01 August 2009

Goodbye Old Friendship

"Time it was,
And what a time it was...
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago it must be,
I have a photograph...
Preserve your memories;
They're all that's left you."

[Simon & Garfunkel, "Bookends"]

In the comments to my previous post, I mentioned that I had few clear memories of interacting with Old Buddy From College [OBFC]. It's obvious, I hope, that the meanness he displayed when we met up again after 30 years surprised and disappointed me, especially because we met up again only because he sought me out.

This post will focus on two topics: [1] being sought out merely to be abused, and [2] remembrance.

First, [1]. This sort of thing is shocking and disappointing [a recurring theme] to decent people, because it's not something a decent person does. If one goes to the trouble to locate an old school friend, and takes the time to meet them - - and they are willing to take the time to meet - - then [in a decent culture] one is obligated to behave politely and civilly, even if the outcome of the meeting is disappointing.

In this case, it's hard to make even that excuse for OBFC, since his abusiveness began within minutes of our being seated at the restaurant table. There had barely been a meeting; there was definitely no time for any final outcome, disappointing or otherwise, to be established. [For those who will here insist that he was reacting to my 'older' appearance, I have to say that any surprises on that score should have been positive. We all age. If we're fortunate, we get to age gracefully. He may, however, have been reacting to my bearing and confidence; see below.]

Don't be deceived about this. When someone seeks you out, whether socially or occupationally, shows an avid interest in you, and then immediately begins to behave abusively, you have been targeted by an abuser, and you will be wise to reframe the events in that context.

You weren't approached by an old friend seeking to re-establish contact, or by a colleague on another team looking for a terrific team member. You were approached because a predator was hungry, and possibly desperate [OBFC must have been desperate, given that he reached across 30 years in his search for a target]. You were approached because you have, or had, [or because the predator perceives you as having] Target Features.

Tim Field, Kathy Krajco, and Anna Valerious have all expounded on Target Features [though not under that name]. Social abusers prefer to target those who are competent and kind, responsible; those who have a tendency to put others' welfare first; workplace abusers usually target the brightest, most competent, most creative, most conscientious people within their reach in any workplace.

And it's not at all uncommon for either a social abuser or a workplace abuser to identify a likely Target at a distance, and make overtures to that Target to bring them within striking distance of the abuser. In fact, 'courting' a Target is an extremely effective way of disarming them, so that they aren't likely to be thinking critically when the abuse begins, and thus are less likely to recognize what is going on.

Yes, this seems too bizarre to be real. But it happens. It happens so often in workplaces that in many developed nations, there are now laws on the books to protect people from workplace abuse; and we in the US, as a society, are just beginning to realize how often it happens socially. In addition to the three giants cited above, I strongly recommend reading George Simon, Ph.D. CZBZ [n-continuum.blogspot.com] has a direct link to a site where you can read his blogs.

So that addresses [1] - but let me add the whipped cream: why was this guy so intensely nasty? I suspect, but of course I cannot prove, that he was expecting a very different Stormchild, characterologically, from the grown woman who strolled confidently up to him, shook his hand, told him he looked great and it was good to see him; who shortly thereafter informed him that she'd pay her own way this time, of course, especially since she'd recommended this restaurant and was a regular here; and in answer to his questions, quickly and cheerfully brought him up to date on her international travels, long term employer, and recent promotions.

After that, we opened our menus, and he muttered that priceless line about my 'squint'.

I'm not sure what he was expecting, but it seems obvious to me that whatever it was, I - as I am - wasn't it. And abusers punish those they cannot control... as well as punishing those they can. Don't they? Yes they do. He may have decided that I wasn't going to be much good as a Target, so he'd have to get as many 'licks' in as possible while he had the opportunity [and he wasted no time: see comments to last post for details].

No, it's not nice at all. But neither was his behavior, if you read the post below. And, in the context of frustrated predation, it makes perfect sense.

What about [2]? What happened to that Old Friendship that led to this New Fiasco?

Well, actually, not much. After writing the previous post, this question stuck with me, and I decided to do some personal archaeology. With the assistance of quietude and coffee, I was able to retrieve enough memories to reconstruct the salient features of that friendship.

In all honesty, it wasn't much of one. We probably associated with one another because we were in proximity, being resident students on the same campus; and because we were both studying science while practicing faith. We met in a faith-based setting.

Our social interactions, as I recall them now, were all pretty much alike. He was not mean, not then, not overtly. He was, however, obtuse - in retrospect - and - I'm sorry - I'd think of him as a bore now. I didn't have enough experience then to know what to call it. Basically, he liked to imitate his two favorite comedians - at length - at great length -- at extreme length --- sometimes for geological epochs -. And when this wasn't happening, our conversation consisted either of shop talk about our studies, or of me listening to him telling me how much he missed his old girlfriend from high school, who was a Paragon Beyond Compare In Every Possible Respect. He showed, as best as I can recall [and I have tried to recall anything that would refute this, and failed] no actual interest in Stormchild, as a person, as a human being, ever, at any time; but I was too young then to recognize this.

I should add that the one-on-one social occasions were mercifully infrequent. I saw OBFC weekly in the ecumenical faith setting, which was a group event. I probably had lunch or dinner with him, just the two of us, about once every six weeks, and since I had a lively social and study life at the time, this wasn't a huge drain on my resources.

I should also add that even then, I 'twigged' something. There was something just a little insistent, just a tad aggressive, about the way Old Girlfriend From High School was resurrected and brandished every time OBFC and I had a one-on-one conversation. I wasn't sure, then, whether he was using her as a shield or as a club; but I smelled a game, even then. And I was able to retrieve a few fragments of memory from one college summer, when OBFC and I got together for dinner with his folks [who were perfectly nice people] and he then stopped in for coffee [what else?] and ice cream, with mine, when he brought me home.

My mother was quite taken with him and my father thought he was a nice young man. I was asked, afterwards - without any pressure being brought to bear - why I didn't seem interested in dating him. I don't recall my answer verbatim, of course; but it ran very much along these lines:
"We're different in some ways that are very important to me and aren't likely to change [I would have meant politically and religiously; I was then and am now far more liberal in both of those areas than he was and is]. But even if that wasn't true, he's very hung up on his old girlfriend from high school. I hear about her every time we get together, and it's almost as though he's daring me to try to compete with her.

I can't compete with a perfect ghost that someone has half invented, and I don't want to. I want to date a guy who likes me and is interested in me, not someone who will be constantly comparing me to some fantasy lost love. That isn't a relationship, it's a contest, and it's one I'll never be able to win.

So why would I want to date him?"

It's not really difficult to imagine that this was a game, or a gambit. That I was being dared to enter a contest I would have been doomed to lose from the outset, a rigged game.

And, of course, a young man who would play that kind of game with a young woman - whether in a misguided attempt to make himself seem attractive by appealing to 'competitive instincts', or as a way to keep any female friend or girlfriend in a permanent 'one-down', 'not-as-good-as-my-Ex' position - is a young man well on his way to becoming exactly what OBFC seems to be today:


By the grace of God, I haven't heard from him again.


[Edit in: On proofreading this account, I've been struck by something EXTREMELY significant.

I cannot recall - and again, I've tried - ANY occasion where OBFC discussed his Old High School Girlfriend in a group setting. AT ALL. I have tried to recall whether she was a topic of conversation during my meal with his parents - and that's something I think I would remember, since I can retrieve the fact that we had such a meal. He definitely never mentioned her to mine. And there were occasional 'let's all get a burger' outings where everyone in the faith-based group went out for a bite, and I can't recall her ever being mentioned then.

This definitely makes that aspect of our 'friendship' look even more like a game, and a calculated one at that. I mention it because, if anyone reading this is the same age now that I was then, and looking at a similar situation, it's a huge red flag and should be taken VERY seriously indeed.

On a related note, you may want to read The Last Psychiatrist's blog post about tactics used by the male lead character in "Twilight"... being a male himself, TLP is quite explicit about the gamesmanship. It's useful validation.]


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