Saturday, December 12, 2009

Two-faced Friends

When you're in school, you expect kids to pick on your for being different, especially if you're fat. After finishing high school though, I learned that a lot of the overt mockery slows down. After college, it tends to come at a crawl except from random strangers and children. Adults tend to exhibit more self-control in the interest of showing a modicum of social skill and grace.

That being said, I cannot say that I've been at a loss for being acquainted with adults who have made fun of my weight, or talked about it behind my back. The random strangers who make rude remarks are one thing, but the people who are friendly to your face and then stab you in the back still were able to shock me.

Shortly after starting work at a new job as a temporary employee, I was getting to know my coworkers. One of them, a man who was 28 at the time (I was 26) hit it off particularly well with me. We talked amiably, made jokes, and had a good rapport. I should note that this was all utterly devoid of flirtation or sexual considerations. I know that when men and women get on, some people believe that they only do so when there is some sort of attraction. I was (and still am) deliriously happily married and relate to all men I encounter as potential friends, much as I relate to women. After several weeks of working together, I thought that this fellow was going to be someone who I'd get along well for the duration of my time at the job. I should note that he worked one shift and I worked another shift, but there were times when the schedule overlapped.

One day, he was sitting at a table that we worked at communally with those on our shift with several other coworkers on his shift. I was working in another part of the office in private work spaces that my shift's workers were currently occupying. We swapped off in these spaces according to the types of tasks that needed to be done. The schedule for our work was set for the most part, but my schedule wasn't quite the same as that of the other worker's, so I left my cubicle early to join in on the work at the communal work table.

The cubicles were located about 15 feet behind the table that my coworker's shift was working at, so I was approaching from behind. As I was walking there, I heard him say very clearly, "what it must be like to have sex with (my name)... it must be like lying between two big slabs of beef."

Since my shift ended earlier than that of everyone else on my shift, he didn't expect me to approach and didn't hear me, but I sure heard him. I was humiliated and furious. I didn't confront him directly, but I did say something about people who pretended to be your friend and then stabbed you in the back. He pretended that he didn't have any idea what I was talking about, but this just made me angrier and more aggressive. One of my other coworkers told him to "give it up", meaning that there was no use continuing to pretend that he hadn't said something really ugly about me.

After that, all of my interactions with this particular coworker were cold and officious. In the end, he was fired and I was given his job because he was not the greatest worker. I became a permanent worker and he was headed for the door. This was gratifying because I thought he was a thoroughly despicable person and deserved what he got.

I have blotted out a lot of the immediate pain I felt at that betrayal and the two-faced nature of his actions, but the effect was to make me wonder what every "friend" I've ever had has thought about me and said about me behind my back. To be honest, I still don't trust anyone other than my husband and figure that even people who are nothing but gracious and kind to my face are probably telling their spouses or friends about how disgustingly fat I am. I take it as a given that even people who are nice to me are going to judge me and speak ill of me when I'm not around. Sometimes I wonder if the scars of the cruelty I've lived with most of my life will fade after I lose all the weight I want to or if they're with me forever.


dlamb said...

Dear Girl, what an horrendous experience. I am so sorry that you suffered so much and not just as an adult, when you had someone on your side and better coping mechanisms.
Although I find that people can be cruel in general, I find that no group is more vitriolic than the contingent who offers advice, solicited or not, to somebody who will not follow it. Their offer of THE ANSWER is an investment of time, emotion and goodwill and god help the person who rejects it or accepts and applies it to some extent but not to the letter.

The inability of some people to separate from another person's behavior and choice leads to the type of reaction that illustrates how invested they were in having their advice and directives followed exactly. Another's process becomes fodder for the most hurtful, destructive and offensive exchanges, publically and proudly. The personal attacks are bewildering, as they come from highly intelligent, generally insightful, adults with life experience.

screaming fatgirl said...

Recently, I have experienced exactly what you talk about in terms of people offering an "answer" which you must take or they become offended. A relative by marriage is very directive with people and grows agitated when they don't see things her way. I've not experienced this first-hand, though I expect that eventually I will now that we're residing in the same country. When her advice is not followed and a less-than-optimal (or poor) outcome is the result, she tends to berate and engage in "I told you so" behavior.

People are deeply invested in "helping" others in a fashion which often serves to harm them. It tends to demonstrate just how much of what they are doing is their own ego at stake rather than a genuine act of altruism or desire to assist. You see this a lot in discussions of social policy as well. We should help people who need help (poor, disabled, etc.), but only if they live their lives in accord with our values. Help with strings attached is no help at all in my opinion.

In the end, I think we need to be true to ourselves and our values and do so consistently regardless of the outcome. This is how I have chosen to live my life in my later years. I am not kind to people to receive kindness in return, but because that is the type of person I want to be. If they treat me badly, then it does not change how I will treat people, but rather whether or not I choose to continue to associate with them and to what I extent I will if I do. That isn't about punishing them, but about protecting me.

dlamb said...

Very, very well put, my friend and exactly my perspective on this complex issue. I've been going through a bit of a distressing time, having broken some social norms online. I am feeling the tepid waters, whereas previously I was bathing in the warm bath of a budding acquaintanceship.
Unable to refrain from commenting on the situation to which I alluded in my earlier comment, I fear I alienated somebody that I like and respect for her aptitudes, abilities and generally speaking, outlook on things that we see similarly. Having written my opinion, I most likely offended her and everybody else who shares her view. I will probably need to withdraw gracefully, as there is no way back.

I will miss the interactions with this new acquaintance but I also cannot imagine not having presented what I thought was a different point of view than the one shared by the group. It seemed, at the time I was the dissenting voice, that it would be possible to do so without the severing of a connection, new as it was. At this time, I believe my continued participation may not be as welcome as it was previously. I may be assertive but I am not insensitive to the cooling of relations, even if they are online.
I am sorry that you have to go through something much closer to home and much more personal. Given that you have a history of less than...shall we say harmonious relations with your in laws, having been away from such direct "influence" and intrusion, I imagine it must be a bit of a shock to your system. Sounds like you know how to take care of yourself, but it does not mean that it is not taxing and stressful.

screaming fatgirl said...

Online relationships are exceptionally tricky for many reasons, not the least of which is that the written word is easy to interpret in a multitude of ways. What is worse is that some people are intent on misreading intention and meaning. There is an active need on the part of people to see others as villains, attackers, or naysayers. I've experienced this as well. I think people don't do it on purpose, but, as is so often the case, they see an opening to express something they want to say (either overtly or covertly) and tangentially, obliquely, indirectly, or in complete opposition to what is actually said express themselves.

Beyond that, there is a serious issue with people feeling they "know" you from what you say online when they only know a piece of you. If people saw every blog post I ever wrote on the various (and differently focused) blogs that I have and knew me on Facebook, they still wouldn't know who I was really. In fact, I daresay in real life that only one person really knows me for who I am (my husband). I'm about as transparent with him as one person can be with another.

I don't know what transpired between you and this other person, but I try to take the attitude of "these things happen". This is not a flippant or casual way of dismissing relationships that sour as I'm a person who would like good things to go on forever and loves stability and constancy. I feel sad when things go poorly, but I've learned form experience throughout my life that they go south eventually more often than not because communication is often poor. Even for someone like me, who values communication and will deal with difficult issues in a very straightforward way (even when it is painful, embarrassing or difficult), friendships can falter because others aren't always ready for a frank exchange or what the contents of some exchanges carry.

I once had an online friend who was extremely competitive with me after some time had passed. She was warm and nice at first and only later did she become snarky and strange with me. She had a lot of insecurities and viewed my life in a particular way based on what she knew of me online. Eventually, I had to tell her in a straightforward way that I felt she was often hostile and competitive with me and I no longer felt comfortable as her friend. She responded acknowledging that all I said was true and begged to be my friend again, and I asked her to give me time to trust her again. Instead of waiting to do that, she cyber-stalked me and posted nasty comments on my blogs under fake names (but I could tell it was her). Even when she acknowledged the validity of what I said (and she said it was 100% true), she couldn't cope with it and get over her impulses to be nasty to me.

So, even when you do your best to be authenticate, kind, supportive, and straightforward, it isn't enough to salvage a friendship, especially online ones since they are built on a distorted impression of a person. I do hope that you aren't suffering any pain for the difficulty you experienced.

As a related aside, the pushy sister-in-law has decided to spend 4 days in proximity to where I am now. I'm not looking forward to it, but am trying to see it as a personal challenge (though I really don't need more challenges right now!).