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.