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?”
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.