February 18th, 2009
“Come as I am
With you I don’t need to pretend
You accept all my quirks
You’re never afraid to tell me when I’m being a jerk
Thank you thank you thank you again
Thank you thank you for being my friend
Yes I win everyday
That we spend together and I’ve got to say
That the truth is never unkind
‘Cause it comes from your heart and hits me in mine”
(Lyrics and music by the great songwriter, Christoper Dale.)
I once was part of a group. Something I started for companionship, intellectual stimulation and girly time. I nurtured the group into something I felt good about, often attending meetings as only one of two or three people, and frequently managed meeting business when I sensed apathy. It didn’t matter to me if I were the sole person at a get-together any given month, I loved this group and planned to keep it alive. To maintain my little group, I recruited people to join, and sent reminder emails so everyone stayed interested and engaged. I imagined the group as democratic and tried to stick to this mission, soliciting votes and never agreeing to anything unless all gave the OK. I’m sure I came off as annoying at times, too driven and focused on my vision for the group, and members often called me on it — but goodnaturedly, or so I thought.
Time passed and the group grew. WIthin three years, a nice collection of people gathered monthly and I no longer felt desperate to fuel the group with emails and constant prompts to attend. Still, I remained invested and would (unasked and often unwelcomed) assume leadership, give direction, prod people to stick to the group’s purpose. Soon enough, as happens, the group changed. I did my best to roll with it, yet I couldn’t shake the sense that this group was my baby and it saddened me to see how far it’d veered off course. I continued to hold on for dear life , but in the interim, my disappointment grew. Factions formed — one side wanted the group to be as it’d been intended, and the other — well, the other did not.
It’s OK. There’s evolution. I got that. And I’d have welcomed a healthy conversation about the group’s future direction, loosened my grip, relinquished control. As long as I knew my concerns would be heard and considered, and that some small kernel of the group’s original intent were kept, I’d be just fine with the new course. But ugliness somehow took root. Dishonesty and passive aggression and pettiness. I know I came across as a dictator and for that, I’m sorry, it’s the only way I knew to keep the group together and focused. Surely my desire to shape the group came across as misguided at times; but what I couldn’t — and still don’t — understand is the just plain meanness that resulted.
I still held on. Right up until a group night out, when I’d returned from the bathroom to a man who took me aside and told me the things he’d overheard my “friends” saying behind my back. Baldly ugly, untrue, and awful things. At that moment, I got it: I saw the negativity rear its head like a tiger about to swallow me whole. I wanted out of the jungle. Luckily, the month I quit the group for good, another incident cemented the deal. It became unwaveringly clear that group democracy, transparency and accountability were no longer values, and so it was done.
When I made the decision to leave, I felt like a drug addict off heroin. I’d shared a lot of personal milestones with this group. I started it when I moved to San Diego to be with The Rock; much of the group attended my wedding, and I’d shared my first pregnancy with its members. Of course all that paled when I heard what some of its members really thought of me, but still, you know, still.
Yet once I quit the group for good, I flew. I surrounded myself with healthy, supportive, positive people and we started a new group. We’ve since settled into a mutually supportive, loving, and spiritually uplifting circle. Now, when I get too earnest, too excitable, too San Diego Momma-y — and oh how I do — they tell me up front and with good intentions. I know I’ll never hear their gripes from an anonymous man in a bar as my heart splinters from the perfect awfulness of it all.
It’s hard to express just how happy I am that negativity is removed from my life. Plus, I just didn’t know how horribly it’d impacted me, until it was gone. Since that time, I’ve consciously chosen people who enrich my life. And I hope it goes both ways. My wish is that I give my friends something for all I take, and that we enlighten and empower each other.
Anyway. The whole experience taught me that who I keep time with, who I call friend, is more than just a passing decision. Even at my age, people shape you, hold you, and help you fly. And I’m so extra grateful to my group of friends, both online and off, for being the type of people that make me better, who like me for who I am, and when they don’t, say so with love in their hearts.
So: Who are you surrounding yourselves with? I hope they bring light and goodness. And also? Thank you, thank you, thank you for being a friend.
(UPDATED: Here’s a link to Bartender Face, and a story about how someone also decided to leave a circle of friends. And do you know about Bartender Face? It’s a site that allows you to post anonymously, which you may want to do, according to the site’s founder, to:
1. Be bold, experimental, titillating; to let another side of yourself run the show for a few minutes
2. Air something you really want to talk about but can’t, either in person or on your blog.
Check it out!)