Whose Word Do You Take?

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Below.

“Hey,”  a  colleague   says,  “did  you  have  a  good Thanksgiving? Go up to Georgia?”

Attract Him Back

Then the colleague asks if I know a mutual acquaintance in  Georgia, though she already knows the answer. She is testing me, based on what she’s been told.  She’s a little  surprised,  she  tells  me,  when  I  answer  so  positively.  She  expected,  based  on  what  she’s  heard  over Thanksgiving, that I’d say something negative.  My colleague tells me the woman knew I’d never liked her.

That’s funny. I was always told she and her friends didn’t  like  me,  but  that  they  just  tolerated  me.  It  was something I felt from the second time I met them back when I was in college or around the time I graduated; the first time I met them, I was just shy around strangers who were  important   to  my  boyfriend.  Meeting  your  boy- friend’s friends can sometimes  be as unnerving  as meeting his parents for the first time. You’re the outsider, the one who doesn’t know the private jokes. All eyes are on you, judging you to see if you’re good enough for their boy. And it’s pretty unsettling later when you’re told the jokes they make  about you and the comments  on how you don’t measure up.

I think  my  colleague’s  comments  are  strange.  She won’t  tell  me  why  this  is  coming  up  now,  20  years later.               Or where it’s coming from. But obviously I need to address something here that’s coming up now.

I  don’t  recall  saying  anything  negative  about  this woman.  Except maybe in regard to having to limit being around her smoking, but  then, I have severe respiratory allergies and I’m prone to sinus and trachea infections so I have to take precautions  around heavy smokers.  That never meant others couldn’t be around them, just that I had to be more  careful or I’d miss the next couple  of

weeks’ work  and  I  really  hate  being  on  two  to  three rounds of antibiotics and feeling like my cheekbones  are breaking.

But in spite of my allergies, I’d always liked her, actually, as well as her husband, and thought they were fairly interesting  people  though  the  feelings  were  never  re- turned and there  seemed  to be a great  deal of  literary snobbery  because   I’d   written—gasp—some   romance novels  back in the 1990’s and that made me stupid and anti-feminist.   At  least,   that’s  how  it  was  relayed  to me.   They were friends with my ex—I  assume they still are—but there was really only one of his friends I didn’t like and an acquaintance I didn’t care for after she chastised me for something I didn’t know until 15 years later, but in both cases, it was because of things said specifically to me.

Now my colleague tells me she’s heard I never liked any   of   my   ex’s   friends,   including   this   person   she knows. I’m not sure where she gets her info from. It wasn’t really that I disliked his friends, with one notable exception, but that I disliked who he became  around his friends and his repeated comments on their superiority to me.                                                                                 They always sang better, played music better, wrote better, did anything and  everything better than I did. The last thing a wife wants is to be compared unfavorably  at every  opportunity,  so around them was the last place I wanted to be, and in hindsight, I think that probably happened rather quickly.

I try to be a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of per- son, whether what you get is what you want or not. If you don’t like it, go do something  more fulfilling with your life and stop focusing your valuable energy (or negativity) on me, you know? (Which is why I don’t understand why people who hate me read my journal when they could be doing something more “worthwhile.”)  And if you do like what you see, well, enjoy!   But I know there are times when I  probably lapse back into a certain dynamic with certain people.

That’s not really uncommon, is it? People are different around different groups of people. They behave in a certain way with certain people.  It’s funny to see grown men who were friends in high school get together and become thoughtless  teenaged  boys  again  and  forget  what  they promised back when they were grown men. It’s strange to see our teachers and leaders act more  like indecisive children  when  they  stand  before  their  teachers  and  leaders.   It’s heartbreaking to see happy  people pull in their energy when they’re anywhere near a former abuser, but it happens,  self-protective  mechanism  that it is. I don’t know that this different face is so much a façade as it is a familiar pattern or role that’s just so much easier to slip into than to break out of.

Then again, that’s another thing I’ve noticed over the years that has not always been to my advantage: forming an opinion of someone based on what I’m told by people I trust.  How  many  times  in my  life  has  someone  I’ve trusted told me that someone  else didn’t like me? And I’ve stayed away? Or, I’ve been thrust into their environment or vice versa, only to find out they were someone else than I’d thought? I don’t know what all the motives were—some  wanted  me  all  to  themselves,  some  were genuinely concerned that I’d be harmed by that person, some saw my friendship with their adversary to be a betrayal, some used it to  mask their own feelings  toward me—who knows?   I’m sure the motives were all different, and they really don’t matter anymore.

But I wonder how many misjudgments  go on in the world because of something someone else said and how many  friendships  never  come  to  fruition  for  that  reason? Not that I wish for my ex’s friends. Not at all. He needs his friends, and my interests take me in a different direction. But  over the last two years, I’ve made some very caring  connections  in  spite of “warnings”  I’ve received  from  people  who  had  their  own  agenda.  As  it turned out, the people who “warned” me were the dangerous ones. And that, I suppose, is a regret of mine: that I listened to one  of the unhappiest women I have ever met instead of simply asking the focus of her gossip if it was true.   I didn’t want to believe it, and I did ask him, but I wasted a lot of time in doing so, and my heart ached a lot in the meanwhile.

Now that she’s out of my life and this possibility has been highlighted for me, from now on I won’t take some- one else’s word for  how someone  feels about me—I’ll ask directly.