Two days ago I “screwed my courage to the sticking-place” and had an understandably disappointing but nonetheless necessary and honest conversation with a member of our group of friends, where I laid out some boundaries and tried to be gentle about it all.
Yesterday I spent the day emailing with said friend, trying to hear and respond to his concerns, his fears, his feelings, his needs.
And then last night, in a conversation with the group, that friend called me to the carpet and said things that, regardless of his intent, made me feel like I was being singled out–specifically, personally, and by name–as being The Problem Child. I was told (or at least I heard) that I was screwing up the group dynamic by setting those boundaries. I perceived his statements as indicating that it was unreasonable of me to believe that a group of like-minded people who care about each other might someday form a Chosen Family unit, and that I was the only one who thought that that was a possible outcome even though we had all at various times expressed the same possibility and had started using family-related terms for/with each other. There was even a spectacularly ill-timed joke about needing to “rein me in” and–I kid you not–asking if anyone had a bridle. A. Bridle.
Oh. Hell. No.
Now, I get it that the bridle bit was a joke. A joke in poor taste, sure, but a joke. And I get it that my friend’s feelings were hurt, and he was unconsciously lashing out as a result. And he has since offered a sincere, heartfelt, and specific apology, and I have forgiven him, and we’re all moving forward. We’re a little bruised, sure, and have some more talking to do, but that’s ok. Life is about growth and learning and…
…And I’m getting off-track here. Here’s what happened on my side of the table when I was “othered” (for the record, that’s my definition of bullying, so, y’know, there’s that):
1. Years of training said, “A man is speaking. Therefore, what he says, goes. What he is saying is that you are the problem here. Therefore, you are the problem here”.
2. Years of training said, “You are a woman. Your job is to be meek, obedient, and silent. Anything else will be seen as ego, and all sorts of religions believe in the demolition of ego. So you can speak up and be a sinner, or you can speak up and be unenlightened, but either way, it’s best if you shut up and take the correction. Besides, your job, as it has been established again and again, is to put everyone on earth ahead of yourself, and this is just your reminder that that is because you are a horrid, wretched person who breaks everything she touches. Let the pretty people run the show. Go do the dishes like you’ve been told”.
3. Years of training said, “It really needs to stop being a surprise to you that you are a disappointment, a failure, and a bad person”.
4. And then a new voice spoke up and said–pardon my French–“That. All of that. 100% of that. Screw all of that. Directly to hell with all of that. I cannot afford to teach my nieces that it is ok to be diminished because someone else’s feelings are hurt. I cannot afford to teach my nephews that it is ok to lash out with rude words and blame and shaming because their feelings are hurt. And I damned sure cannot afford to sit here for one more second and listen to myself tell myself that I am getting what I deserve because I ‘dared’ to speak up for my needs”.
And so I told the group that I was too angry to continue the conversation, and I stood up, and I walked away.
And there was something powerful in that moment, something I hadn’t felt in years. I was standing up for myself. I was refusing to talk myself into believing that I had “earned” this public shaming. I was allowing myself to feel anger–for years I have avoided anger at all costs, stopping every time to unpack the fear that hides beneath the anger and work on defusing that, which, let’s be honest, 99% of the time meant taking all the guilt on myself and coming to the bottom-line conclusion that if I were a better/kinder/smarter/more enlightened person none of this would be a problem–and I was allowing that anger to propel me up and out of a situation which was never, ever going to resolve well for me.
I was allowing myself to be my own ally. I was choosing to be my own advocate.
I got damned good and mad, and I walked away from the conversation.
If any of you is hoping for an “and they lived happily ever after” ending on this story, I’m terribly sorry to disappoint. This was, like, 18 hours ago. We haven’t finished the conversation yet–that’s on hold while some more pressing Life things happen–and I’m still feeling a little battered and I still have to sort out how to fix the trust that got knocked off the shelf in the earthquake.
But I’m still counting the night as a victory, in a weird sort of way, because it tore down a piece of a wall I had built brick by brick over the last few decades. Most of the wall is still there, and it will take some time for it all to come down. But for the first time in ages I committed–really, truly committed–to doing what’s best for me.
Even if that means setting boundaries that inconvenience other people.
Even if that means walking away from a conversation.
Even if that means getting good and mad.
Because there is some b.s. up with which I will no longer put, and my own b.s. is at the top of that list.