There was a catalyst, as there always is with these things.
Six years ago, Gail told me the secret of a close friend, Camille. She was confiding in me, because said secret directly affected her, she was hurt by it, and there was no chance I’d ever be close to Camille. She shouldn’t have told me, but Camille was essentially a stranger and it didn’t matter if I knew or that said secret gave me some strong negative feelings toward her. It mattered that a friend had done something to hurt Gail and I don’t think she was unreasonable in sharing that with me.
Five years ago, after a couple of years of chatting on Facebook, Catherine called me out to a local bar and we smoked, drank, talked about guys, teased each other, and a friendship began… and what a coincidence, Catherine worked with Camille and considered her a good friend.
Three years ago, Catherine introduced me to Laura, via Facebook chat. We talked about Supernatural and Buffy and Sherlock and all our silly fandoms and another friendship developed. I eventually brought Gail along and for the last two and a half years, we’ve all been pretty close. Gail was my maid-of-honor, of course, and Catherine and Laura were my bridesmaids. In the last year, our interactions have included many of Catherine’s friends, as well… which meant Camille and I have seen more and more of each other.
When Catherine and I met, we were 25 and single and dating and thrived off of the somewhat abrasive friendship we had. I was the prude and she was the one who got around and our jokes regularly centered around this. I remember once, when Jake and I had just started dating, Catherine actually made a joke about how he’d break up with me once I was done with the Gardasil vaccine and he’d gotten laid. I’m certain I said things that were just as appalling to Catherine. It was not one-sided. We were both just kind of… mean to each other, because that’s how a lot of single women in their mid-twenties interact, today, I suppose. When Laura came along, this dynamic spread and our humor was always sarcastic and antagonistic, as a group. Gail, naturally, fit right in, since we teased each other similarly on occasion and I don’t know if any of us thought much of it.
There are a lot of problems with this dynamic. The most obvious, of course, is that when someone is offended, they’re not allowed to say anything, because they’re just as guilty of offense. Resentment builds and no one tells anyone they’ve crossed the line, so the line continues to be crossed. In time, however, another issue develops. Perhaps as a defense to take the ribbing off of each other, other people become the focus.
Catherine and I, and even Gail and I, have always talked about other people… people from high school, who we don’t know anymore, people we sort of know and follow on social media, people we don’t like who overshare. Perhaps it’s not particularly nice to do so, but I also think it’s natural when you share a history. These are people to whom we have no loyalties, though, and the topic is usually something they’ve chosen to share with the world via Facebook. Gradually, however, the conversation has shifted.
It took some time for me to remember exactly how Camille’s secret was spread. That, in itself, serves as evidence that said shift had happened some time ago and we’ve been talking about the wrong people for a while now. I remember, though. I remember we were all drinking at Catherine’s and the subject of why I didn’t like Camille had come up, with Catherine posing different theories. I told her it was a secret and I shouldn’t share and she pressed, insisting she might already know. I looked to Gail and Gail didn’t object, so I told her what I now realize was Camille’s most humiliating secret and confided that I didn’t like Camille because of how said secret affected Gail… and we all sat and gossipped about Camille’s deepest shame. I didn’t know or like Camille, but I knew that Gail and Catherine considered her a good friend and I encouraged them to discuss her private business and they eagerly participated and it wouldn’t be the last time.
I’ve always prided myself on not saying anything about someone that I wouldn’t say to them and I realize now, that I haven’t been able to claim this as sincerely in the last two years. I’ve been part of secret Facebook chats about an excluded friend. I’ve sat drinking and bad mouthing one of them, only to smile at them and tell them we’re good the next day. I’ve kept quiet when a friend said something ugly to me, only because I know I say ugly things to them… and I’ve realized that these things are only true of this one social group. I have a lot of friends… and none of the others talk to or about each other this way. The conversations revolve around ideas and things, not people… not other friends.
Individually, this is still true of Gail and Laura and Catherine. Gail and I talk about politics, sociology, hypotheticals, the ethics of veganism and the meat industry. Laura and I talk about our fandoms and books and movies. Catherine and I talk about… well, Catherine and I don’t much talk one-on-one these days, but when we did, it was shows and movies and our lives. There also isn’t an antagonistic energy to fuel cruel jokes, so they’re few and far between. Together, though… together, we hurt people. Together, we hurt Camille.
Perhaps the gossipy nature of my own birthday party a few days before Gail’s wedding had been the motivation to change my friendships. Undoubtedly the alcohol involved affected the implementation, but I felt a burgeoning friendship with Camille. I realized that she couldn’t have possibly meant to hurt Gail six years before… and I drunkenly told her so. At a wedding, Camille found out that someone she barely knew was privy to her deepest, darkest secret, and had judged her for it, however indirectly, and used it as a reason to avoid a friendship. She found out that her friend betrayed her trust and that several people knew something she’d only told four people… from someone who was too drunk to read the signals and shut up about it. I told her that we’d been talking about her and for once, I realized that it was unquestionably not okay. I absolutely should not have put her in that place… and neither should Gail. None of us ever should’ve discussed these things about her and it wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t who we are together… if the conversation didn’t so often revolve around the person who’s not present.
The outing of Camille’s secret was the catalyst. She wanted to have a Halloween party at Catherine’s and, quite reasonably, no one thinks I should be there. When Laura told me this, I dramatically deleted Catherine, Camille, and all of their mutual friends from Facebook, feeling as though I was the only one getting any blame for something that involved all of us, something that involved much better friends of hers. Catherine messaged me and told me that it would’ve just blown over and that the reason she’d ignored the last 10 messages I’d sent her in the previous month, was because I’d also made some joke about her sexual past in front of her date, saying that those jokes had always bothered her. For years, she’s not commented on this, as I’ve not commented on many of the things she’s said, because we’re stuck in this place where we can only be horrible to each other, as a collective… and we don’t really talk one-on-one anymore. We don’t feel safe setting boundaries with each other. So, while they’ve chosen not to include me in a Halloween party, I’ve chosen to no longer be included, at all. I’m sure it would’ve blown over, but that’s not what I need.
I can only speak for myself, but I don’t feel the dynamic of this group of friends is healthy. I cannot grow in this circle. We don’t challenge each other to be better people. In fact, we often look for affirmation from each other to defend poor decisions and actions. We say ugly things about other people, about each other, and then we excuse it as we laugh about how we’re all assholes. Each and every one of us is guilty of this and all I can think is that four years ago, had I looked to Gail before sharing her friend’s darkest secret, she wouldn’t have given me the nod. All I can think is that two years ago, none of us would have sat around the table at my birthday party, saying hateful things about the people who weren’t there. A year ago, I wasn’t exhausted by the level of drama involved in simply being friends with people. I don’t know how they interact without me, of course, but that’s for them to find out, because I can no longer excuse this behavior in myself.
I’m aware the reaction seems like a dramatic response to not being invited to a party, but no one realizes drastic change is in order without a catalyst. Gail is still my best gal and I’ve discussed much of this with her already. If they’re willing, I’m still interested in pursuing one-on-one relationships with Laura and Catherine. They stood by me on my wedding day and I think that’s worth the effort, but if the Girl Troupe is the only option, as it seems to have been for some time, I’m out. I can’t remember the last time we all enjoyed a drama free day together. I can’t remember a time when any one of us has shut down a catty conversation. I can’t remember the last time someone else wasn’t the topic of discussion. Good people aren’t necessarily always good together.