Wednesday, October 8, 2014

"Not One of Us": An Open Letter about Women, Friendship, and How Social Media Can Break Us—Part Two

"Not One of Us": An Open Letter about Women, Friendship and How Social Media Can Break Us—Part Two

I'll be honest here.  I was thinking about taking a break from the site, the post about Joe was so taxing to write, though not as taxing as it was for Joe to live, that I thought what more can I say?  Or throwing you a recipe because I haven't done that in a loooong time.  And then I thought about this post I've had for a bit and had just let simmer.  The first part was about female cliques and how they can morph into something far more sinister as we get older.  

I didn't want to post the second part because I didn't want to think about it.  But my last post on my son and bullying got me to thinking how bullying affects me in my "grown-up-should-know-better-it's-all-about-them-not-me" life.  And the truth is, no matter how many gorgeous, genuine, kind, decent loving friends I have, it still kinda gets to the scrawny frizzy haired, clumsy, kid who was bullied when I was in school.  That past piece never fully goes away.  So I thought it was time to pull this from the archive and pick up the narrative thread.  Because it happens, and even though Joe has turned this around by gathering the courage to confront those who have hurt him, the way he did it and how he walks now, inspired me to get on with it:

Spine Building Moment One: Joe and the cookie kid.  He started eating his totally fantastic homemade chocolate chip cookies again, but he'd hide them from the boy who mocked him at his table.  No, I thought, this will not do.  We talked for awhile about it.

"Why hide it?"
"He'll make fun of me."
"Joe, if you don't start dealing with this now, how much more of yourself are you going to hide away from people that you think won't like it?"
"I know."
"Do you?" (this part was sincere, because I know all too well what the hiding can do, and we have an open-door, 'come as you are' policy at the family table because of it.)
"Yeah.  But I don't know what to say."
"Well.  Why do you bring your cookie in?"
"Because you told me not to spend a $1 on a crummy cookie from school when I could bring in a great cookie from home."  
"Well, true. True.  But why do you?"
"I like the cookies."
"So," I said, "just tell him that."

The next day, Joe came home to tell me sure enough he got picked on for it, and he just said, "Listen, crazy cookie kid [okay that's his irritated mother's name for him, it has never, I assure you, been spoken out loud], I like cookies."  And he shrugged while eating it. 

"He didn't say another thing.  I think it stopped him."

That's what happens I think when we confront our fears about the unknown and make them ours.  And I think that was the first step in building Joe's spine back up again, because he was walking a whole lot straighter.

But he still worried about the main kid.  His own "Julian," remember?  The bully who kept calling him weird and maybe just maybe could sense the subtle shift in the wind the way such children (who do act out in these really disappointing ways), who feel so powerless only can.  That kind of savantish skill that only the truly lonely can master and dole out in equal measure.

Spine Building Moment Two:  Joe and the bully.

"Why are you still worried?"
"Because of what crazy kid [again, sorry, I could have been a lot worse, but I need to call him something, and to be honest, it's been a LOT worse in my mind] will do."

[As fate would have it when I went to meet with Joe's teacher, said kid was there, and I saw him and an interaction with his teacher.  It wasn't a good one.]

"Joe, I've seen this kid.  He is not doing well in school.  He seems sad.  He's overweight.  I think he has problems."
"What can this kid do to you?"  
"I don't know."
"Remember how you stood up for your cookie rights?  Well, you're going to have to stand up to this kid too."
"What do I say?  He's bigger than me.  He's louder than me."
"Just tell him you don't care.  Right in his face.  Very slowly and very loudly."  I was thinking too, of all the unkind things that could be said around that very bald statement.  About the child's weight, about his struggle in school, the very things that I suspect played a role in starting this bully behavior in the first place.  

[And don't we do the very same thing as adults?  A plain comeback isn't enough, but an identifying adjective has to be thrown in for good measure: "That stupid driver!" becomes "that stupid, @#!! woman, Paki, wingnut, Spic, white trash, hippy etc. (fill in your own offensive adjective here) driver!"  Hatred, self-loathing, yes all of it, is learned.  This may be why the most awful thing the kids hear me say these days in the car (and hopefully out of it) is "nutty."  It has taken awhile to retrain my brain to doing it, and I'm sure now I will hear from the coalition of pistachio growers about my slight, but I digress.]

But Joe being Joe, could hear them swirling in my mind.
"Okay.  I'll try it.  But I'm not calling him names.  That's wrong.  It'll hurt him."

Oh. Child.  

An opportunity presented itself in that horrible cesspit of common experience in childhood called P.E.  (For us it is now the DMV or Post Office.  I have a friend who said she told teachers the long winded fib of a continual period for 2 years just to get out of the humiliation of those gym sessions.)  Joe came home and said he told him that, right in his face, just as the taunts started, "Whatever.  I don't care."

And the addendum, he even stood up to him for a friend when this kid stole his friend's pencil.  Joe said he was mimicked and mocked but he stood his ground.

Yes, that is courage.  Yes, those are the moments, quiet victories that will help shape him and mold him and assist him in moving mountains and changing lives one day.  I have no doubt he will.  Even though this, this was innocuous compared to what may come.  It's a vital, important first step to reclaiming your space and more, demanding acknowledgement of it.

But what about me?  And what about you?  What lessons can I take from this?  And that brought me back to the bullies or the need of acceptance in my own life from other women.  Because it doesn't seem to end, does it?  This creeping fear and anticipatory need for acceptance.  And so it was time I thought, time for part two.  

I thought I had overcome my need of nudging into groups and yet it all came crashing back again when I started blogging.  When I started this blog, months ago, it was a chance to put my writing in a public sphere, something I really wanted to do.  I had used social media to put some longer thoughts out there.  They were well received, I was encouraged, and often, to start writing.  I had always wanted to write a novel, and I’m working on one, but you know what has happened? 

A kind of quiet and somewhat hurtful backlash.  Valued friends (who I considered to be close, good friends) who encouraged my writing won’t acknowledge the blog.  It hurt me because their opinion and support matter to me, because they matter to me.  
This may be true, but it still stinks
I'm not so grown up that this kind of thing doesn't sting.  It stinks because these were people, women who I admired and genuinely liked and who I had vocally celebrated and supported in whatever talent they had and whatever dream they chased.
And it stinks because it shouldn’t be this way—celebrating someone else’s talent goes a long way to celebrating your own.  And the same standards apply, if your insecurity is driving you to do or say something that you otherwise wouldn’t, you need to push and shove your way out of that warped, misshapen cocoon to encourage your sister.

Please don't misunderstand, I'm grateful for my readership and so happy when I get feedback on my writing, but it seems to be the silence that reverberates loudest and longest, just like the one bad comment in a sea of compliments are the only words you're likely to remember.  If the silence or the speech comes from someone you liked or you wanted to like you, then it is all the more difficult.
I was a latecomer to social media.  In fact, the only reason I went on Facebook was to keep connections to friends I’d left behind.  I find myself on it often, because of the blog and then to update my scattered relatives on my Dad's health and my kids.  Social media, social connections are so important to this introvert.  I got to see friends’ children, celebrate milestones with them and see them grow.  This is grand.  But there is a flip side to that I learned about quickly, especially when I began the blog and have tried to forge a readership for it, which meant using social media and trying to get exposure, both of which are not strong suits for me.  The dark side of Facebook is the ways in which it used to bring cliquishness and exclusivity to new and stronger heights of mean girl behavior.

People who I’d meet, who I thought were friends, wouldn’t invite me to their parties yet posted pictures of gatherings to pools and picnics.  Even women who were newer than I was to these same acquaintances were quickly approved of and enveloped while I was to remain outside of it.  Pictures of my own children would go “unliked” by
friends despite my commenting or liking theirs.  All of it conspired to make me feel “less than.”  And mind you, this is on me--no one can make you feel "less than"--unless you're willing to let them.  The friends I have on the FB are all I know personally.  I do not have numerous friends on this media, and it doesn't matter if you do.  I can see, certainly, how having in the neighborhood of over 500 friends on any social media platform would make it difficult to engage with all of them.  And not everyone goes on social media, they are busy, rightly so, with other things in real time and you cannot engage with  them on that platform.  But when you travel in the same real-time circle, and you see women who decide to "like" pictures or status updates of people you know mutually and this all shows up on your news feed, while your own are ignored, well, it made me feel a bit blue.  

Social media is not always a friend of women.  At least while we still engage in this kind of McJudgersonness.  It stops cold the most fundamental of human
Debra L. Bruce
relationships—our friendships with other women.

I debated sincerely how to make it palatable.  I could “unfriend” all of these people who drove me crazy with their need to make sure I knew how much fun they were having without me in their circle.  I could have confronted more than one Queen Cliquester.  And, to be fair and honest about my herstory in all this, I tried.  Once, a long, long while back when one QC contacted me about a neighbor who moved in who was Indian and who had no friends, she asked if I would befriend her and if she could give my information to her.  Inwardly, I was irritated by the request as this person had not accepted me into any of her crew’s outings from the time I was a new neighbor, but I said okay.  

"The mommy cliques are REALLY there, you are not imagining it.  
Sad thing is? I am so desperate for 'mommy friends' that I am trying so hard to fit into any of them."
--"Sam" 2012 from Mommy Cliques

She said thanks and that she had felt so very badly for her.  That stopped me.  I asked "why?" and was told that well, this woman didn't have anyone and she thought of me because this woman was smart, and I was smart.  Hmm.  Something not pass the smell test to you? 

This person, the QC is plenty smart.  What she isn’t, is Indian.  So she assumed because her neighbor was and I was that we’d get along swimmingly.  Why couldn’t she reach out to this new neighbor when she had to so many?  For me the answer was simple, the neighbor didn’t fit into the clique, her clique. 

The Buzz on Parents
I am “friends” on this platform now with this person, but I’ve removed her from my circle.  I do not need any more reminders from her of what I’m not according to that world, and despite my many overtures toward her, that isn’t changing.  She assessed me, found me lacking and put me out the door at a time when I could have really used the companionship.  I don’t like her or dislike her, and I cannot be treated that way and welcome it.  One thing I have learned over time is that the opposite of love is not hate, not even close.  The opposite of love is indifference.  And the other truth I know for sure?  As much as God wants to me to reach out and be an extension of grace, he also doesn’t want me to be hurt.  There is no Christian-doormat-necessary-stuff when making nice with new women.  In fact, I learned this from my priest before my marriage, the whole story of “turning the other cheek.”  She told me that when Jesus instructs to turn the other cheek he is actually providing a conundrum.  It goes like this:

“Suppose someone hits you on your right cheek.
 Turn your other cheek to him also." (Matthew 5:39)

To slap on the one side it is palm to side of face, master to slave.  To turn the other cheek for another slap would mean the other side of your hand towards the other cheek, an acknowledgement of equality.  (Yes, in Christ’s time, a slap meant something more than just a slap.)  So in turning the other cheek, the person has to either withdraw or acknowledge the person she is about to hurt as an equal.  What to do?

To strain this for this situation, I feel no need to allow the second slap to occur, yet, I wonder what would happen if I had confronted that QC by saying, after the first slap of rejection, “Hey why do you not friend that person yourself?  You’re smart?  Is it because she’s Indian?”  Or “Why is it that you invited someone else who is new like me to your party but won’t invite me?  Is it because I don’t fit in with your friends?”  Being honest here would offer the exact same scenario, and force the hand of person in power.  (And, truth be told, is not so different from Joe just baldly stating in a few words, something to make it all stop.)  In any case that friendship would most likely be over, if it was ever there to begin with, but it may inspire some necessary introspection and change in
this woman before others get hurt in kind.  But you cannot, CANNOT change the Queen Cliquester.  You just can’t.  You can counter provoke by asking her to think outside of the box.  Sometimes though, that just does not work, sometimes the loss of power or the appearance of the loss is so great, that forcible removal is necessary—consider how one Boston mom was actually run out of town by standing up to a QC

The only person who you can change is you.  Remember how I ended my last post on this topic, about whether these comments just came at me or if I actually invited them because I exuded a lack of confidence that inspired it?  Well, Lysa Terkeurst goes on to say, “We forget most of our random thoughts that are not tied to an emotion.  However, we retain the ones we think often that have an emotion tied to them.”  

I don’t know about you, but everything seems emotionally tied for me these days.  And emotions are more complex than we first thought, just check out Brené Brown's research.  Outrage. Incredulity. Anger. Fear.  Anxiety. Restlessness.  Shame.  It’s all there and it’s all tied to our observations, which feeds our brains. 

All the times you look in the mirror and decide that you look awful. Groove is deepened, so even on the night that you give yourself a break, because you really do look amazing and awesome and everyone says so, you smile and nod and secretly say, “Well no I don’t, because I look horrible.”  Fat.  Ugly.  Whatever.  You’ve programmed your brain to reiterate the stupid label you created in the first place. Now if that isn’t enough, consider the grooves that have been forced upon you by others. 

When Nice Moms Turn Cliquish
And this is where the Queen Cliquesters and their crews come in.  Because even though you’re all grown up now and should know better, your brain remembers the wounds of your early years and however lightly the electric prod of the in-crowd police, it triggers the reactions that make you feel awful about yourself.

This isn’t the end though, not even close.  There is hope.  I have noticed that the more surety of self I have, the more I have accepted my faults and strengths, I can combat this.  Because the brain also forgives and rewires.  It happens, we can retrain it.  If you don’t believe me, look at the billion dollar self-help industry who are all trying to do the exact same thing.  "Read this book and know you are beautiful, figure this out to be happy with your body, see why bad things happen to good people, forgive and live your life…." No one else should script any part of your life.  Because the truth of the matter is, you are absolutely worthy enough of being an active participant in your own story.  And you are entitled to have women who love and support you surround you as you write it.
That doesn’t meant to say that this does not affect me, even in my older doddering age, I still am shocked and surprised when I’m excluded from a group who simply cannot see past my exterior self to the person I am. 

The only good thing about platforms like Facebook is that you can adjust the settings so these people that are holding you back, the ones that curdle the cream in your day can remain in a quiet backdrop of semi-obscurity.  I’m going to tell you how:  

You can place people in different “lists” on Facebook, you can organize them however you like. 
Jean of Be Web Smart

This is where you see you are "following" someone.
You can uncheck this and their news won't show up
on your news feed. 
When you friend someone, you can opt not to “follow” them, this insures that you will not find their pictures or pronouncements in your main newsfeed.  Only when you click on the group they are in, will you see their news. 
This screenshot and tutorial is entirely
from Jean of Be Web Smart

Further, you can uncheck them from any group, which means that they’ll still see your posts but they will revolve in FB ether and you will not see their updates unless you search their names.

Finally you can put them on a restricted list where the person in question will only see your public (world icon) posts and nothing else.  

Jean of Be Web Smart

I cannot promise that this will stop everything that hurts about social media, but it sure will lighten it.  Because until you grow the grace you need, you’re going to need protection from the QCs.  And this will help.

I used to assess and criticize and judge.  And now?  After my mother passed away, after my father’s life has been forever altered by alcoholic dementia, after
my children have been born, after losses so painful I have not the heart to count them, I may make note, but when I see your eyes and see the kindness and the softness there and I know that you’ve offered me a safe space to land, I will gratefully and happily move forward with you into a supportive sea of friendship.  

Answer the divine call in your heart to move past your own irritation or fear of rejection and allow that to motivate you to reach out to someone you otherwise wouldn’t.  You may find a richness of spirit that can only enhance and complicate and further your own.  It’s a part of growing up and growing out and leaving a legacy of kindness, self-confidence and empathy for your children to follow.  Because you cannot tell them to treat others like they would like to be treated, unless you’re doing some of that heavy lifting yourself.


P.S.  That recipe post?  It's coming.  Two easy chicken dinners that you can put on the table in a flash.  Stay tuned!  


Amy S Domenech said...

My words aren't elegant- Good Read! Your words, your stories...they are helping people- and I'm at the top of that list. Thank you for sharing and thank you for risking!

Lucy in the Sky said...

Thank you Sara for sharing, very much enjoyed today! I can relate as someone who has to enter a new town every few years from hubby's job. Still struggle with it but Peace for me comes from trying to limit my interactions with toxic people, and focusing on enjoying life to the fullest with those who truly matter to me. Those who cannot see or appreciate how wonderful I am are not worth my time or energy, as I only have so much to expend:-)

sara said...

Thank you both, so much, for reading and taking the time to comment. Every story matters--and so do you.

Just me said...

Thanks for sharing Sara. Break free. It's so encouraging to know that Joe confronted his situation head on and came out stronger. I'll share more in an email :-)

Anonymous said...

Sara, great read. It's astonishing that these female cliques linger way past the teen years. And the fakeness. I didn't say anything to one mom whose daughter was friends with mine. I had to remove myself from anywhere she was which was difficult at times because some of her friends were my friends too but she sickened me so I just simply cut her out of my life. I suspect she'll never change. So childish. And great for Joe! Cutie.

sara said...

Thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment. It does seem that this kind of behavior just continues on. Which is sad for so many reasons, but the most important is that these people miss out on having a great friendship with YOU! :)

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