Women in Numbers, and Not in a Fun, Hugh Hefner Fantasy Sort of Way

Readers: grab a cup of coffee and settle in for a spell.  This is a long one, but I hope you find it useful for your life.

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Dear Robin:

I am a pretty laid-back person who gets along with everyone.  I have a variety of friends in different groups and from different walks of life but one group gossips about other women and often it’s women in that same group.

I’m not talking about the innocuous stuff like “she’s lost weight, her hair looks different, I’m not sure she loves her job,” I’m talking about really mean jabs and insinuations about their relationships, their looks, their kids, their careers, their parenting skills, basically anything you can think of that would be hurtful.

My husband is always incredulous when I share these stories with him and he assures me that men do not play this game.  He also feels I have a duty to speak up and try to minimize the damaging conversation when I am there to do so.  I’m not so sure I’m comfortable doing that even though this has been bothering me for years.

You are good with funny ways to confront people – do you have any ideas for me?

Alice

Dear Alice:

First things first: I come to you with unclean hands.

More on that later.  Let’s talk about you and this nice group of ladies you spend time with.

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Please tell your husband to call me so I can plead with him to never start an advice blog, because obviously he is a brilliant and honorable man and I don’t want the competition.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Wonderful that you have a duty to speak up, and I’d also add that if this is a very regular thing for these women, I urge you to dump this group and focus on the more positive women in your life.

When we messaged last weekend you mentioned that the group’s target was a moving one but usually centered on whichever unfortunate gal couldn’t make it to that week’s “Shit on (name of whoever isn’t there)” Party.

You also mentioned other people who are no longer associated with the group (or who never were) are also subject to dissection discussion.  You do realize what this means, right?

I hope you don’t have a job or a life to keep you from these uplifting parties with strong and centered females because when you can’t make it it’s your carcass on the carving board – don’t for a minute fool yourself into thinking you are immune.

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After a couple I know got divorced, the ex-husband told me this of his former wife, who was always very nice to everyone to their face and quite popular: “Every time a woman would leave the room, she’d immediately tear them down.”

“You mean right there, like at a party?” I asked.  “When they are still there?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, “and boy did she hate you.  You got it bad, but not the worst.  The worst she saved for her ‘best friend’ and her sister.  It’s one of the many reasons I couldn’t deal with her anymore.”

I suppose I knew that all along because I’d seen it myself, but I was so honored to be included in this group that I kept my mouth shut and basked in what felt at the time like the warm arms of female companionship, but in fact what was only an illusion.

No, that’s not quite it.  I didn’t just sit by.  I joined in.

For those of us who either were or who imagine we were terrifically unpopular growing up, it is easy to fall in line in situations like this and steadfastly refuse to do the right thing and to pile on with the rest of the group.

Inside many middle-aged women like myself is a lonely and depressed 15 year old girl, crying at home on a Saturday night because she didn’t get invited to the big party and someone called her fat on the bus.

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If those feelings are never dealt with, that girl grows up to form unhealthy relationships with people not based on their qualities as a human being, but rather where they are located on the social hierarchy.  That is no basis for friendship – that’s social climbing – and it’s ugly and unsatisfying.

Another interesting dynamic in these groups is the one of “triangulation.”  You know the drill: Suzi and Deb are great friends, but have a falling out.  Suzi then tries to rally the troops against Deb in a people-collection effort that rivals a politician two weeks before an election.

The bulk of this effort involves Suzi’s new and sudden interest in Gail, who she knows doesn’t like Deb because Deb once criticized her canapés.

These are very important issues of the day, you see.

Suzi and Gail become the best of friends and now Deb is on the outs.  Or is she? What happens to Gail if Suzi and Deb run into each other and have a drunken girl “I love you I’m sorry why aren’t we friends anymore” wailing and gnashing of history?

I’ll tell you what happens: both of these fine upstanding females turn against Gail, and she is now enemy #1.  Triangulation is an interesting behavior but I think time proves the following to be true in every circumstance: the mutual dislike of another is no basis for a friendship.

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If you build your house on a garbage dump, don’t be surprised when it starts to reek.

Alice, I encourage you to find yourself alternative company.  If you insist upon sharing your time with these ladies and the conversation turns ugly, I think it is your duty as a decent and honorable person to try to shut it down.  Just imagine what you would want the others to do if the plate du jour was Alice and then do that.

You asked me for a funny quip so try this one on for size: “Suzi and Deb, it’s not a fair fight if everyone doesn’t have access to the ring!  Should we conference in Gail and let her defend herself or are you too cowardly to say these things to her directly?  It’s odd that you haven’t spoken to her in ages but you keep speaking about her.

“This is a silly fight between you two, not a war, so what’s with all the troop recruitment going on here?  Can’t you just go your separate ways without all this destruction? Perhaps therapy is in order?”

Yeah, that’s not very funny, but there’s not much funny about this topic so there you go.

I was going to write about keeping your friends in silos but for Goddess’ sake I have already gone way over my word limit for today.  In closing, I urge you when you find yourself in this group and are tempted to talk about a person who isn’t there, use the following rules (these rules do not apply to celebrities or shitty divorce lawyers):

1. Don’t say anything unkind or untrue;
2. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to their face; and
3. If you wouldn’t say it to their face because you don’t speak with them anymore or know them enough to speak with them, ask yourself: why am I talking about this person?

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Further to this point, ask yourself:

3a. Is my own life so small, so insignificant, and so unhappy that I have to tear down other people when they aren’t around and that I usually do so in the presence of several others?

3b. Are my accomplishments so limited that I should denigrate the efforts of others who are working hard to achieve things for themselves and their family?

3c. If I consider myself superior to this person, why am I wasting my breath gossiping about them? Shouldn’t I have more interesting things to discuss with my friends?

3d. What is it about gossip that improves my life?  Have I ever been the subject of malicious gossip? (the answer to that for EVERYONE is “yes”).  How did it make me feel to learn that, and if I know it is harmful, why am I participating?

3e. Am I capable of entertaining a group of people by discussing ideas, politics, art, music, Ebola, my career, and things and people I love, or am I so petty and lacking in creativity and content that all I can do is spit out angry words about other people – and especially when those other people used to be close to me?

Yep, I’ve been this person.

To admit that causes me great shame.

To also admit that the main reason I don’t run in these wild packs of women anymore is because they weren’t fond of me is also difficult – but it’s honest.  And it led me to where I am today, so for their rejection I am grateful.  I have connected with so many wonderful people who don’t engage in this behavior and who, when faced with it, shut it down.

Those are the people who now make up my tribe, and I am blessed to have them. Find yourself a tribe who uplift others instead of tearing them down.  If you don’t, you will find yourself painted with the same brush as the others and the good people in your life may wonder just what you stand for, if anything.

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-Robin

PS:

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. mikedescamp

    Great topic, Robin. I, also, have unclean hands as regards this issue but I’m working on it.

    For the high-minded among us, it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.”

    On the other hand, her cousin Alice Roosevelt Longworth said, “If you haven’t got anything good to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

  2. Amy

    Robin–Thank you for your column. You don’t know me, but I think we grew up in the same part of town. It takes a lot of guts and strength to admit to having engaged in some of the toxic behavior described in your post. When I was younger, I might have sat by being passive while the venom was being spread. That changed a long time ago for me. There is nothing to be gained by not speaking up.

  3. Dani Lynn Berger Lolli

    Great topic and column….too bad those that NEED to read this, as they are those with the most unclean hands, will not. What is that quote by C.S. Lewis…“When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse he understands his own badness less and less.” And isn’t that the truth??

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