When I was a kid, I used to tell a lot of really fantastically untrue stories. I won’t go into them, but one of them involved my dad having fallen into a vat of peanut butter. What can I say, I was 8 when I was telling that story. The obvious reason I did this was because I was very insecure and desperately wanted people to like me, and figured they’d have more reasons to like me if I told crazy, funny stories. I also became quite good at deception, mostly as a survival tactic. I also became quite good at keeping my mouth shut when I saw Bad Things happening, especially when they happened to me. As a result, I spent the majority of the first twenty years being a deceptive, lying doormat. It was a pretty awful combination, all things said. You couldn’t trust me, although you could walk all over me if you wanted. Both perceptions were usually picked up on pretty quickly.I’ll just have to man up and live with it.
Then, right around the time I turned 20, I had a life-changing event. The details of the life-changing event aren’t worth going into now, but when it happened, I decided I would always be as honest as I could possibly be, and I also decided that I would never be a doormat again. Again, after I made this decision, both of these character attributes were usually picked up on pretty quickly by friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
It’s easy to see now how that reaction was essentially a self-defense mechanism. I had to do something to protect my fragile psyche, and to be honest, it worked really well for me for a number of years. However, as of late it has become quite apparent that this approach to things is no longer giving me the results I want.
I was recently told that the reason people tend to stop wanting to be friends with me is because I have a big chip on my shoulder, and that at the smallest slight, I will fly off the handle and decide that whomever committed the slight is my enemy. While I don’t think I’ve ever declared someone my enemy, I can definitely see where this perception comes from. Once slighted, I will often declare, loudly and vociferously, to whomever will listen, everything I honestly dislike or find lacking about that person. From my vantage point, the only possible reason someone could have for slighting me would be because they want to hurt me, they want to run me down into the ground, and as I explained, since I turned 20 I’m nobody’s doormat.
While I might not be “stupid”, if I’m honest I will say that I am sometimes a very slow learner, especially when it comes to social stuff. I think what I’ve kind of recently figured out is that a lot of the time, when we feel slighted, a lot of times it isn’t personal. It’s just the result of someone being selfish, or clueless, or callous, and that it’s usually not about us at all.
My wife used to tell me she found my frankness “refreshing”. I think it’s been a long time since I heard that from her. The novelty of finding someone courageous enough to speak their mind, honestly and without restraint, wore off as the repercussions of such an approach made themselves more apparent. It’s really unfortunate that my delegation as a pariah has rubbed off on her, too. The costs of marriage, I suppose.
I ran off someone very dear to me in the last few years because I had a big problem with a lifestyle choice they made (no, they didn’t come out of the closet; they decided they were in love with someone I have zero respect for). I made myself somewhat of a pariah in my social scene by taking offense at some actions, which, while probably not directly aimed at me, were nonetheless offensive, not in the prude sense of the word, but more in the taking a general offense to. Those people are welcome to do anything they want of course, it’s (still?) a free country, and it’s probably a bigger testament to my insecurity than anything else that there was offense taken at all.
So, the result of all this is that I’ve managed to alienate a huge swath of folks in my social scene, and destroyed a really good friendship. I’m not quite so sure that the cost of all that has been worth it, to be “honest”. At the time, I thought I was staying true to myself, and not being a doormat, but like many other things in my life, I swung too far in the opposite direction and played myself for the fool.
I don’t know really how to rectify these things, but it seems that pointing that high-powered microscope at my own behavior is probably a good place to start. It’s really depressing that I’ve managed to lose so much, and drive away so many friends, as a result of my own stubborn obtuseness. I wish there was a way to reverse course, to go back and keep my mouth shut but the damage has been done and
Like Jeru said, “You’re only a player cause you played yourself”.
Updated 10/8/07 12:22:30 to remove whining