Total Perspective Vortex
What really happened to Trillian? Theories abound, but you can see what she's really been up to on this blog. If you're looking for white mice, depressed robots, or the occasional Pan Galactic Gargleblaster you might be better served here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/guide/.
Words are cool.
The English language is complex, stupid, illogical, confounding, brilliant, beautiful, and fascinating.
Every now and then a word presents itself that typifies all the maddeningly gorgeousness of language. They're the words that give you pause for thought. "Who came up with that word? That's an interesting string of letters." Their beauty doesn't lie in their definition (although that can play a role). It's also not in their onomatopoeia, though that, too, can play a role. Their beauty is in the way their letters combine - the visual poetry of words - and/or the way they sound when spoken. We talk a lot about music we like to hear and art we like to see, so let's all hail the unsung heroes of communication, poetry and life: Words.
Here are some I like. (Not because of their definition.)
Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Smart Girls
(A Trillian de-composition, to the tune of Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys)
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
Don’t let them do puzzles and read lots of books
Make ‘em be strippers and dancers and such
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
They’ll never find men and they’re always alone
Even though men claim they want brains
Smart girls ain’t easy to love and they’re above playing games
And they’d rather read a book than subvert themselves
Kafka, Beethoven and foreign movies
And each night alone with her cat
And they won’t understand her and she won’t die young
She’ll probably just wither away
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
Don’t let them do puzzles and read lots of books
Make ‘em be strippers and dancers and such
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
They’ll never find men and they’re always alone
Even though men claim they want brains
A smart girl loves creaky old libraries and lively debates
Exploring the world and art and witty reparteé
Men who don’t know her won’t like her and those who do
Sometimes won’t know how to take her
She’s rarely wrong but in desperation will play dumb
Because men hate that she’s always right
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
Don’t let them do puzzles and read lots of books
Make ‘em be strippers and dancers and such
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be smart girls
They’ll never find men and they’re always alone
Even though men claim they want brains
Life(?) of Trillian
Thursday, August 16, 2007
I recently won a professional award. Yeah, yeah, thanks. It’s one of those professional awards which no one outside a small group of people who care about this sort of stuff hears of or cares about or even realizes exists. But to those of us in the profession it’s a big deal. There’s a ceremony and everything.
Okay, sure, it’s not the sort of thing which gets written up in society columns or Crain’s. (unless it’s slow business news week or the recipient is a big hot shot at a big hot shot company, in which case a few column inches in the movers and shakers page will mention the latest award the hot shot garnered. And suffice it to say in my world, that’s pretty much, ummmmm, lessseee…no one.)
Outside of the film and recording industries creative professionals are often unsung heroes. The good ones are busy, real busy, and are called upon to “help” in a wide variety of areas outside the actual description of their job. Creative people are often good problem solvers, or can at least be counted on to bring a different perspective or idea to a challenge. A lot of us who stick around a company long enough often garner a reputation as being good go-to people. Why? Because one time 5 years ago someone’s computer froze and the tech support guys were busy and the creative person in the department was able to fix it. Why? Because creative people often get stuck dealing with their own computer problems because the programs they use are beyond the realm of tech support guys. Ask a regular tech support guy why you have trouble opening Acrobat documents in Quark or InDesign and they’ll just give you some patented “it’s the fonts” or “why do you use Quark or InDesign? You can do all kinds of graphics in Word” answer and dismiss you. So either by nature or nurture, we have to learn and we’re resourceful. We think around roadblocks to get a job done. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing, we’re the one responsible for finishing a project on deadline. Especially the artistic creative people. Apart from printers (if we’re talking about printed projects), we’re the end of the project food chain, and always required to pick up the slack for anyone took their sweet time at the beginning of the project.
No, I’m not bitter, I accepted this aspect of my job a long, long time ago. I’m one of those mentally ill people who works well under pressure. I don’t like it, but I can manage it just fine. One more time with feeling, I don’t like it, but I can do it and do it very well. On time and under budget. Music to my ears. Were I to have a tombstone it would read: Here lies Trillian. On time and under budget. And she knew how to fix the color printer.
Not exactly an astounding legacy to leave the world, but not shameful, either. Fortunately I have no plans to be buried anywhere so even that dismal tombstone won’t haunt my dismal life after I’m dead. That’s a blog for another day.
Delivering a quality product, on time and under budget, is my job. That’s what I’m paid to do. Because I’m a responsible person with a sense of moral and professional responsibility and obligation I do the job I’m paid to do.
And every now and then that garners me an accolade. Woo hoo. Yay me. I rock. Whatever. It doesn’t bring more money in my paycheck or increased respect in the office. So far the only thing I’ve noticed as a direct result of professional accolades is increased expectation. My boss has taken credit for a few of the smaller awards. I earned them, but she accepts them on behalf of our “team” or company. That’s all I’m saying about that. There’s a lot more to that hornet’s nest of lies and outrageous behavior. But I’m not going to publicly comment. Bitch. Lying sycophantic bitch.
Right. So. This award thing. There’s a ceremony at a swanky hotel and all that. I’ve gone to the award ceremony in years past and watched as friends and colleagues accepted honors they earned. Yay them. They have their moment of glory and recognition, well deserved, in front of their colleagues, friends and family.
So when I found out I won this thing I was a) really, truly shocked and b) embarrassed.
Embarrassed? Yes. Embarrassed. This award opened a jumbo economy size can of worms.
I was given a table for 10 at the ceremony and could invite anyone I wanted to join me at this table. Typically the award winner fills their table with a spouse or boy/girlfriend, maybe parents, sometimes a child or two, friends and a couple of coworkers.
My boss, thankfully, perhaps graciously, declined the invitation (yes, I invited her, I had to, didn’t I?) because she was going out of town that week. My closest work associate, a colleague at another company, also was going to be out of town the night of the ceremony. Can’t be avoided and I totally understand. My parents couldn’t make the trip because it’s difficult for my mother to navigate places like, well, hotels, ballrooms, crowds… can’t be avoided, I totally understand. I’m just glad my mother’s still alive, lived to see me earn something other than college degrees and that my parents finally have something to brag about to their friends when the subject of Trillian comes up in conversation.
I don’t have a spouse or boyfriend. Or children. Or even a cat. So basically, I had 9 seats to fill, pronto, or I was going to publicly display what a pathetic loser I am in front of a large crowd of people whom I just beat out for the award.
People expect winners of awards to have their, you know, act together. They expect winners to have spouses, friends, admiring and proud coworkers, parents…at least a faithful dog or trusty steed.
And so began a month of mad dash desperation and life evaluation.
I wanted my brother there. And my brother wanted to be there for me. He truly did. Maybe even more than my parents, I truly wanted him there. He understands the relevance of this award and is very proud of me for earning it. He wanted to share this moment with me. But. He, too, has a career and obligations which go beyond flying across country for an evening to go to an award ceremony. I know he regretted it and I know there was a good reason why he couldn’t be there. Okay. Fine. It’s disappointing and it sucks but that’s life.
My sister couldn’t take time off work to make the trip. Yeah, I understand that issue. And she doesn’t really understand or care about what I do for a living or what talents I possess. She’s the pretty one, I’m the smart creative one. That’s pretty much the extent of what she wants or needs to know about me and our relationship. She’s still pretty and I’m still winning merit awards. Awards, good grades, university degrees, whatever. Nothing new there. “Ho hum” was her response, followed by (intentionally hurtful insult passed off in the form of “advice” in three-two-one) “You should get a boyfriend so you have someone to take to these things. You’re going to look like a loser without a date.” “yeah. You’re right. I should do that. Thanks for the advice, sis.”
Okay. Well, so much for my family.
Friends...friends... I have friends. Good friends. Surely some of them will want a free dinner and booze and a few of them might even care that I won this thing.
Funny how something as simple as an award can put a lot into clear perspective.
I didn’t expect them to attend and didn’t even ask, but, the second I told Frankie and Benjy I was having the award bestowed upon me they a) whooped and hurrahed and congratulated me and b) dropped everything and bought plane tickets to travel 700 miles to attend the ceremony. Because they’re friends. They’re happy for me and proud of me. They care.
And Frankie knows what it’s like to be single in a world of couples. She alone, among my friends, has never forgotten her single years and how lonely, difficult and frustrating it can be, and how isolated it can feel to have no family around and friends who are all couples. She’s a good person and a great friend and she happened to marry a really terrific guy who likes me and cares about me not just because I’m his wife’s friend, but also because he bothered to get to know me and develop a friendship with me.
Whew. Thank the Universe for those two. I hit the jackpot when I met Frankie and later when Benjy came along.
Two seats down, seven to go.
I called some of my local friends. People are funny. They’re always saying with enthusiasm and conviction, “we should get together sometime” and “I never go out anymore” and yet when I offer an opportunity to get together and go out they get all blasé and disinterested, “Yeah, I guess, I dunno, do I have to wear a tie/dress?” was the a common response, second only to, “Sorry, Trill, we’d have to get a sitter/(my spouse) won’t be able to watch the kids that long.” In a close third place was, “Oh, Trill, traffic into the city is murder on Friday nights. And what’s parking like around there? Do we have to pay for valet?” Okay, I know going to an award ceremony isn’t exactly “going out.” But did I mention it’s at a very swank and hip hotel with great food and free booze? Let’s face it, most of my friends are married with young children. They don’t get out much. And if they do it’s to their country clubs or school fundraisers or pee-wee league barbecues. An evening at a swank hip hotel, at a VIP table at a posh event, no less, is a pretty big deal for most of them these days.
And, ahem, I’M SUPPOSED TO BE THEIR SWUTTING FRIEND!!! Sometimes you just do stuff for your friends, you make sacrifices and compromises when a friend needs you. You’re supposed to care when a friend achieves something, you’re supposed to support and respect their efforts. Right? Are Frankie, Benjy and I alone in this concept?
Bridal showers, hen parties, weddings, quit-my-job parties, housewarmings, baby showers, Christenings, charity fundraisers, school fundraisers, holiday bashes, you name it, I’ve attended or at least sent a gift/donation every time a friend sends and announcement or invitation. Every time. Without fail. If it’s important to my friends I’m there. Often with the expected (required) gift, food, bottle of booze or a check. And most of the time I want to be there. I’m honored and happy to be included, happy to have such great friends.
You heard me.
This pot has been ready to boil over for a while. A smelly, overcooked stew has been festering and this has put so much into clear perspective for me.
I’ve made some difficult and painful realizations in the past few years. Realizations about people, friends. A lot of people I thought were friends were really just acquaintances at best. At worst there were a few “friends” who, upon true evaluation didn’t qualify for even acquaintance status, and fell clearly into the “negative energy, bringing me down, adding nothing to my life” category. And no, I don’t go around evaluating people in terms of their worth to me. However, it was suggested that I do that very thing – weed out the negative people and influences in my life.
I started with a couple of test cases. I did the thing that many, most women can’t muster the courage and bring themselves to do: I “fired” my gynecologist and hair stylist. Yes. Even my hair stylist. Gasp. I know. I know. Hey, she had it coming to her. She was never great with the scissors but she was fantastic with color. I tolerated the less than stellar haircuts for the sake of the great color. Color was her redemption. When she started slacking with the color, getting highlights too light, I stopped splurging, stopped spending the money, stopped giving her 20% tips on a bad dye job and horrible cut and found someone cheaper and better. Guys in the audience won’t get this – what’s the big deal? You’re saying. Changing hair stylists is a huge, awkward deal for women. I know women who’ve been suffering through inadequate haircuts and color for years, years because they’re too nice and too “embarrassed” to have their hair done by someone else. In Girlworld, going to a new hair stylist is almost as bad as fooling around behind your boyfriend’s/spouse’s back. And as for the gynecologist, well, I never liked him. Yes, him. When I moved to Chicago I knew what hospital I wanted to use for emergencies, so I worked backward from there in order to find a doctor. Finding a doctor in a new town is difficult. Many “good” doctors friends and co-workers recommend aren’t taking new patients. So basically it’s a crap shoot. You take what you can get. Through a lot of trial and error I found an internist I liked who was accepting new patients. He was great. I asked him for a referral for a gynecologist and he said, “I can do that for you if you want, so you don’t have to pay for the referral and wait for an appointment.” No, I didn’t think this was weird, thanks to a “new patient exam” the guy had already seen all there was to see anyway, and I liked him, and sure, I would have preferred a woman, but I liked him. So everything was fine for a few years. Then he accepted a huge promotion at a major hospital in another town. I should have seen that one coming, he was too good to last. So then I was back to square one finding a doctor. I found a good internist, but she didn’t do “that” so I needed to find a gynecologist. She recommended her gynecologist who happened to be a man. Well, okay, if my doctor goes to him he must be good, right? Yeah, whatever. He had cold hands, was always grumpy and talked to the nurse about stuff he wanted her to do “after this” while he was doing his, um, job. “Scootch down, relax, check the swabs, we need to order more, get the #8s this time, scootch down, relax, have Mary type up the Jones case and send it to the lab, tilt your pelvis, no, not so much, right, Kim is leaving early tomorrow so Jane will have to cover for her, check the appointments you might have to fill in for Jane, okay, get dressed, we’ll send you the results.” Not even “have a nice day.” Okay, I have no doubt spending your days digging around in women’s snatches is not exactly rewarding and certainly not the place for mirth and merriment. But. I like to feel that at the very least whoever is down there is focused on what they’re doing. Heck, my yearly exam is the most action I get lately, so it better be to my liking. So I “fired” him. I thought, “he might be a great doctor, but why am I putting myself through this? I don’t like this guy.” And that was that. I’ve been slutting around with a different gynecologist for going on three years. I know. I’m a tramp. Again, this is a huge deal in Girlworld. We get “used” to our gynecologists. It’s not exactly a fun-filled experience for us, either. Consequently most of us want a doctor we trust and feel comfortable with, we like to know what to expect. And that generally means establishing a long term relationship, a commitment. The hassle and “embarrassment” of finding a new one isn’t worth leaving one who lacks bedside manner. But I did it. Negative influences gone. Out of my life.
No, I didn't feel empowered, not really. I didn't feel anything other than some pangs of guilt when I snapped on a gown to get my hair cut or my snatch checked. Since friendships don't require the snapping on of gowns there wouldn't be anything to remind me that I'd "fired" a friend. The friends in question were negative influences, offered me very little, if anything, so it should have been good-bye and good riddance, right? Well. It's not that easy.
To weed them out, you have to analyze them, your relationship and exactly what and how much they mean to you. Then you have to remove, alter or keep the relationship. I’m not good at this sort of thing. I’m not analytical when it comes to people, especially friends. I’m a fairly accepting person. For example, I don’t like the people who talk really loudly on their mobile phones or drink really smelly coffee drinks on the train but I don’t judge their entire lives based on these acts. I accept them. They are who they are. I have little doubt that someone loves them, that they have jobs and friends and successful lives. Perhaps the loud talking or smelly drink slurping is their one act of defiance in life. There’s nothing I can do to change their behaviors. They know the rules and they choose to break them. Me saying something or narking them out to CTA (har har) officials isn’t going to change them or their behaviors. I accept this. I don’t like it, but I accept it and them.
So when it comes to my friends, well, I’m basically blind to their negative behaviors. This is a bad thing. I’ve been told over and over again that I’m too accepting, too nice, too kind, and people use that against me. They see kindness as a weakness and take advantage of it. In the case of a few former boyfriends, yes, that was absolutely true and I knew it. But at the time, when I weighed the alternatives I opted to stick around and “get used.” I reasoned that if I knew they were taking advantage of me it wasn’t the same as if I was naïve and unaware. And they redeemed themselves with positive qualities. Oh whatever. It was a long time ago, I was young and had a lot to learn about men and the end result would have been the same regardless of any of all that.
Besides, in terms of friends, well, it’s give and take, right? Sure, I make the compromises and sacrifices, but sometimes they do, too, that’s just the way it goes, right? Well. That’s the way it should go. When I forced myself to critically analyze people in my life I realized I was doing a lot of giving and not much (any) taking. A lot of my relationships with people were one sided. I don’t think people were intentionally “using” me. Though in a few cases I finally had to harshly admit to myself that was the case. That’s rough. Admitting that someone you considered a friend is intentionally using you, taking advantage of you, is rough. My nature, and I think the same is true for most people (I want to believe it’s true for most people) is to see the good in people, to accept the negative because it’s redeemed many times over with worthier positive attributes. ie, “Sure, he’s selfish and narcissistic, but he’s very intelligent and has a great sense of humor.” No one’s perfect, right? Of course not. And if you expect and demand perfection you’ll end up very much alone.
It sounds like I gave this a lot of thought all the time, but in fact until a few years ago I never gave it any thought. Over and over again people I trusted told me I had this “flaw” of being too nice, too accepting, too forgiving. Not just with men, but with people in general. Don’t get me wrong, I can be harsh – certain people are completely beyond redemption. And there are times I don't suffer fools lightly. But, in general, yes, I have to admit, I am too forgiving, too “blind.” There were a lot of negative people and influences in my life and I knew I had to “do” something about it. Some of my friends were bringing me down. Literally. They were blatantly using me, calling or emailing only when they had a crisis or problem and needed help or someone to listen. And yet they were rarely, if ever, there for me.
Dealing with this hasn’t been as straightforward as it might seem. It’s not as easy as eliminating those people from my life and focusing on the positive, giving people in my life.
Why? Well, a little background in necessary. People tend to tell me stuff, they talk to me, reveal deep troubles and disturbing secrets. I have no idea why. It's always been this way. I’m just one of those people to whom others unburden themselves. Little stuff to big stuff, people approach me. "Hi, how's it going?" I might casually say to someone I barely know in the hall at work. The next thing I know they're telling me about their sister-in-law's thievery of the family silver. My friends and family laugh at the high frequency at which I am asked directions. Doesn’t matter where I am or who I’m with, someone will stop me and ask directions, and then ask my advice on restaurants or something else. It happens at least twice a week. People I barely know will ask my advice or seek my shoulder to cry on regarding some pretty serious stuff. On a recent business trip a guy seated next to me on the plane, a complete stranger, started talking to me about the location of his hotel and by the time we were touching down at our destination he had revealed that he’d been cheating on his fiancée and was tearfully imploring me to answer his questions, “What kind of man am I? How could I do this to her? How can I expect her to trust me?” Um, dude, for a start, maybe you should take your fiancée to a couples counselor and try to work out the problems instead of talking to a complete stranger on an airplane. If this sounds weird to you: Welcome to my life. People, often people I barely know, seek me out all the time. A week never passes without someone at work dropping into my office and saying, “Trill, got a minute? I’d like to run something by you…” and then they launch into details of a serious personal problem. My nieces turn to me instead of their own parents for opinions and advice. People shopping at Walgreen’s ask my advice and opinion on products. (this is a funny aside, a few weeks ago a teenaged boy asked my opinion on condoms. The condoms were on display next to the tampons (a usual ironic product placement which always cracks me up.) I was scanning for my preferred brand of feminine products and noticed he was taking a really long time choosing condoms. I thought it was kind of weird he didn’t just grab the first pack he could and get the heck out of there but I assumed he was waiting for me to leave so he could make his selection in private. Finally he said, “um, erm, um, excuse me, um, do you, I mean, um, do girls, you know, um, like, you know, um, those? (pointing toward ribbed and lubricated). Okay, the fact that he was buying condoms and asking me, or anyone, about what women like shows this kid is responsible and actually has some concern and regard for women’s pleasure, so he scored redemption. And after all, it’s not the sort of thing you ask your mother, now is it? So I tried not to laugh at him and just said, “yeah, some women do, but you might end up looking a little too swing-a-delic, you might want to just stick with the basics.” He grinned, relieved, thanked me, grabbed two boxes of standard issue Trojans and high tailed it out of there.) I am the world’s focus group, sounding board and agony aunt. If this doesn’t sound weird to you, then you fully understand how weird it is to be one of the world’s go-to people. Frankie theorizes it's because I have big innocent looking doe eyes mixed with a sort of bookish confidence air about me and when I smile it rings sincere. She should know: our friendship started when she asked me about a problem she was having at work.
If you're like me, a the type of person people just talk to, you understand why, for me, it’s not as simple as just eliminating negative people who are using me. Lots of people “use” me. If I start eliminating everyone who turns to me only in times of crisis I’m going to be very busy saying no.
Which is another problem. Saying no. I don’t have a problem with it in some circumstances, but when it comes to friends and family, well, no is not in my vocabulary. That’s a problem. I’m working on that.
Right, so, my plan was to just not respond when these friends once again came calling in a “crisis.” In a few cases I said, “Sorry, I dunno, maybe so in so would have a better idea…” I hated doing that, I cringed and felt guilty. But, in most cases, I really didn’t have any sound advice for them and the truth was, they weren’t really seeking advice. They just wanted to unburden themselves, share the load of their problem. They knew the solution but didn’t want to deal with it. They wanted validation that they were right and someone else was wrong. Or they wanted me to do something, fix their problem for them. Okay, yeah, well, I guess I could stay up all night figuring out your computer problem, but, um, why? What have you done for me lately? Cringe. Shudder. Sleepless night of feeling guilty and mean. But. On the other pragmatic hand, what had they done for me lately? Or ever? Sadly, in a lot of cases: Nothing.
When HWNMNBS dumped me I was a mess. A devastated, non-functioning suicidal mess. It was the one and only time I was helpless and unable to sort myself out on my own. A few friends were there for me, really, really there for me, saved my life, literally. But everyone else was, well, absent. Or critical. Or smug. One “friend” even went so far as to tell me they always thought he was too good for me. Yes. Really. A “friend” honestly said, “I always thought he was too good for you.” Not, “You’re too good for him,” which is what friends usually say to console a friend going through a break-up. Nope, not this “friend.” This friend agreed with HWNMNBS, we weren’t equally paired in the looks department. “He’s very good looking and you’re you. He’s too good for you.” The truth hurts, of course, but I’d already heard it from HWNMNBS. At that point I didn’t need to hear it from a “friend.” I was already planning to kill myself because I was so ugly he couldn’t bring himself to marry me, I really did not need anyone, especially a friend, to validate HWNMNBS’s opinion. I didn’t want them to lie to me and tell me he was wrong and I was better off without him, but, I didn’t need them to agree with him, either. I mean, there’s a way to console people without agreeing with their accuser. Things were icy with that “friend” after that and eliminating them from my life came very easy.
But other people, well, it wasn’t as obvious, not as easy. I kept manufacturing redemption. Read: Making excuses. They’re busy. They’re planning a wedding. They’re starting a new job. Having a baby. Buying a house. On vacation. They kept spinning the excuses and I kept accepting them. But the second they called or emailed, I was right there making time for them and "being there" for them. One such friend hadn't called or emailed for so long that she didn't know HWNMNBS and I weren't getting married. She called all in a tizzy about help she needed for a charity event and once "we" sorted out her problem she casually said, "How's the wedding coming along?" "Um, there is no wedding. HWNMNBS dumped me." "Oh. I'm sorry. When?" "Five months ago." "Oh. Bummer. Maybe you'll meet someone new at the charity event. See ya then! Bye!"
The non-reciprocal "friendships" had to stop. I knew it. I knew I had to do it. I knew I had to eliminate these people from my life. So I just took a while to respond to their voice mails or emails. I behaved toward them the way they behaved toward me: I was distant and noncommittal. And when I didn’t continue to keep up “my end” (which was actually both ends) of the friendship, many people just evaporated.
But others noticed and got the hint. A few realized what was going on and how they weren’t pulling their weight in the friendship and stepped up their game a bit. I was surprised by that. It made me feel like I’d manipulated them. I didn’t like that. But. I did like having those friendships back on track so I tried to focus on the present and future and not the past. With a reduced caseload, I mean, fewer friends, I had more time and more to offer. I was thinking it was a win-win situation and I was even, at times, proud of myself for standing up for myself and not allowing myself to be used. I didn't miss the negative people and influences and, not surprisingly, my own outlook improved. Yay me. I rock.
So I had a core group of what I thought were solid friendships. So naturally when I got the news of this award I assumed that filling a table of 10 friends wouldn’t be a problem. I thought I had friends, I thought I knew people who would be there for me and with me. I, and I have to laugh at this now, I honestly worried that people would be offended when I had to make a cut - only nine seats at the table, not everyone could attend, I hoped they would understand and even thought about asking if there were spare seats at other tables so that I wouldn't have to risk offending anyone by slighting them an invitation.
And thus began the realization of delusion.
These people, my “friends,” call me, email me, whining about how they never go out anymore and how they want to go out with me. They want to go out with me in the city, goof off, have some fun. So I call and email and invite them to do something every couple of weeks. There’s always an excuse but always a, “darnit, how about next week instead?” which inevitably ends up with an invitation to the suburbs. Because it’s easier for them. They invite me, and expect me to attend, all sorts of parties and events in the suburbs. Rarely acknowledging the fact that I have to take at least one bus and one train and spend a couple hours to get there, or worse, if they do mention it it’s in the form of a passive aggressive complaint, “Oh yeah, the train schedule I always forget, you don’t have a car, yeah, I guess someone can pick you up at the station, or you could take a cab, it’s only a few miles, it won’t cost you that much.” But if I decline their invitation they’re all hurt and offended. And yet they use having to find a sitter/leave the kids with their husband, put on a dress, drive into the city pay for a valet as valid reasons why they can’t attend the one thing I’ve invited them to attend, the one event in the past seven years which really matters to me?
I recently schlepped on two buses and a train to some godforsaken cornfield disguised as a charming planned community to cheer on a friend as she crossed the finish line in a charity bike and run. She rode a bike seven miles and “ran” three miles. Well, she walked at a fast pace. But that’s not the point. It was for charity and it mattered to her and she wanted support. It was a big deal to her to know people were there for her at the finish line. She bought a brand new bike just for the big seven mile ride and everything. A bike which I spent three hours helping her choose several weeks prior to the race – I suggested a nice but less expensive model which was perfect for her, but she completely ignored my advice, the advice she begged me for, and just bought the expensive one because it was “cuter.” Waste of a Saturday afternoon for $500 please, Alex. There was a big community picnic after the race and then cocktails back at my friend’s house. Okay. I can think of at least 1,000 things I’d rather do on a Sunday morning than start a two hour bus/train trip to a cornfield to watch someone walk across a finish line, toss their new $1,200 “cute” bike into the back of an SUV and then hang out with a bunch of married suburbanites at a picnic with a grill of animal death and not one healthy or vegetarian food option and then go sit on a deck facing a manmade pond filled with some chemical which kills all mosquitoes and flies drinking Kool-Ade because they “thought everyone would drink beer” forgetting, conveniently that I don’t drink beer and saying, “You don’t mind, do you Trill? You’re the only one who doesn’t drink beer, we don’t need to open a bottle of wine just for you” then wait for a cab to take me to the train station (because they’ve all had too much beer and couldn’t drive me to the station), the cab delay caused me to miss the train so I had to wait 45 minutes for the next train then ride 50 minutes into the city then wait for one bus, and then another, until, at 10:30 PM, I reached my front door. At least 1,000 things I’d rather do than that fun filled day. But it’s not about me, it’s about my friend and her big day and her race and her party. And besides, it’s for charity.
You might think this woman, if not out of friendship, at the very least out of a sense of obligation, would find a way to throw on a dress, get herself into the city and sit through less than an hour of a presentation of an award. You might think that. But if you did you would be wrong. She didn’t want to leave the kids that long with her husband. Huh? What is this guy, some inept buffoon who is unable to take care of his own children for more than an hour? Or worse, something more sinister, a man who cannot be trusted alone with children? So I said, “bring him along! There’s space at the table, the more the merrier, it’ll be fun! Frankie and Benjy are coming into town, it’ll be like old times!”
“Frankie and Benjy are coming all the way here just for that?! Why?!”
“Because they’re good friends and they care about me and are proud of me.”
“Oh, well, Trill, of course I’m happy for you, I’m sure this is a big deal for you. But it’s just such a hassle for us to get into the city. And it’s not even for charity, we can’t write off the expense.”
Ah. Yes. Of course. Charity.
“Next time,” I said with an exaggerated cheerfulness, “I’ll make sure to earn an award for a charity.”
Never, not once, did she even congratulate me on the achievement or even ask any particulars about it. She was simply not going to attend. Period. And that is all that mattered to her. She had to get off the phone, her nine-month-old baby had to be prepped for his play date. Oh yes, the all important and life altering nine-month-old play date.
I want a baby if for no other reason than the excuses they give you to get out of everything. “Gee, no, I can’t go to your Turkey in the Straw Fall Fest, baby Billy has Romp and Run play group that day. Bye!” “Oh, darn it, I can’t listen to you whine about your husband wanting to go to Argentina instead of Banff, baby Suzie has her Mozart Minutes and it’s crucial we do them at the same time every day. Bye!” “Just my luck, the night of your big fundraiser and the baby has the sniffles and is cranky. Sorry, can’t make it. Bye.” As long as the excuse is baby related, all is understood, all is forgiven. Apparently babies and their events have priority over all adult friendships and obligations.
And no, I’m not bitter about my friends and their children. Jealous, sure, I want a husband and children, too and it hurts that I don’t have them. But bitter? No. Annoyed that my friends’ children are used as an excuse to get out of everything: Yes.
This latest incident on the heels, literally, of the bike/run picnic/cocktail party/train journey expense and time, bothered me. A lot. Apart from complaining about it on the blog I don’t talk about this sort of stuff because I like my friends and I tolerate their sometimes inexcusable behavior toward me for the sake of our friendship. They may be prone to moments of rudeness, callousness and selfishness, but, they have redeeming qualities. They made the cut. They’re my friends for a reason.
However. Those reasons are getting fewer and less important. The redemption is harder to find. I have very little (pretty much nothing) in common with most of my friends anymore. They’ve married, had children, quit working and moved to the suburbs. They have husbands who earn tidy sums of money at their jobs which pay for their lovely homes, maid service for their lovely homes, exotic vacations, private schools for the kids and any other expense of life including new cars, gas for those cars, and cute outfits to wear while driving those cars and on those vacations. Most of them swore once the kids were in school they were going to go back to work. “I worked hard for my education and establishing my career! I’m merely taking off a few years to be with our children! Just because I’m having kids doesn’t mean I’m giving my life and my career!” You tell ‘em sister. I was proud of them. I believed them. I found it hard to believe they were giving up their jobs in the first place.
Well, here we are. A few years later. Many of them still have pre-school aged children. But others have children at school all day (and in one case, away at boarding school). And there’s no talk of resuming work or careers. I asked one of my friends, who had a very, very major executive job and a well established successful career prior to taking time off to have children, if, now that her baby is in first grade, she was going to go back to work. She was one of the staunchly stubborn, “I am only taking off a few years! I will be back, my career is not over just because I’m having a few babies!” Her response to my question about her return to work was, “Are you kidding? Why would I do that? We don’t need the money. I don’t ever want to step foot in an office again.” What a difference a few years make. Apparently she wasn’t kidding when her kids were babies and she called me and begged me to talk adult to her because her brain was turning to mush. Apparently her brain did turn to mush and she no longer wants to use it for anything more involved than a Girl Scout macaroni art project. I’m not exactly sure what those friends do all day now that their kids are in school. When I ask they give me vague and dismissive comments about the kids’ school, the gym and grocery shopping.
They find my life at best “quaint” and at worst sad and pathetic. I’ve become a source of both pity and scorn. Some of my friends say they’ve lost patience with me. They think I’m not trying hard enough to meet a man. They think deep down I don’t really want to be in a relationship or married because if I really wanted one, I’d put in the effort to find one. It’s, you know, my own fault I’m still single. This absolves of them of feeling any sympathy for me and more importantly, absolves them trying to not flaunt their husbands, children and all the trappings lives in front of me. They can brag to me to their hearts’ content about their fabulous children, homes, vacations and loving, doting husbands because it’s my own fault I don’t have what they have. The others openly pity me. I can’t decide if that’s better or worse. I don’t want “oh, poor lonely Trill” remarks or sad pouty faces when they remember to ask about what’s going on with me. “Still no decent man?” (exaggerated pouty face) “poor old Trill. So unfair. You deserve a great guy.” (jocular pat on the back, big sad eyes and pouty face)
I’m single, not four. I need a boyfriend, not consolation after breaking a toy.
Anyway. Slowly, little by little, some of my remaining friends have fallen away, drifted out of touch. Maybe a holiday card or occasional email. And that’s fine, that’s the normal progression of life. Their lives have changed, moved on, and mine has not. I have not evolved the way they have and we have very little, if anything, in common.
But others, some of the people who I thought were still good friends, have been showing signs to the contrary. I never, ever ask for help. I never make any demands. I don’t keep score or keep track of the amount of time, money and number gifts I spend on them and their children. I make phone calls just to say hi, and I mean it. Just to keep in touch because I do care about them and what’s going on in their lives. I do make the effort to go to their parties, charity events and whatever else they invite me to attend because we’re friends. Sure, I could use some help with my new place, one or two of their husbands could help me with a couple of problems with the wiring and much as I like painting, it would be nice to have one of them over for an afternoon of painting and pizza. But they’re busy with their kids and it is a long way in from the suburbs and so I understand.
Well. I did understand.
This award has opened Pandora’s Box regarding my status in my “friends’” lives. None of them, not one of them “could” attend the event. I didn’t beg, I didn’t make a big deal about it – as usual I was humble and polite and understanding and nice and laughed it off with, “oh, it’s just a stupid award, no big deal.”
The thing is, though, it is a big deal. It’s a good thing. I don’t get a lot of good things in my life. It’s rare that I have something good to share with my friends and family. I’m always scraping through some problem, dilemma or crisis or run of “bad luck.” I don’t burden people with those things, I try to handle them quietly on my own (hence the blog, I have to vent somewhere), I deal with my problems on my own. I'm capable, I don't want to bother other people. So when something good comes along I want be able to share it, not to gloat, but to have a fun night out and have some laughs and, have some support when I go up to accept the award.
And let’s talk about me and my needs for a minute. Yes, I have a few needs. Talking to a board room of professionals isn’t my favorite thing in life, but I can do it, and do do it, regularly. But speaking to a huge room full of mostly strangers is another thing entirely. Death or public speaking? I’ll choose death. I can do it, I’d just rather not. But I understand and applaud gracious acceptance. I want to graciously accept the honor I was awarded. And I’d like to have the people who matter to me there to share in that moment. And I’d like to know that when I look out into that crowded room there will be at least one table of familiar friendly faces who are there for me. Faces of people who are my friends who know and understand how horrified I am up there speaking to a huge room full of strangers and are there to support me.
But apparently that’s asking way too much of most of my friends.
When this all happened MAF was out of town. When I finally reached him he said, “What time? Black tie? What are you wearing? I’ve got some great new lashes and lip stain which is going to be fantastic on you. I’ll have Liz at Saks get you a great bag I saw last week, it’ll be perfect. See you then.” See, that’s a friend. No hesitation. Just an action plan. Bowing out, making excuses, saying no never crossed his mind. Did his boyfriend want to go to this thing? I’m sure he did not. But he did, and put on his happy face, had a drink, mixed, mingled and tried to make the best of it.
In the end it was Frankie, Benjy, MAF, MAF’s boyfriend, and an associate from another company and her boyfriend. Including me, we filled 7 of 10 seats at the table.
So, after the cocktail hour, when people filtered to tables for dinner people kept asking if anyone was sitting in those seats or if they could use one of the chairs. Yes. We were the pathetic table with an odd number of people and empty chairs. Ugh. If you attend many of these things you know what three empty places at a table means: Someone there is a social pariah. Someone couldn’t get a date and messed up the seating. Three chairs. People don’t travel in threes at these things. Twos and fours. Twos like to sit with other twos. So three places are useless to couples who want to sit with another couple. Finally there was just one empty chair and the waiter asked if he should remove the obviously unnecessary place settings. Yeah, sure, that’d be great and we all spread out around the table. So it worked out okay. And it was a nice event.
And when it was time for me to go up and accept the award Benjy stood up and “escorted” me up to the podium. I gave my acceptance speech. When my nerves got the best of me and I trembled so badly I thought I was going to fall, one look at the table with my friends giving me, “S’okay Trill, we’re all here for you, you’re doing great” looks calmed my nerves and buoyed my confidence. At the end they were the first to stand and applaud and when it came time for acceptance photos instead of the obligatory shot of me, the award and my spouse, there was a shot of me and my friends. The obligatory shot of me and my boss was instead a shot of me and my associate.
It all worked out okay in the end. I’m actually glad my “friends” couldn’t attend. The people who truly wanted to be there for me were there. My brother and my parents wanted to be there, and would have been there if they could, but they were there in spirit.
The problem remaining, though, is what to do about those other people I have heretofore called my friends. Severing the friendship seems, well, harsh. And besides, I’ve already whittled down my friendships, eliminated the negative influences and have been reaping a much healthier emotional attitude because of it. But if I eliminate most of the rest of them I’ll have very few friends. And, they’ll see it as, “Oh, she’s just mad because I wouldn’t go to that stupid award dinner.” They won’t get the bigger picture and the long term chips in the pillars of our friendships which led to the fall. I haven’t called or emailed them, and they haven’t called or emailed me. I’m not “mad” at them, per se. Disappointed, yes. Saddened, yes. Mad? No. Not really. I didn’t expect them to attend, not really, but why? Why shouldn’t I have that level of expectation? They’re supposed to be my friends. I don’t ask for much and I give a lot. Seems the least they could, or should, do is put on a dress, pay the valet guy and be there for me for a few hours. Apparently not. Lesson learned.
It’s weird though. I keep reaching for the phone to call one of them. Why? To tell them about the evening and the award? No. To find out how they’re doing and if Janey’s lost tooth was found and if a husband landed that big account he was hoping to get and if a pet sitter is needed while they're Argentina. I have to stop caring, and that’s proving problematic. You might think at least one of them would call me to find out about the award or event, but no, that hasn’t happened.
And no, I’m not dwelling on this. I’m busy. My job is even more demanding lately. I don’t have time for any pettiness or negativity. My friends, my real, true friends were there and in the end that’s what matters.
But. There is more, there is the addendum, the “as a result of…”
All the “friends” who made excuses, lame excuses to not attend the event, and haven’t even asked how it went, have big question marks over them. This wasn’t an intentional test, but, it has worked out that way. When I needed them, when I asked them to be there for me, they weren’t. Do I let this color my feelings toward them and our friendship or do I carry on as usual, forgive, forget, redeem and listen and console and help when they want or need something from me? I’m not exactly some sort of vindictive soap opera actress. I’d have a hard time pulling off a “you weren’t there when I needed you so why should I do anything for you?” There is no dramatic sound bite in real life. In real life after you say something like that there’s just dead, silent empty air with your harsh words echoing around. Yeah. Awkward. Uncomfortable. Weird. So, what to do, what to do…
How do people go around eliminating all negative influences after the easy and obvious cuts have been made? How do you surround yourself with positive people and energy when you’re the type of person people, even strangers, turn to for counsel on everything from directions to the subway to how to tell their girlfriend they’re cheating on her to buying condoms? Is it really a matter of just saying no? And, more to the point, how do you do that without hurting people who are friends?
I suspect that’s it. I suspect the answer lies in apathy. If you don’t care about other peoples’ feelings it’s easy to say no, easy to stand up for yourself, easy to slate them for their shortcomings and failings in the friendship and walk away head held high. But, the reason they’re your friends is because on some level, you do care. And so goes the conundrum.
And, beyond that, okay, let's say I draw a line in the metaphoric sand and decide to cut these people out of my life. Sure, I still have some terrific friends, really fantastic friends, but, apart from MAF and a couple of acquaintances I see every now and then, my remaining friends are scattered around the globe. Far, far away. Not exactly handy for getting together after work or on weekends, no spur of the moment outings or hanging out watching movies and ordering pizza. In order to see these great friends plans have to be made, plane tickets procured, time out of the office has to be arranged. Yes. Vacation. I have to go on vacation to spend time with the majority of my really, truly good friends. Sure, I'd like to cut the suburban schleps out of my life, and the constant blow to my heart every time I endure another party, event or whatever with a bunch of married people living happily ever after married lives with their brilliant adorable children and spacious comfy homes. But, if I'm not doing that I'll be sitting alone either a) on a bar stool or, more likely, b) in my teeny tiny hole in the wall I call home. So, the obvious answer is: Find more friends, single women, close to where I live and work.
So I've been trying to do that. Turns out making new friends with single women over the age of 32 who live in the city isn't as easy as finding a new hair stylist or gynecologist. I think I'm a pretty darned good friend. I'm not demanding, clingy or selfish. I like to have a laugh and I have a lot of interests. I'm a jeans or evening gown kind of woman. Should be easy for someone like me to find like minded women and form friendships, right?
Well, not so much.
Here's what I've found so far: The women I've tried to befriend are trying to find men. They're going through what I'm going through: Their friends are getting married and moving to the suburbs and having babies. They want to follow suit. So, their focus is: Finding a man. They want a wing-girl, a "friend" to go out with - to meet men. I called a couple of women who've in the past said, "We should go out sometime." And they eagerly accepted my invite. "I'm so glad you called! I haven't been out in ages! This'll be fun!" I'm thinking: "Great! Hanging out with a girl friend, woo hoo!" As the evening unfolds it becomes obvious they're thinking: "A wing-girl! Woo hoo! I'm gettin' lucky tonight! Ooooo, he's cute..." So far I've gone out with women, new "friends" four times. Three times I've been left on my own because the "friends" met men while we were out and either made lame feeble attempts to include me in the conversation, ignored me, or, in one case completely abandoned me - left with the new guy without telling me she was leaving.
Three truly is a crowd.
I've given up trying to date, trying to meet men. They're simply not interested in me and the constant rejection, failure was doing more harm than the alleged good of "keep trying, getting out there." I tried. I got out there. And time after time I was rejected. I hit bottom. Some of the men I was considering, and then upset when they rejected me, were, to put it bluntly: Losers. I was desperate and was starting to think that way. It came to a crashing end one evening after a pot-smoking metal head 8 years older than me with a questionable work history told me he really wanted someone younger and prettier than me. "Yeah, don't take this personally but I was hoping you'd be better in person than in your photo. I want someone younger. And you're really tall." This from a stubble-faced balding yet pony-tailed metal head in a stupid Hawaiian shirt and scruffy shoes whose biggest claim to fame was being a tour manager for Uriah Heep 20 years ago and who doesn't understand polysyllabic words and lied about his height. (Unless my math is worse than I thought, 6' = 72", not 66", right?) He rejected me? And further, I was upset about it?! (No, I wasn't upset because I thought he could be the love of my life. I was upset to go through yet another rejection, didn't matter who it was, it was another judgment, another "you're not good enough" situation which upset me. The last drop in the bucket which caused it to overflow.) It's beyond ego, beyond self esteem. It hit a point of being a stupid waste of time. The end result was always the same: I was still being judged and criticized, still suffering a lot of rejection and I was still alone.
I don't think about it much anymore. Loneliness is a way of life for me, it's become normal. I think about the days and nights after The Break Up and how torturous the loneliness was, how empty my life was without him. I missed him so much it was physically painful. Nothing's changed, I'm as alone as I was then. The difference is that it's become a normal way of life. Initially it was so abrupt that it was a shock to my emotional system. In all the years we were together I was never lonely. He was always there - or I knew he would be there for me if I needed him. I knew he was there, I knew we were us. The abruptness of his departure from my life left me staring into a huge gaping hole of loneliness. I was afraid of that hole, I was falling into it, just falling. Now that falling sensation feels normal. To that point that I wonder if I were to meet a great guy who liked me, too, if the reverse feeling, the abrupt feeling of us, the abrupt end to the falling, the cessation of the pain, would be equally difficult to handle.
Which is why this whole friend thing has become more important, and why this stupid award ceremony spurred such a downward spiral chain of events and awareness. I've adapted. I've accepted and am dealing with my solitary life. I am not the sort of woman men want to date or marry. Case closed. But I have a career and I volunteer and, you know, a life. Events, things, are going to happen. I don't mind going on my own to most events, but, there are times the obviousness of my solitude is awkward for everyone. And the idea of not having friends around to do stuff with, or just hang out with, disturbs me. Because I am totally alone romance-wise, my frienships take on an elevated status of importance: They're all I've got. I've accepted the huge emotional gap in my life where a boyfriend or husband should be. But the gaps where my friends should be is more difficult to accept.
So, here's my new endeavor: I'm trying to find friends. Yes. Really. How sad is that? It's very sad. It's come to this: Pathetic yet award winning SWF who can't find a man seeks SF for friendship, movies, concerts, hanging out and filling the empty voids in her life because no man wants to date her and all her friends are married and/or live far away and her cat died. On time and under budget. Knows how to fix color printers.