Difficult Truths and Honest Friendships

“True friendship, we think, means unconditional acceptance and support. The true friend validates your feelings, takes your side in every argument, helps you feel good about yourself at all times, and never ever judges you. But Austen didn’t believe that. For her, being happy means becoming a better person, and becoming a better person means having your mistakes pointed out to you in a way that you can’t ignore. Yes, a true friend wants you to be happy, but being happy and feeling good about yourself are not the same things. In fact, they can sometimes be diametrically opposed. True friends do not shield you from your mistakes, they tell you about them: even at the risk of losing your friendship-which means, even at the risk of being unhappy themselves.”
William Deresiewicz on A Jane Austen Education.


On Manipulation: Skillfully Managed

They define Manipulation as “skillful or artful management”.

But we know, it is so much more than that.

Manipulation, Emotional Abuse, Controlling Behavior: Played, Duped, Destroyed. There should be more words to describe what it is to be made the object of another person’s machinations.

They find you, dissect you, categorize and label you. They identify what it is that will draw you in. They create their identity to make you believe that they are far grander than they seem. They entangle themselves in your life. They weed out the extraneous. Isolated and diminished, they define your parameters.

I needed a puzzle so he became deeply complex, a multilayered enigma.

I needed to play the heroine, so he became a troubled soul in peril.

I needed to escape impact and he became my fallout shelter.

I needed to recover from the storm and he became my safe harbor.

I needed more friends and he became jealous.

I needed a girls’ night and he mocked me.

I refused him their secrets while he wheedled and pleaded till falling silent and ignoring me. Stunned, hurt by his silence, I would tease and cajole him till he lashed out with bitter, calculated remarks.

I would stand my ground and he would make me feel like an ant beneath his shoe, the scum of the earth, the Pity Friend. By his displeasure, I was Bitch Personified. I was my Alcoholic Uncle, greedy and cruel; I was my Cold-Blooded Cousin, narcissistic and mean; I was my Father, thoughtless and absent.

I never questioned his motives. I never analyzed his treatment. I failed to evaluate the data because by all estimations this was no game — there was no playing field, no score or tallies kept. If I was everything I dreaded and despised well, at best, I must have been on my period. At worst, I must have gone off my anti-depressants. How could someone who made me laugh, who cared so fervently for my well being, have anything but my best interests at heart?

After all, I was the center of his world, the most important person in his phone. His first text every morning, last IM every night.  The face he looked for in the halls, the automatic partner in every assignment. By his approval, I was brilliant, funny, lovely.  I was worth something. I was Someone.

That was my truth for five years. He validated me; he made me better (stronger).

They make you think that Manipulators all look like greasy boys wearing leather jackets and leering smiles. My manipulator was a short Nerd with a funny voice and close-set eyes.

They make you think that Abuse looks like cuts and bruises. My abuse was shattered confidence and perpetual self-doubt.

They make you think that Freedom looks like Prince Charming atop a White Horse. My freedom was watching him destroy someone that I loved (who he had claimed to love, but Love is Never Defined by Lies and Devastation). From finally realizing that, if I would not allow him to treat our friend with that behavior – why was I allowing him to treat me with that behavior? My freedom was my best friend analyzing interactions with me, identifying destructive patterns, giving me the strength and the courage to walk away.

I was lucky. I escaped him. I found supportive, passionate and loving friends. I moved on with my life.

I still see his ghost in every person I meet. In every boy who texts me. In every compliment paid me, I analyze it for ulterior motives. I am skittish and skeptical and wary.

Skillfully Managed, they say.

I know, it is infinitely more than that.

On Being Alone

“He didn’t know why he was running away.
Maybe because being close to someone took a hell of a lot more guts than being alone.”
— Linda Castillo

I think I can identify with this quote far more than I’m comfortable with. It feels to me that a lot of single people my age (early twenties) seem to fall into two categories: either they desperately want to be in a committed relationship with a significant other, planning a future and a life together; or they’re flitting from one meaningless fling to another. And then there’s me. Content with being alone, determined to figure out my own identity and values before I entangle myself with another person.

I have this tendency to throw myself into relationships with others wholeheartedly — I have acquaintances and then I have close friendships that I focus a good deal of energy on, to be a good friend, to stay in contact with them when they move away. Once I’m in, I’m emotionally invested and it takes a lot to make me walk away from someone. Knowing this, understanding this aspect of myself, I’m hesitant to find a significant other. I feel that the most I can give people right now, is the sort of focus and investment which I give my close friends. I’m not ready to make that sort of all-encompassing commitment to someone when I don’t know where my future is taking me, when I am still forming my identity and focusing my beliefs.

Occasionally, though, I find myself wondering if I’m alone not because I don’t feel capable of fully committing to another person, but because I’m safe being alone and I’m just not brave enough to be that vulnerable with someone else.

In Which I Confess to That Time I Was An Idiot For Years…

Blog Challenge Day 12: Regrets

Four years ago, I was leaving a lecture hall and saw this boy and in an instant, I found myself believing in Soul Mates and Love-at-First-Sight and Forevers. I drove home from class and found myself pleading with whatever higher power there was, “please…please let him like me back.” And then? And then I did nothing.

Oh, I spent the rest of the semester subtly (or not so subtly) checking him out. Gushing about how incredibly good looking he was to all of my friends. Looking for him all over campus…but as for taking some sort of proactive stance in my life and actually asking him out? Nope. Not this girl. To be fair, I did introduce myself and surreptitiously discovered we had mutual friends then found him on Facebook and friended him over that summer.(Not creepy, Laura. Not creepy at all.)

But then it took a couple of parties, an exchange of Facebook messages, an unfortunate number of Awkward-Laura-Moments and three years for me to work up the courage to ask him to coffee (more like I reached the end of my rope with this crazy fangirl-like infatuation).

I was always aware that he wasn’t interested in me- not romantically anyway- but I was so tightly ensconced in the grip of that crush, I couldn’t get over him without some sort of closure. Luckily, this guy was actually a pretty decent fellow and he agreed to meet up. We talked for about an hour, swapping stories about studying abroad and music recommendations and then we parted and by the end of that day — I was pretty effectively over him. Mostly because I was able to finally accept that he was not interested in me and I deserved a guy who would pursue me, who thought I was amazing and funny and beautiful. 

My one regret through that entire experience? All of the heartache and questions I could have saved myself (and my best friends) if I had simply approached him and asked him to coffee that first semester I noticed him. I’m certainly glad that I finally did something about it, and I can still pull some valuable life lessons from the entire experience but if I could go back, I would have walked right up to him that first (okay, maybe the second) day of class and said, “Hi, my name is Laura. Wanna go grab coffee sometime?”

Hindsight, man. It’ll get you every time.

“My father said that love at first sight should send you running, if you know what’s good for you. It’s your dark pieces having instant recognition with their dark pieces, he says. You’re an idiot if you think it means you’ve met your soul mate. So I was an idiot.”

Deb Caletti (Stay)