other one is more of an asshole, then the other one is even more of an asshole, and so on. Let's call it rage inflation. No one's going to win at that game.
Most of us old folks have been through at least one relationship that looked like that, and if you ask any of us about it now, we'll tell you that every minute we spent in that situation was a minute of our lives we wasted, pure and simple.
Reactionary relationships just don't work, because each side is determined to get an apology, but no one is willing to apologize. Each person is stunned at how hurtful that the other person was, and since neither person is about to address those hurts, all they can do is try to be even more hurtful than the other person was. It's like throwing sand in the sandbox. What's the point?
Being in a relationship like the one you're in involves wallowing in huge amounts of pain and anger and loneliness. The only reason you don't get out of it is that 1) you imagine that, because you're feeling so much pain and anger and loneliness, it must be that you're extremely passionate about your girlfriend and that she's the cure for all of those negative feelings, and 2) something about all those crappy emotions feels familiar to you, and 3) the intensity of those feelings distracts you from the stuff you don't feel like doing, like making better friends and finding a job you like and figuring out how you want to spend your free time. When you're young, you're more prone to falling into these shitty relationships because your friends, your job and your hobbies sometimes aren't really right for you yet - they're still works in progress.
The first thing you have to do is forget the "she did this and I did this" story. Just stop and look at what you and your girlfriend actually say to each other. She says "Leave and never come back." You say, "You're a bitch who wants me to grovel and suck your dick." You're constantly angry at each other because, deep inside, you know the truth of how much you despise each other. You look at her and see her hatred, and that makes you feel angry and hurt. She sees the same thing. And perversely enough, it's the strength of these negative feelings that keep you both locked in. Luke, it's a trap!
As hard as it is to hear, this is the kind of relationship that you'll look back on and say, "That sucked. I don't know why I stuck around for so long." You're partners in this: She's willing to dish up shit, and you're willing to insincerely eat it, then occasionally throw it in her face, which makes her furious. You'll continue to feel worse and worse about yourself as long as you're with her -- which makes sense, because what kind of a dummy would go out with someone who's mean and bossy and expects way too much of him? And what kind of a person calls his girlfriend a bitch, but then agrees to whatever she arbitrarily decides that he's done, just to keep the peace? She's got no boundaries with her mother or you, you've got no boundaries with her and can't stick up for yourself unless you flat out skip town.
You're just addicted to being distracted from your life. You don't know what makes you happy or what you enjoy anymore, but like an alcoholic trying to stop drinking (and you drink too much, too, don't you?) you're going to have to take baby steps and figure that out. You have to learn to live a good life from the ground up, without bullshit and craziness around you. Clear out the poison from your life, and I guarantee you, everything will start to look up. slowly but surely. It'll be tough, but life will be so much better, less painful, and less lonely, once you see it through.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
IN DOG WE TRUST
There's a fresh wave of bad advice headed your way, I promise, so send me your complicated emotional scenarios, pronto. In the meantime, though, check out this piece I wrote for yesterday's LA Times about alternative day care solutions for your little pride and joy.