It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Disrespect and rudeness--really?

What is does it mean, to be rude? The Google search function turns up “…offensively impolite or bad-mannered…” but that is rather subjective—who determines when impoliteness or bad manners becomes offensive? Obviously the person who is perceived as being rude doesn’t think he’s being rude at all, while others—whose minds he cannot read—perceive differently. The Cambridge Dictionary1 defines rude as “…not polite; offensive or embarrassing…” Again, subjective: that which I find offensive you might find hilarious.
Years ago there was a standard of behaviour to which the majority of people agreed constituted basic manners. Things like saying “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” Saying you are sorry for causing someone else inconvenience or hurt. Children asking to be excused from the table. Not interrupting others while they are speaking. Waiting your turn for something. Calling before going to someone’s home. Respecting the privacy of others. Respecting other people’s wishes with respect to their own persons and property. Being a “good sport” when losing and gracious when winning. These and many other small courtesies were handed down to each succeeding generation as the lubricant that oiled the wheels of society. Without small, simple courtesies practiced by the majority of us, regardless of class, society broke down into a chaos of ruthless competition. The definition of rude was not subjective or ruled by the perception of either the recipient or perpetrator, the definition of rude was codified—it was anything that violated the basic code of manners that permeated the society.
Narcissists understand the codes and narcissistic parents use them to their advantage. In a society that largely ignores the traditional courtesies, narcissistic parents are in their element: they can teach their children the kinds of behaviours and responses they want, call them “manners” or “courtesy” and shape their children the way they see fit.
When I was growing up we were taught basic manners first in the family and next in primary (elementary) school: teachers would require us to say “please” and “thank you,” wait in a queue or raise our hands for our turn at something, to share with others. Girls got a more expanded version of it in the higher grades during compulsory Home Economics courses. We had books and newspaper columns by well-known etiquette mavens, books that might show up in a young adolescent girl’s birthday or holiday swag. And we learned from TV shows like Leave it to Beaver in which the young Beav and his adolescent brother Wally were counselled on manners by their mother, who was backed by their father. But we also understood that there were different rules for adults, rules that forbade us to do things until we were “old enough,” among them smoking, drinking, driving cars and—my eagerly anticipated favourite—moving away from home.
It was this “rules are different for grownups” that gave people like my mother their power. They could demand adherence to the rules of etiquette from children without reciprocating because their rules were different from ours—“Do as I say, not as I do” was a common refrain around our house. Of course, I knew adults who were courteous, even to kids, but I understood this was not required of adults, that courtesy was a one-way street where children and adults intersected.
Another thing my mother inculcated into me—and which was largely supported by society in general—was the notion that children owed respect to adults…all adults…no matter what. So an adult could berate you loudly and rudely in public and you couldn’t say anything “disrespectful” in return without risking getting into trouble over it. So if some grouchy old neighbour threw handfuls of garden manure at you as you walked by their garden, bellowing at you not to trample their flowers, you were allowed to say “I didn’t walk through your flower beds,” but if Grouchy insisted it was you, you were disrespectful to “talk back” and insist on your innocence—because at this point you were supposed to take it to your parents and let them handle it. If you had clones of Ward and June Cleaver for parents, this worked. But if you had the narcissistic Wicked Witch of the West or Captain Bligh for parents, this didn’t go so well. Instead of being able to go to your parent for support and defence, you had to keep quiet…and you learned that people older than you could get away with shit you couldn’t.
Most people grow up understanding they are supposed to respect their elders and give them deference. Unfortunately, if your parent was narcissistic, there was an added dimension to this. At the age of individuation, at the age where normal families begin loosening the reins of control over their kids, helping them to learn to handle independence and to start thinking of themselves as adults, narcissistic parents tighten the screws. Even if they ostensibly give you the freedom to come and go like your friends do, sign for your driving license, etc., they do not stop thinking of you as a child. They believe they are doing you a favour by allowing you to participate with your peers—and they see no value in helping you to become emotionally independent.
When these children become adults, their lives and choices are often ruled by those narcissistic parents. The parents have taken up residence in their heads and those parents remain in control. I had a friend who, in her 30s, was lamenting her single state. I offered to introduce her to a couple of guys I knew, engineers who made a good living and would, in my opinion, make good husbands and providers. She declined because her parents wouldn’t approve of these guys because they were ethnically different from her. She, personally, didn’t care but she couldn’t go against her parents’ biases. Another woman I used to work with had a hard core controlling mother who demanded that my co-worker pay her rent and utilities. This left my co-worker, who was a clerical worker like me and a single mother, scrabbling for pennies at the end of every month. When I asked her why she did this she said “Because she’s my mother.” I knew nothing of narcissists in those days but I suggested that she tell her mother she needs to pay her own way and my co-worker blanched. The very thought of standing up to her mother literally made her feel faint. She was in her early 40s.
We get taught that inside the family circle, our parents not only hold the power, they hold it until they die—sometimes even after they die, depending on their will. We are not supposed to contradict those parents or even think differently from them. As children that is naughty and we court punishment; as adults were are deemed disrespectful, insubordinate and rude. Due to the conditioning of our childhood, we fear being found wanting by our parents. Even when we know we are too old to be spanked or grounded, the visceral fear is still there. Depending on the kind of parent we had, that fear may be mixed with guilt and shame. But any way you slice it, doing—even thinking—anything that our parents would disapprove of brings us anxiety and even fear.
So what happens when we grow up and put enough distance between us and our Ns that we begin to have contrary thoughts? What happens when you develop the nerve to disagree with your mother face-to-face and not back down, or find the courage to tell her she’s wrong or to call her on her bullshit? Well, depending on the type of NM you have, you can get tears, push-back, or outrage—but in every case your NM is going to perceive you as both rude and disrespectful. Narcissists rewrite definitions of words and phrases to be more self-serving. My NexH, for example, when accused of never compromising, indignantly informed me that he compromised all the time. When asked for a definition of compromise he came up with this: he gets what he wants and I get everything that is left. Narcissists not only rewrite history, they rewrite the damned dictionary.
As children we don’t know any better and we accept those definitions. So when you are actually individuating and becoming independent, your NParent redefines it as rebellion. When you tell you NM that she can’t give your child cookies twenty minutes before dinner, she calls you disrespectful. When she invades your private space and you ask her to leave, she sees this as you being rude. And so do you! Even if you have reached the point where your intellect recognizes that you are not being rude or disrespectful, you can still feel like you are!
Believe it or not, there is no rule in the books of etiquette and tomes of manners that says it is rude or disrespectful to disagree with your parents. There is no prohibition against upsetting your mother or disagreeing with your father. There are rules against such things as browbeating others with your point of view, showing up at a person’s place of work or residence uninvited, and demeaning others both publicly and privately. There are even polite ways to deal with people who persist in these behaviours and, simply stated, it is to ignore their presence as if they are not there. It is called “The Cut” and old fashioned guides to etiquette delved deeply into the various kinds of cuts and when and how to employ them. It is an old, tried-and-true, absolutely correct method of dealing with people who persist in imposing their bad manners on you: you simply do not engage them in any fashion, up to and including shutting the door in their faces if they appear at your door uninvited and having them escorted away by security or the police if they refuse to take the hint and decamp.
Narcissists instil that sense of being rude or disrespectful in us as children for a reason: it allows them to control us. When we are little, we are shamed and even punished for a behaviour our parent identifies as rude or disrespectful. We learn from them what it means and we believe them. We internalize it and it becomes part of our core beliefs. Once we have it internalized, they no longer need to threaten or imply punishment because we do it ourselves: we shrink away from assertive and autonomous behaviours because we now believe such behaviour is rude or disrespectful. We also believe it is a one-way street, that they can be rude and disrespectful to us, it is within their purview as our parents, but we cannot reciprocate because that is unacceptable.
We will remain their emotional zombies for as long as we permit ourselves to buy into those self-serving definitions that underpin our inappropriate feelings of guilt and shame and wrongness. As long as we feel like we are being rude (which we react to by feeling shame) when we are doing no more than asserting our autonomy, we are still being controlled by the Ns who conditioned us to accede to their wishes in all things.
But the truth is, they are the ones who are being rude and disrespectful, not you! But until you use those feelings of shame, that fear of retribution, that anxiety that comes over you whenever you think independently, until you use those clues to lead you to the reality, to the real definitions of your behaviour, you will continue being controlled by them remotely. You have to stop in the middle of that attack of shame, and think. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, you may not realize you have to stop and think until you are in the middle of the attack, it doesn’t matter. Once you realize you are reacting, make yourself stop! Put your mind to work. Acknowledge you feel like you are being rude but are you really? Is asserting yourself rude? No, it is not. Is having an opinion or belief that differs from your parents rude? No. Is failing to or refusing to live up to their expectations rude or disrespectful? No. Is disappointing them bad? No again. None of those things that they taught you are true. They lied.
They LIED to you. They redefined all of those things to condition you so they could control you. And as long as you continue to react as programmed, they are in control, not you, no matter how far away you live, no matter how long you have been NC.
What you may not yet realize is that you are the one who has all of the power in the relationship. That’s right—you have all of the power! They have managed to con you into not seeing that and allowing them to continue controlling you as they did from childhood. But you can stop that at any time—at any time you choose.
The thing is, it is not going to be easy. You are going to have to fight yourself, your own feelings, even what you perceive to be your instincts. They aren’t your instincts, they are programmed responses that are actually overriding your instincts. It is going to take work and effort on our part. It is going to take recognizing and stopping automatic responses and substituting the appropriate responses until they become habituated. It is going to take recognizing that it is your Ns who are being rude and disrespectful to you, not the other way around, and then putting a stop to it. It is not easy…but it is well worth every iota of effort you put into it.


Monday, October 30, 2017

The haircut

Shortly after we arrived in California my parents secured a flat in a housing project that had originally been built as Navy housing during WWII and was now being used for veterans housing. The buildings were one-story triplexes with a two bedroom flat at each end and a three-bedroom flat in the middle between them.

Government housing for veterans circa 1950
 We lived there until the middle of my first-grade year when we moved about four blocks away into an Eichler-style bungalow with no proper sewage disposal, situated on a dirt road. This was my mother’s idea of “moving up” as she and Dad were buying the house with the cesspool that backed up into the bathtub during high tides rather than paying rent to the US government for a flimsy apartment that at least had proper sewage and paved roads.
I still have numerous clear memories of living in that apartment, of the short walk to school, the neighbour girl I used to play with, the peeling pea-green lead paint on the buildings… I remember we got our first TV while living there, and that there were only three channels, one of which was broadcast from the other side of the Mexican border. I remember the black and white test pattern that my little brother, Petey, would watch, mesmerized, while waiting for the morning offering of cartoons and child-oriented serials.
I remember many of my favourite serials and Saturday morning TV shows, none of which were cartoons, but at this point in time—between 1950 and 1952—the pickings were slim and my favourite of that period was Hopalong Cassidy and his fabulous white horse, Topper. My mother liked to sleep in on Saturday mornings, so my father would get up early and go to his Saturday job at a local garage where he was a part-time mechanic and my brother and I would be left on our own: even if my mother was up when Dad left for work, the minute he drove away, she was back in bed, asleep, while Petey and I were to entertain ourselves until she was ready to get up.
I do not remember exactly what prompted it, but one Saturday morning it came to me that Petey needed a haircut. Even at age five (Petey was three) I knew better than to do anything without my mother’s permission so, during a commercial break I tiptoed into her bedroom to ask. I recall that Petey and I had matching Hopalong Cassidy shirts, mine with a dark green background, his with dark blue, the pattern being a repeat of Hoppy’s smiling face beneath his trademark ten-gallon hat, a piece of rope in the shape of a lariat encircling. I always wore that shirt on Saturday mornings when his show came on as my personal tribute.
My mother was a heavy sleeper so once she went back to bed after Dad had gone to work, you could have set off fireworks in the living room and she would have slept right through them. If you did manage to wake her, she would be in a sleep-walking kind of state, and could talk to you and answer questions and then go back to sleep without ever remembering it. As a young child, however, I was unaware of that fact but I was acutely aware that to do anything except watch TV or read a book until she go up would be a punishable offense and that was something to be avoided at all costs.
I also was acutely aware that my mother was very focussed on money. The absolute worst sin you could commit in our house was one that cost her money. Breaking something, tearing or staining your clothes, ruining your shoes by walking in puddles—worst sins ever because it would cost her money to replace them. I was too young at that time to make value judgments about her spending money on herself but not on us—it was one of those things I simply accepted as a child: parents had the money, the decided how to spend it, and their decisions were right. Always. So having to spend money on kids was a bad thing.
I don’t recall what I was watching on TV that gave me the notion but I got the bright idea that I could save my mother some money (always a good thing)) if I cut Petey’s hair rather than her taking him to the barber. I ran to the kitchen junk drawer and found the scissors, then crept into my parents’ bedroom to get my mother’s permission. She struggled up to a half sitting position at stared at me with bleary eyes as I asked if I could give Petey a haircut. She blinked a couple of times, said “Sure,” they flopped back onto the bed and mumbled something about being careful before falling back to sleep.
Delighted, I came out to the living room to tell Petey that Mommy said I could give him a haircut. Eyes glued to the moving images on the screen, he didn’t respond. One of the things people always remarked about my brother was that he seemed incapable of sitting still. Despite his unassailable position as the Golden Child, our mother would snap and snarl at him when the family was watching TV: “Stop fidgeting!” she would bark at him. “Petey, for Chrissake if you don’t sit still I am going to pop you one!” “Sit still and stop fidgeting, goddammit!” Watching TV on Saturday mornings was an exercise in avoiding his restless flinging of arms, legs, and wriggling torso, and trying to cut his hair this particular morning was an exercise in futility.
I was convinced that if he just sat still I could run the scissors parallel to his skull and give him an even haircut, a “butch” haircut that was all the rage with young and old alike. Essentially a buzz cut with the hair the same length all over the head, it looked very simply to achieve. It was, with electric clippers, but not so easy with a pair of questionably sharp scissors wielded by an inept five-year-old on the head of a perpetual motion three-year-old.
Petey frustrated me because he wouldn’t sit still. Every time I tried to make a cut some part of him undulated or jerked, moving his head and causing my cut to go awry. I hissed at him to be still and he just reached up and tried to bat my hands away. I was getting upset because Mommy was going to wake up soon and I needed him to sit still to finish—and fix—the haircut and he was having no part of it. Eventually I gave up—his hair had chunks cut out here, shingled layers there, original lengths elsewhere, and my beloved Hopalong Cassidy shirt was covered with hair. I went into the bathroom to brush it off into the toilet and, focussed on my task, I didn’t hear the bedroom door open. Concentrating on getting the little hairs off my shirt, I jumped a foot when I heard my mother bellow from the living room: “VIOLET!”
She was mad because of the hair all over the floor, I was certain. I came running out of the bathroom babbling “I’ll clean it up. Lemme get the dustpan…”
She stopped me in my tracks with a glare. “What the hell is this?” she demanded, gesturing to Petey, the scissors and the clumps of hair on the floor.
“I’ll clean it up,” I repeated, heading again for the kitchen.”
“No you don’t!” she said. “Get your ass back in here. What the hell is this all about?”
I didn’t understand. She had given me permission to cut his hair, why was she pretending she didn’t know what this was all about.
“I gave Petey a haircut?” I ventured, not sure what she wanted me to say.
“Why in god’s name would you do that?” she demanded. “Look at the mess you made!”
“I’ll clean it up,” I said again, trying to get to the kitchen and the dustpan.
“Are you going to clean up his hair?” she bellowed. “Jesus Christ on a goddamned crutch, what is the matter with you? I can’t even take a little nap without you screwing something up and costing me money I don’t have!”
And I started to cry because instead of saving her money I was costing her money and now she was mad and yelling at me. And that just made matters worse.
“Do not start with the water works, missy!” she levelled at me. “If you want to cry I have more than enough reason to give you plenty to cry about!”
Stifling tears makes you sniffle. I was not allowed to leave the living room to go get a tissue, if she saw snot running out of my nose she would be furious, if I sniffled it would make her furious because she hated that sound. I was caught—to cry would get me a spanking, to force myself to stop crying would make my nose run and I didn’t have permission to leave the room to get a tissue which means I would sniffle and she would likely backhand me for it. I sniffed, she glared, I pointed towards the bathroom with one hand, my nose with the other and she gave me a grudging nod.
I clearly remember Petey being annoyed at us because he couldn’t hear his cartoons. He turned the TV up so loud that my mother turned it off, which made him mad at me. She send us both outside to play and he stayed mad at me the whole day because he had been deprived of his morning fix of Popeye and Oswald the Rabbit. When my father got home I heard my mother haranguing him in the kitchen and a few minutes later he came out, scooped up Petey and the two of them drove off in his car. When they came back Petey had a proper butch haircut. Nobody said anything more to me about it—I remember my father’s face as he and Petey got into the car, a look of suppressed mirth—so I suspect he told my mother to let it go and she did.
What I learned from this was that I couldn’t trust my mother. Nobody told me not to trust what she said when she was asleep, in fact, nobody said anything at all about it. All I knew was that I asked permission, got permission, and got in trouble for it anyway. I remember feeling kind of hopeless at the realization that I could do everything exactly by the rules and still come out in a heap of trouble. It was many years later, after my parents were divorced, that I discovered that unless my mother was sitting up in the bed with both of her feet on the floor, you could not trust a thing she said because she was still asleep and she refused to be responsible for anything she said in that condition…I was in trouble for asking because I “should know” her brain was still asleep.
It would have been nice if somebody had bothered to tell me about that much earlier on.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

"Why can't I make or keep friends?"

How many times have you kicked yourself for getting involved in a friendship or even romantic relationship with a person who turns out to be mean-spirited or even a narcissist? Do you blame yourself because you “should have known better” or think of yourself as a “narc magnet”? Do you think there is something wrong with you that your friendships with these people burn brightly for a few weeks or months and then, suddenly, you are cold shouldered and don’t even know why. What is wrong with you that you attract these people and don’t seem to see the signs or even the coming of that painful, confusing cut?

 That’s right. Nothing.

What is wrong is that you are holding yourself to a higher standard than “normal” people, people who didn’t grow up in a toxic, dysfunctional environment, people who were not taught to think badly of themselves and their abilities. Those so-called “normal” people also run into an array of dysfunctional and personality disordered people, they may briefly find themselves friends with them, but when the disordered behaviour surfaces and the cruelties begin, these people react differently from the way we do...they don't keep trying, they walk away.
I have noticed this in myself, comparing behaviour from my childhood through early 30s to how I think and react today. Those behaviours that would have left me hurt and full of self-doubt—“what is wrong with me?” “Why am I always the butt of their jokes?” “Why do I always attract these people?” no longer fill me with such self-abnegating introspection. Today I react with acceptance and dismissiveness, today I think “Welp, another asshole revealed” or “No surprise there—shallowness is invariably an indicator of deeper issues…”
Where we go wrong is in having the assumption that if we were “normal,” or at least healed, we would not be attracting or having to deal with these disordered and toxic people. And that is just not true. These people play a numbers game, rather like throwing shit against a wall to see what sticks. Those to whom it sticks are the people they will go for. It can stick to you if you are emotionally vulnerable—but it can stick to you if you are not emotionally vulnerable but are empathetic and compassionate (which the disordered interpret as weakness and vulnerability). Truth is, it has little to do with you because no matter who or what you are, you can be a target for their predations.
The difference is in how we handle it: the emotionally whole and strong will soon figure out what is going on and, if not dropped by a disordered person who has realized the jig is up, will walk away from the drama. And they don’t beat themselves up over it because they realize the world is full of assholes and they just shed one. If they have any sense of themselves in this, it is one of pride for having found a pebble in the peas and gotten rid of it. They don’t beat themselves up for not being perfect and clairvoyant and able to suss this disordered person out earlier—they are simply satisfied that they did.
We ACoNs seem to carry a myth in our heads that “normal” people do not encounter—and even get entangled with—these losers, but nothing could be further from the truth. These people are everywhere and they come into the lives of everyone from the emotionally fragile to the emotional supermen and women because they are simply part of life. There is no magical filter that comes with emotional wholeness that filters them out of our lives. In fact, some malignant Ns are more attracted to emotionally grounded and stable people than the obviously vulnerable because those people are challenges to the Ns. They consider it a real triumph to destroy the emotional stability and self-confidence of such a person because it proves, to them, just how powerful they really are.
Years ago, before such things as Tinder and Harmony, I placed an on-line ad to meet a man I could socialize with. I was not looking for a lover or a boyfriend but someone I could go to movies and museums and concerts and just “do things” with. I deliberately did not post a picture and I just as deliberately discarded all replies that included an unsolicited picture on the premise that if looks were of primary importance to this respondent (his looks or mine), he was already too shallow for the purpose I had in mind. One of the most surprising responses I got was from a guy who fancied himself a dominator (as in B&D) and he came on strong, telling me I need him to tell me what to do and that I hadn’t known pleasure until I submitted to him. It made me laugh—primarily because I knew the guy was dead serious and that he really believed that of himself. I also got a lot (more than half) of responses from married guys and a substantial number of responses from guys who wanted to experience an “older woman” (I had made mention of my hair starting to grey in my ad)—some of them even claimed to be virgins looking to be initiated by an older woman. Remember—there was absolutely nothing sexual in the ad and I deliberately avoided posting a picture. Out of nearly 60 responses to my ad, only two guys looked worth contacting!
I could have taken those responses any number of ways: I could have scoured my ad for some hidden innuendo that invited these sexual responses. I could have decided that all men were scum and out for one thing. I could have decided there was something wrong with me that so many complete strangers thought I was a slut. There was also the option to see these responses as indicative of something being wrong with me because surely, “normal” people didn’t have to deal with this kind of thing.
When I ran the ad the second time I added a line ruling out men who were married or in any kind of relationship. I still got nearly 60 responses, most of them with unsolicited pictures in them—although there was a smaller percentage of married men but a larger percentage of invitations to threesomes—and of that batch, only one was worth my time to contact. So what did I take away from that experience? More pejorative sentiments about myself? Or an eye roll and a rueful laugh about the nature of human—particularly male—kind?
I spent two weeks in email correspondence with the three men—I also contacted the B&D guy to invite him to my (non-existent) dungeon where I promised to shackle him to a pipe in my (non-existent) basement and “tickle his fancy” with a cattle prod until he was ready to be my bitch. Sadly, he didn’t respond. I decided one of my email correspondents had mother-issues (he was 40, lived with his parents and had to ask permission to go out to dinner with me!), the second guy I went out with once and quickly ascertained that while he ticked a lot of the boxes, we just had no chemistry. The third guy was a foreigner, younger than me, who was working in the area and he was interesting and funny and smart and articulate and when I finally met him, I found him delightful. He fulfilled the goals I had in writing that ad so I looked no further.
But look at my numbers…first of all, I set out some things about myself and some criteria for respondents, so this wasn’t blind chance, which is the way we meet most people in our lives. So I had a much higher chance of meeting the kind of guy I was looking for than if I sat in a bar or a coffee shop or a library or other public place and waited for an opportunity to meet.
I said things about myself like I was mature, intelligent, had a sense of humour, liked cars and good food, museums and heavy metal rock as well as country music, enjoyed dancing, races, was self-supporting and single. I asked for respondents who had the same kind of traits and interests. Again, this gave me a much higher chance of meeting people who were more like me than different from me, the kinds of people I would like as friends. And what did I get? Three possibilities out of roughly 120 respondents, less than a 3% hit rate and of them, only one—less than 1%—turned out to be compatible with me. And that was compatible for a friendship, not a romance.
Was there something wrong with me or my ad that I got so few compatible responses? Of course not. I am not responsible for what people read into my writing any more than you are responsible for what other people have as an agenda in meeting or befriending you. If they are not responding appropriately to the signals you are sending out—like the B&D guy who thought I wanted to be dominated in a relationship—that is not on you. What’s more, a significant percentage of the people you meet will not be right for you as friends, let alone anything closer. Even with the screening criteria I set down, two of the three guys I thought were “possibilities” turned out to be wrong for me, but I had to give them a chance to show me what they were like. Two weeks of corresponding with Guy #1 revealed him to be indecisive and afraid of his parents. Two weeks of corresponding with Guy #2 got a meeting, but he was emotionally “flat,” muttered, and couldn’t (or wouldn’t) hold a conversation, intelligent or otherwise. Two weeks of corresponding with Guy #3 got a meeting—in a Peruvian restaurant—and a dinner table conversation that went on for three hours after dinner was finished, as we walked around the restaurant district and stopped occasionally for a drink or to sit on a bench. 120 respondents, a month of my time, and I found one—just one—guy who was likely to pan out as a friend. And, to be honest, I considered myself fortunate that I didn’t have to fine-tune and run the ad another two or three times.
Making friends is a numbers game. Of the zillions of people you meet in your lifetime, only a few of them will have the right stuff to make them keepers. Sometimes you have to “try them on” for a while, to see if they really are who they seem to be, sometimes you won’t be able to tell until a crisis arises and they reveal if they are fair-or-foul weather friends. And the truth is, “normal” people go through the same numbers that we do because they might be normal but a lot of the people they meet aren’t: people truly compatible with them and who possess the kind of character that makes a true friend are just difficult to find.
Sometimes we make mistakes—sometimes we think someone is a friend until they prove they really are not. But it’s not just us—other people make the same kinds of mistakes. They think the woman next door is their best friend until she runs off with their husband, they think the co-worker at the next desk has their back until they are stabbed in it and are passed over for a promotion, they think they know someone until that someone proves they were running a game on them, sometimes for years. Sometimes we are lucky and we find real friends without much effort but that doesn’t mean we are immune from being taken in by the charlatans and pretenders who fake friendships for their own reasons.
So, when someone you thought was a friend betrays you, when you have difficulty finding or making friends, when people around you seem to be making friends and you are not, stop defaulting to “what is wrong with me?” and start defaulting to “Meh, wrong chemistry,” or “Whew, dodged a bullet there!” And if you are stuck in the mindset of “a bad friend is better than no friend at all,” think about what you are saying to and about yourself: you are saying that you don’t deserve a true friend, someone who will extend herself for you, someone who would willingly inconvenience herself for you. And if you truly believe you don’t deserve that kind of a friend, you will set your standards low enough that a friend of that calibre won’t even cross your path.
Think about it like buying shoes: can you just say “I need a pair of shoes” and then the first shoe you see is perfect? Or do you have to set down some criteria for the shoes (colour, heel height, sandal/closed shoe, formal/casual, etc) first? Then you have to go to the places that carry the kind of shoe you want and try some on. How many pair will you look at and reject even before you try something on? How many pair will you try on before you find the shoe that fits your criteria, fits comfortably, is in your budget, and you like the look of? And then, there are those days that you aren’t even thinking about shoes and you walk by a store window and there you see a pair of shoes that are just crying out your name, fit perfectly and you can afford, aren’t there? Finding friends is a lot like that: sometimes you go through a whole host of people who just don’t fit right, but other times you walk into a room and bam! you just click with somebody. It happens to all of us this way, even ACoNs: the only difference between us and “normies” is that we are trained to think we are at fault while they just understand that there is no fault and it will happen when it happens.