I think I may be the Tom Cruise of my circle of friends.
Two points of clarification:
- This is not a good thing.
- I despise Tom Cruise.
A few months back, I read Leah Remini’s book Troublemaker. I know, it doesn’t do anything to bolster your opinion of me by reading mindless celebrity drivel. But I’ll admit it- I wanted an inside peek at the world of Scientology, including the antics of high profile and perhaps insane celebrities. Ever since the jumping on Oprah’s couch, accusing Matt Lauer of being “glib,” and asking Katie Holmes to endure childbirth in complete silence, I have been curious as to what Scientology did to turn America’s golden boy into a complete lunatic.
It has been awhile since I read the book, so forgive me for paraphrasing. Remini describes arriving at Cruise’s house and being asked to play hide and seek, despite wearing four inch heels. There was a 3am request to come back to a party and make pizzas and bake cookies. Remini did not find these antics funny or charming. In short, Cruise came across as a giant child, and everyone went along with his games because of who he was. To her, he was tiresome, demanding and inappropriate.
I felt a bit of self reflective horror when I realized my friends could probably say the same about me. I may not be an A list celebrity, but I am childish and demanding. Despite the Academy Awards being months away, I am already planning a “Willy Wonka” themed Oscar party. I just invited (aka bullied) my friends into dressing in full Star Wars regalia to go see the latest movie in December. Of course, this shouldn’t be too big of an imposition because they already had the costumes, courtesy of last year’s “Star Wars” Oscar party. As I reflect on these occasions, I wonder am I adding whimsy to people’s lives or putting a burden of expectation on our friendship?
If you asked my husband this question, he would reply with a resounding “BURDEN!” We went to Ikea last week to purchase some beds for a family we adopted for the holidays. As he began loading up our cart with the “Svarta” model, I was rushing over to the service counter to inquire as to if I could have the cardboard pallets separating the boxes. As I loaded up a second cart with nothing but random cardboard my husband asked what I was doing.
“I can use this card board for making decorations for the ‘Wonka’ party. And I noticed you threw some pipes out yesterday, after I asked you to save things like that for making lollipops. I grabbed them out of the garbage, but I’d appreciate if you kept them for me. Also, I put some styrofoam boards in the garage. Don’t throw them out. Are we going to be able to get all of this cardboard home?”
His face strained against the frustration brewing beneath his skin. Each piece of cardboard I loaded onto the cart manifested into one new vein popping out on his forehead.
I remarked to his sister “Ben does not think my grand ideas are so grand.”
“Oh, I bet he likes them more than you think,” she replied with a knowing smile.
Nope. I’m pretty sure on this one. As I remarked on his lack of enthusiasm for my cardboard collection, he mustered the zeal to comment through gritted teeth.
“I’m sure it will be fun. I can’t wait to see what you do with it.”
You might read that and think See. He does like her big ideas. He just said so. Let me just say, no. There was no hint of actual approval in his face or deameanor. But he is a good husband and knows better than to scream “Would you quit behaving like a hoarder and put that fucking cardboard back on the shelf?!”
If my husband dislikes my schemes, does everyone else feel the same way?
I like to think I am bringing a bit of magic into people’s lives, and who doesn’t love magic? I know most people aren’t going to take the time to build Wonka’s factory in their home. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy it if they were able to encounter it. Right?
My brother, Chris, was a pretty legendary drinker, to the point that sometimes it annoyed and scared me. I never understood why he didn’t stop when he got a little buzzed, why he always needed to be the last person to leave the party. I asked him once and he said something along the lines of not wanting to miss anything. He always needed to take things to the next level, even if sometimes that backfired on him.
Maybe it’s something in our genetics. I too feel that need and sometimes it does indeed backfire. I coordinated a huge Halloween party this year that nearly ended in disaster after another group reserved the same park and took over most of the venue. After a half hour of panic and frustration, a friend problem solved and got things on track. Everyone seemed to have a good time, but I spent most of the night feeling like a lonely failure. I am great at socializing with friends, but terrible at mingling with acquaintances. The festivities of the party were supposed to be my crutch. But when things got stressful, I didn’t make it work. I freaked out. I already knew I was bad at the social aspect. But I was also bad at the party aspect- the thing that was supposed to be my strong suit.
A friend invited me to a “get to know your candidate” gathering for a person running for local office. I like this friend a lot. I wanted to say yes to the invitation. But I just kept imagining having to pick an outfit that I thought would look right for the occasion. And having to make small talk with strangers. And having to come up with appropriate answers to their questions. I knew I would obsess over it for weeks leading up to it. So I declined the invitation by saying “that’s not my jam.” Because that’s what people say when they are discussing the possibility of meeting future senators.
My friend was very understanding about it, and we had a discussion on social situations. She remarked how it was fine because she invited a friend who would enjoy that kind of interaction. We talked about how sometimes we attempt to cross over our friends- say inviting a work friend to hang out with a childhood friend. Often the crossover doesn’t work out because we act differently with one group of friends than we do with another and that is ok. Different people activate different parts of our personalities. I admire those chameleon-like folks who can adapt to fit into the situation.
I don’t have that. Or at least not much. I have it enough to show up at a job interview in appropriate attire, but not enough to stop me from wearing a Jim Henson “Master of Puppets” (written in the style of the Metallica logo) t-shirt to work. I have it enough to not swear at my in-laws dinner table, but not enough to not write the word “fuck” in this blog that I know they will be reading.
Sure. Those examples are pretty minor. But there was also the time I told a friend I needed to downgrade our friendship because I was too stressed. The time I completely lost it on a friend for enjoying a party at a million dollar home because I feel so acutely sensitive to class structure. I could have just said “that sounds fun.” But instead I read her the riot act about rich people having too much when there are poor people in need. There is lack of professionalism because I wear stupid t-shirts. And then there is lack of sensitivity because I can’t hold my opinions. I know you are just thinking “so just keep your mouth shut.” I try. It eats at me and eats at me and causes me to lose sleep. That shut off valve- mine just does not work. I’m working on my valve. I swear I am. But somehow, it feels like it will always be a bit leaky.
I’m a grown up. I understand the need for different expectations for differing situations. There are work clothes and home clothes. There are things you tell coworkers and things you save for friends. I can see it. I just have a hard time doing it. I don’t know how people manage these different personalities because I have only the one and it is exhausting. It can be very limiting. I often remark that I only have four friends- mostly because I only have four people that can deal with me on an ongoing basis. I’m sure it is difficult to put up with someone who has a hard time curtailing her bullshit, who expects you to accept every part of her personality. Because it is an unreasonable expectation- no one is going to love everything about you. My husband loves me a lot, but I know he sincerely wishes I didn’t hoard cardboard in the garage.
So if I’m so bad at socializing, why do I create these elaborate social occasions? I want a life of whimsy. I believe in magic and am fascinated by the surreal. Magic is its’ most magical when you can share it. I would feel kind of silly creating a Wonka factory for just one person. Oh, and I have an overwhelming need to be liked. There is that.
I have a weird relationship with the sharing aspect of this scenario. I want you to see the thing I create. I want you to acknowledge it. It makes me happy to know I have brought pleasure to someone, to know they are enjoying something I’ve made. It also makes me incredibly uncomfortable. The second you say “Wow! This is so cool!” I will immediately shut off and try to flee the situation. But I want the compliment none the less. I need the validation. Does that make any sense? Of course not. But little about my personality does. My friend once told me I am the most sociable introvert she’s every met. That about sums it up.
It is a tough lot to be needy and detached. To have boundaries but no idea where they are. You would think at 43 years old, I would have some of this figured out by now. It often feels like I will spend life as a giant teenager, wanting to feel accepted by having no idea what would bring about that feeling. Maybe that’s why I hoard the cardboard and retrieve pipes from the garbage- there is always the possibility that the next thing I make will be THE thing, the one that fills the gap.
The next thing I make will be my best one yet. And then everyone will love me. Just like Tom Cruise. Oh, except I hate Tom Cruise.