The first thing I need to get on the table in this post is I was bullied as a kid. I’m not going to go into gory details but it was pretty bad, long standing and escalated to physical blows on more than one occasion.
I was bullied about my non-traditional family. I was bullied because of my status at school (I was two grades ahead of schedule by freshman year). I was also bullied for being really, really, REALLY into sports.
At the same time, I had awesome parents and made friends with a lot of adults who were mature enough to value me just the way I was. I was conscious at the time that there were steps I could take to be more socially acceptable and spare myself some of the bullying in school. I decided against taking such steps because I knew it would mean denying parts of myself that I genuinely liked. That’s the problem with being genuine, you don’t have anything to hide behind. If people don’t like you, they don’t like YOU.
As a result, I’m a little weird. I like people but at the same time they scare me. I’m constantly waiting for the pin or the other shoe to drop. My experience tells me that people, in general, don’t like me the way I am. I say something or do something awkward or weird or entailing too much information and they back away with that “okay, crazy lady” expression that purports to be a grin but is nothing but terror from the nose up.
I didn’t have many friends in school and it seemed like when I’d make friends, eventually they’d catch on to the fact that I had a social contamination zone the size of Chernobyl. Once that happened, they’d wander away and I’d be left alone, hurt and swearing that I’d never do it again. No more friends. No more open invitations to rip my heart out and stomp on it.
I just joined a group of writers and the initial euphoria of being invited into such a cool group of people is wearing off. My version of reality is setting in and I’m, frankly, terrified. This takes the form of me neurotically double guessing everything I say and do and, worse, over analyzing everything they say and do.
When so and so made that comment, was she subtly voicing irritation with me?
That’s another thing: I’m cursed with an exceptionally good memory.
As I blundered gracelessly through my late teens and early adulthood many, many people made comments that were sly and subtle insults they knew would be over my head. I didn’t get them then, but I remember. As conversations would play back in my head over the years I would come to understand what was meant. I would get why this comment or other was funny to everyone but me and understand exactly how much of that laughter was at my expense.
Switching gears slightly, my son was badly bullied in kindergarten. Yes, kindergarten. Thanks to a sick teacher being replaced by several substitute teachers for months out of that school year, trying to stop the bullying proved extremely difficult. I ached watching the effect this had on him. Because the bullies converted everyone else in his class, including his erstwhile best friend, he has an extremely cynical view of friendship. He, in fact, insists that he has no friends and doesn’t want them. “You can’t trust friends.” He told me earlier this year. “You trust them and then they can hurt you.”
I feel ill equipped to help him with this because I still struggle with that fear. I am extremely tempted to leave my group because I’m afraid that I’m starting to annoy them.
I’ve had so many people say something along these lines to me, “You know, I really didn’t like you at first but now I do.” I’ve heard that or something like it so many times.
My husband’s family pretty much universally despised me for the first couple years of our marriage. They’ve all told me this because that’s what people do. Once they’ve decided I’ve grown on them or that the things they used to find annoying are endearing they feel the need to confess their earlier irritation and dislike. I think that’s helped with my fear.
I’ve been told repeatedly by well-meaning people that, at least ‘at first’, I’m not likeable.
So, what do I do?
Old me would leave the group. Old me would decide it’s better to go it alone.
Well, I’m not leaving my group. I’m going to stay for the time being and hope that, if I am annoying or graceless or off putting, that they’ll put up with me long enough for that magical ‘aha!’ moment to hit them or whatever fateful scale it is that tips in people’s opinions to tip in favor of them liking me.
It’s scary. People are freaking scary. When I’m alone, I’m secure in myself. I like who I am. When I get around people and start fearing rejection, I question my own value and I hate that.
I really like this group. I value it and the individuals that comprise it. But, honestly, I’d rather have every agent and editor on planet Earth reject my book with vile and blistering comments than be rejected by these people. I stand in absolute awe of some of them and the confidence they exude. And therein lies the rub. It’s only when you love something that it has the power to hurt you.