Monday, 11 April 2011

What's Bad for Me and the Art of 'Bad People' Removal

I've got a lot on my plate, Gentle Reader(s). Tasks that I can't avoid, and deadlines that need to be met pronto. I really don't even have time to be blogging - but you know how it is; when something's nagging at you, it can be difficult to focus on more pressing matters. I have something that I feel like I need to get off my chest, which also happens to be something that I think you might be able to relate to, so here I am.

I allude to the presence of stress and the pressure of important matters hanging in the balance because times like these can actually provide you with clarity. It's tantamount to the proverbial sink or swim metaphor where you become psychically aware that you aren't going to be able to swim with a whole bunch of cumbersome items strapped to your back. At some point, one might come to the conclusion that some of these items need to be removed to free up one's breast stroke, if you follow me.

In more literal terms, you may ask, what are these cumbersome items that need to be untethered? Well they can be a variety of things, but for the purposes of this discussion, I'm just going to say 'certain people'. I think many of us have our own personal branch of  Bad People Storage Inc. You know the place and I know the place. It's the emotionally based facility where we keep people in our lives who are... well... bad. So then you may ask, what is bad? Please define bad, you may demand. Bad in this instance isn't really defined as fundamentally evil (although it could include evil deeds in a bad person in question) and it isn't a moral application (although it could involve a shaky moral compass in a bad person in question). Bad, in this instance, is fairly subjective and suggestive of the negative affects which certain people have on you and your life. Years ago Dr. Lillian Glass coined the phrase 'Toxic People" in reference to these types of people. And many of us are more than a little guilty of keeping a bushel or even a stable full of people who are bad for us around in our lives; hence Bad People Storage Inc. gets born.

Many of us never really put our fingers on why some of these people are bad for us and we keep them around; many of us inadvertently fall out with the bad people in our lives, but we never really learn the lesson of why and how they were bad for us in the first place and so we replace them with more bad people; and then some of us, in the midst of navigating the more difficult waters of life, come to realize that we aren't going to be able to swim with all these toxic mofos strapped to our backs. We gain clarity. We may come to realize that it isn't about having an argument with one of our bad people, or even a specifically evil transgression exacted against us by one of our bad people . It is at this point when we come to realize that the person (or persons) are just bad for us. When you are able to realize or proclaim that someone is bad for you, understand that that realization or proclamation is unique to your experiences and expectations of fellow beings. It's obvious that what one person considers to be bad or toxic, may not be defined as such by another. But still, I maintain that there are a few common themes in what falls into the bad for you category; SN (sleazy and negative), V (vacuous), UNT (unstable and not trustworthy) and I'll get to those - but before I do, I want to make a distinction.

What Bad People Inc. Isn't

I'd like to point out right now that although that some of the people you call your real friends can certainly be toxic or bad for you, I'm really referring to are the people you're not likely to have a strong bond with or want to level with to work out your differences with as you would real friends. I get that sometimes friends have drama and baggage you can't handle- and for the record I know I've actually been one of those friends to my friends, and then in a role reversal, some of my friends have been those kinds of friends to me. Real friendship involves tough times, whining, getting stuck in ruts, having misunderstandings, battling personality glitches, as well as all the good stuff. Those negative elements can be overcome with communication where both parties have love and good intentions at their core and strive towards mutual understanding. Issues like self absorption and emotional sapping can be overcome with communication. That's what real friends do. People who are bad for you, for the purposes of this discussion, fall into another category altogether.

So What or Who is Bad For You?

Again, it's all subjective. For me, before we even get into any labels, I'd like to clarify my notion that that the people who are bad for me tend to have a general profile; they seem to be the people who aren't around in my life enough to even know what's going on, and visa versa - and I'm not talking about good friends who become so busy that you have to update each other when you see each other again - I'm talking about people who have been unavailable during the sticky or traumatic times, and don't ever seem to want to reveal sticky or traumatic times to others. Some people might simply call these people fair weather friends. But it usually goes a bit deeper.

I've come to recognize that along with the fair weather factor, these people who are bad for me also carry some sort of dark element, or draw to the dark side which they carry at their forefront and they desire to suck you into their crazy way of coping. They commonly engage in destructive behavior and self harming behavior to cope with their problems rather than spending time working their problems out - in other words, instead of having grounded, solid interactions with them, or having deep reflective discussions with them, I always seem to get stuck negotiating with, or dabbling with their dark bullshit. I have found myself doing the dance with them, as I like to call it.

What exactly is doing the dance? It involves convincing myself that if I could just get to their authentic place, we'd be great friends. It involves 'trying not to judge' when I know good and well that what they're mixed up in is bad news for them and eventually me, but still convince myself that I can bypass that muck to locate authenticity within them. WRONG. Some people are just bad for you, and it's pretty codependent to convince yourself that you can make that much of a difference for someone who hasn't actually shown you any good faith or loyalty. Why not make a difference reaching deeper levels with established friends? I've decided to spend less time allowing myself to be suckered and tending to my own personal Bad People Storage Inc. and more time turning my business into Bad People Removal Services. I'm going to give you three examples. Interestingly enough, these three individuals have contacted me in the last 48 hours and I have finally come to a turning point, which is how I've come to write this blog in the first place.


I met Poly-Boy (not his real name) over the Internet about four years ago. I reached out to him because he and his partner were supposedly part of the local polyamory community and my (then) partner and I had questions about polyamory (if you're unfamiliar with polyamory: We had no interest in anything more than fact finding and discussion with like-minded people, so I got in touch with Poly-Boy.

From the onset, it was clear to me that Poly-Boy was looking for any and all romantic encounters he could get. That was the first red flag. He claimed to be polyamorous but functioned more like a swinger. I ignored the red flag. I think I was being arrogant, truth be told. I made it clear that nothing romantic (or sexual) was going to happen, and that I really just wanted to pick his brain on polyamory. I thought that would be enough; be direct, be friendly. Hell, he was an interesting person, after all. A writer, a person interested in politics... what would be the harm in just sidestepping his romantic interests and developing a friendship? The long story short is that the 'friendship' resulted in numerous long phone conversations with a Machiavellian individual, who was hell bent on grooming me as if I were a 16 year old ingenue, even if it meant creating devil's advocate style debates on every issue every time we spoke so that he could impress me with his superior intelligence. I would find myself hanging up from these 'conversations' utterly exhausted, asking myself why I was talking to this guy. In my gut I felt that there was an air of aggression that I couldn't quite pinpoint, but I questioned myself. What was the harm in someone not agreeing with my point of view? Why did his differences of opinions bother me so much? I tried to silence my own warning system by using conventional logic on myself even though conversations with him just made me feel bad and worn out - a good debate should make you come to some sort of understanding of another point of view or philosophy, but instead my interactions with Poly-Boy just made me feel more confused and distant.

Then came the time when I broke the news to him that I had decided to eliminate polyamory from my romantic life. The disappointment radiated right through the phone. I figured that would be it. If his intentions were to groom me for some swingers' deal, he'd bug off at this point, right? WRONG. He appeared to want to maintain a friendship and even meet up. At first this was encouraging, but soon thereafter, the same sort of weird, stressful discussions began to creep back into my interactions with this fellow. I decided to distance myself from him a bit, avoid meeting up for a time, and get on with things. There was no need to make a big fuss, right? WRONG.

I got a call from Poly-Boy the other day.  Months ago, he put me on a social networking invite list of people he hoped would come and visit him and his wife while they're in Greece for three months over this summer. So conveniently, this call coincided with his leaving town for Greece. He was obviously fishing around, hoping to meet me before breaking camp but instead of stating his business, he opened the conversation right away with a debate regarding a social network comment I'd made regarding the weather. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself on the phone for an additional 30 minutes, looking at the clock because I had to take my dog for a walk, as he explained to me that the best way to deal with a loved one recovering from an addiction would be to let that person go out and engage in addictive behavior. He closed this 'conversation' with insisting that we finally meet up "after all this time". I gave in. I agreed to meet him. Why? I think I agreed due to a combination of exhaustion and frankly eagerness to get together with him for what? To see just how much I disliked him in person? I don't know. Somehow I wanted him out of my social life, but wasn't sure how to go about it.

At that moment I knew I disliked him as a person, so why agree to get together? Here I was, talking to a person who clearly had ulterior motives and carried negative energy. I hadn't spoken to him in what, months? Almost a year? And why the hell was I trying to have an earnest discussion with him about what had been going on in my life? Had he called me when times were tough for me or him? No. Had he called to wish me happy holidays last year? No. I was allowing myself to get sucked in again. Why would I waste even a single afternoon on someone like this? I'd found myself doing the dance again and I knew I had to stop.

So I did. I gave myself a couple of days to mellow out and then I called him back this morning. I told him that I wasn't going to meet him on the day we discussed. I told him that I wasn't, in fact, going to ever meet him. I explained to him that, for the last time, I wasn't interested in engaging in any sort of romantic relationship with him, that I wasn't interested in being groomed for his purposes like an ingenue since I'm not a teenager. It was at that point when he told me that he thought that I "got the wrong end of the stick". I assured him that I disagreed entirely and simply put, that I wasn't interested in friendship with him because if he'd been interested in friendship with me he would have been in touch after I had several deaths in my family last year like my other friends were. I also told him that I disliked his argumentative tone because it made me feel tense, not friendly. The bottom line, once I put my finger on it, is that Poly-Boy falls squarely in the SN camp. Sleazy and Negative, and therefore bad for me. There's no need to engage in tense discussions, there's no need to keep his crotch sniffing tendencies at bay. Ultimately, I wished him all the best, and hung up. I simply stopped doing the dance. It was so much easier than I imagined it would be.
(scroll way down for the update as of 13/04/11)

Scene Girl

I met Scene Girl at a film festival a couple of years ago. We happened to strike up a random conversation by way of complimenting each other on our outfits - clearly we had a similar style - both kind of rockabilly, both with jet black hair and red lipstick, the whole getup. It was almost eerie in the fact that we're also both from the same country, living abroad, and even share the same profession. How cool, right? What has transpired since has been a truly bizarre interaction and a totally fruitless association.

We were meant to get together several times, and never did - she basically flaked every time. And then even more strangely, not long after I'd lost my sister, I came to discover that she'd lost her mother. This news came in the form of a social network comment which said something like "My mother has just died, and no one even seems to care." This broke my heart. I stepped in right away to lend my support. We met that one time and came to find out that we were both not only suffering from grief, but that we were also having similar relationship issues. Surely this was a sign, right? So much in common, even common struggles, right? Ok, so she was in deep mourning but showed up wearing a full, camera ready face of makeup mentioning that she was late because she kept drawing on her eyebrow incorrectly, but that doesn't mean anything right? That's what I told myself at the time.

As the weeks, then months drew on, I would get these random texts from her about how we needed to get together, how horrible her boyfriend was being, how she had no one in her life as a support system since her mother passed away, and how amazing that day we'd gotten together had been. But there was one problem. Each and every time I carved out time to get together with her, she flaked. She cancelled so much I was beginning to lose count. These cancellations were always followed by texts proclaiming how sorry she was for being such a "bad friend" but that she was feeling so anxiety ridden about her mother that she was prone to cancel and didn't like going places alone - she was so anxiety ridden. And for a while I understood. I could relate.

There is something about being in mourning that totally destabilizes you to the degree that sometimes you can't make it out. I have been there, really I have. I have been there to the degree that I was balancing three deaths of loved ones and a partner in recovery from addiction. Believe me, I've had to apologize to many a good friend about not turning up somewhere I said I'd be - all based on pure anxiety. There were days that I made it out, then other days where I could barely get up to take a shower. But once it gets to the point that you find yourself talking yourself out of your own anxieties to get out there and support someone else who then flakes on you repeatedly, it starts to get a bit old; really emotionally exhausting actually. Couple that with the fact that the other person also keeps mentioning great places (on the rockabilly scene of course) that she's been to and places that "we should hang out at, cos I was there last week" in between flaking sessions with you and you begin to suspect the big V. V is for Vacuous. And guess what I realized? Here's a gem. Are you ready for the big reveal? Vacuous people are still vacuous, even when bad things happen in their lives.

The romantic concept that people suddenly become all grounded and steady when tragedy strikes is a big fat lie propagated by The Man... or maybe TV and film. At any rate it's a lie. Usually people just go on being as shitty as they ever were. Ask one of my family members who felt it was a good idea to talk badly about my mixed race relationship behind my back while she was in my parents' house after my sister died. Ask my partner who continued to struggle in recovery even after my good friend died. So really, the case of Scene Girl is no different. The difference is I got tired of doing the dance with her. I mean, she'd never been over to my place, I'd never been over to hers; she didn't even know that I had a cat and a dog, and yet here I was doing this exhausting back and forth with her to lend my support... all the while sacrificing my stability. To this day, I still haven't figured out if it was an emotional crutch she needed (all for herself only) or if she just thought I looked like a cool looking friend to have on the books. Whatever the reason, I came to realize that Scene Girl is vacuous, saps my energy, provides no mutual support, and therefore bad for me. She texted me last night. I don't intend to answer.

Miss Shaky Boundaries

When people tell you that they're mentally ill, you should believe them. Granted most people have suffered from some mental instability or depression at some point, or several points in their lives. But when people break out the BP; Bi-Polar, and they want you to know right away, it's probably a good idea to take heed. A lot of people are also misdiagnosed, and who knows what's really up with them. The negative sphere of Miss Shaky Boundaries has been something which has built up gradually over some time, mainly because she was never around enough for me to really cotton onto what she'd been up to. We met one night at a small concert venue, where one of her friends was playing and a friend of one of mine was also playing. She was very forwardly friendly towards me, which is always appreciated in a big city. We exchanged information and vowed to get together, and so it went. We'd get together every once in a while, often on a sunny day, usually over cocktails. Our conversations would range from everything from spirituality, to our family woes. Innocuous girl talk, really, though she seemed to subject flip quite a bit. I sometimes found her difficult to follow, as she'd often trail off in a vague manner when it came to details. I didn't let that bother me, she just seemed a bit spacey - she seemed to be a nice person nonetheless.

As our talks got deeper, she would often mention how much she wanted a boyfriend. She began to share details about men she was interested in. She seemed to fall for people very quickly, wished to define those relationships very quickly, and often what she described led me to believe that these love interests were usually men who weren't particularly interested in anything deep with her. Each time I spoke with her there seemed to be a new guy, one with whom she hoped to build a relationship. I encouraged her to go slower in building potential relationships so that she could avoid feeling used and getting repeatedly hurt. She seemed to appreciate this advice, if nothing else.

Further along, I started inviting her to cocktail parties I'd throw. My parties tend to delineate into a flurry of drunken dancing and loud talking deep into the night. It's a free-for-all, and it's great. But the thing I began to notice about Miss Shaky Boundaries was that every time she came to one of my parties there would be some drama with a man. Once she showed up with a shy fellow who was clearly with her as a date (or at least that's what he thought). She basically blew him off in the middle of the night to give her attentions to another (especially drunk) fellow.

Another night Miss Shaky Boundaries became the center of an argument between two drunk men, one of whom she eventually left with around 5 in the morning. This man, apparently with a partner and a child out of town (I later learned), happily slept with Miss Shaky Boundaries. They were very drunk. It was a bad situation that should never be repeated. No harm done, right? WRONG. Miss Shaky Boundaries left his house without getting his telephone number, admitted that it seemed that he had no interest in seeing her again, but spent the next month pestering me about getting his number and pumping me for information about him. She simply couldn't accept that she was a drunken one night stand and wanted to involve me in gaining further Intel. I refused, said he was spoken for, and left it at that.

The next party came along and, lo and behold, on this occasion, Miss Shaky Boundaries spent half of the night asking me about one of the sleaziest male guests at the party because he was by himself, and the other half of the night observing the romantic verbal banter between two of my other friends. She basically waited for my female buddy to leave the party, then descended on my male buddy like a vulture on roadkill. In the end, she spent the end of the night making out with the male buddy in front of another friend who was trying to sleep, and then eventually went home with the male buddy in the morning. That was bad enough, but I must tell you, my inner peace became sufficiently more disturbed when I reviewed the details of that night and seemed to recall observing Miss Shaky Boundaries serving my boyfriend a cup of tea and parking herself right next to him. That did it for me. Look, I may be modern but I still follow my dear grandmother's old fashioned advice, and she would have told me: anybody that desperate, with such shaky boundaries is not a person you want around you and yours - and I don't care how trustworthy you think your man is. Yep, that's what Grandma would've said.

The female buddy who left the party early, only to have Miss Shaky Boundaries descend on her romantic interest, has graciously asked me not to confront Miss Shaky Boundaries. And up until yesterday I was inclined not to because I assumed that the reason why I hadn't heard from her was because she was embarrassed by her own conduct. But since getting a text from her, I'm beginning to wonder if I should confront her. I mean, I am on a roll these days, slaying sucker MCs left and right. The bottom line is that Miss Shaky Boundaries is UNT; Unstable and Not Trustworthy which puts her squarely in the category of bad for me. I intend to stop doing the dance, one way or another. Another one bites the dust.

All in all, I am now actively electing to remove people who are bad for me from my life and learning to recognize the patterns so that I can keep them out. But you know, in recognizing the patterns I'm discovering that the thing that can be so seductive about people who are bad for you, at least in my case, is that their dark side has some sort of draw of interest to you. My beloved university professor Winston Kennedy once told me to always remember "the success of the Con is based upon the greed of the Mark." And it's true. If you think you're sophisticated and worldly, why wouldn't you be tempted by an exiting lifestyle like polyamory? And if you're intellectual, you tell yourself that you're always up for a debate (and let yourself suffer through the agony of dealing with passive aggressive people). Or if you're fashionable, why wouldn't you want to be around cool and fashionable people who are all into the scene of your choosing? Or, if you're open minded, why wouldn't you want to be around a friend who throws caution to the wind? This is how you get sucked into chaos. At the end of the day we all have a limited amount of time to be productive and live life well. Why keep peripheral people around who are unreliable, untrustworthy, or have chaotic motives? Life is hard enough with family, lovers, and real friends. Why choose to fight that fight, when there are so many other interpersonal, economic, and social battles which are worthwhile and require your attention? Why not learn to practice the art of bad people removal and clear some of that cumbersome weight off your back while you swim? Just some food for thought Gentle Reader(s).

Update: Wednesday, April 13, 2011, early in the freakin mornin

The name of this update is Trust Your Instincts, Gentle Reader(s). Because although it's always good to engage in self-examination when making decisions about totally cutting people off, sometimes you've got to bypass all the intellectual noise telling you that you shouldn't jump to conclusions or make assumptions even though your instincts tell you otherwise. I went into my email this morning and discovered an email that I'd somehow missed over the last few days - I swear this is true - and I don't know how I missed it. Maybe it was a good thing that I did miss it, because then I would've really gone Toby N. Tucker, TNT, kaboom, off. Wouldn't you know it was from Poly-Boy, obviously sent soon after he'd asked me to get together with him (but clearly before I confronted him). This email contained a very simple message: "Here are a few pictures of [Suzie] and me.xx" and the pictures consisted of one naked photo of him (from behind), a couple of candid photos of "Suzie" looking coy with messy hair and clothes sliding off her shoulders, a photo of "Suzie" in a red and white furry cowboy hat and red bra and underwear, and one close-up of "Suzie's" flat pancake butt in boy-shorts and fishnets. Oh I'm sorry. Maybe I was wrong. And here I thought Poly-Boy was passive aggressively trying to groom me for some weird swingers' thing, but obviously I "got the wrong end of the stick" because sending intimate nude photos of you and your spouse to someone you have yet to meet in person isn't necessarily a sexual invitation. It's just friendly, right? Anyone would do that as a friendly gesture - it's just polite. But really, what sort of person argues with you for sport, verbally accepts that you have no interest in swinging with him and his crew, but sends you intimate photos anyway, then tells you that you've obviously got the wrong idea when you confront him about his intentions? A sleazy and negative person. Trust your instincts. What more can I say? Ewww, wish I hadn't seen that photo of him, though.

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