Eight weeks from today, my final fall semester at the University of Toledo will be starting. And I already know that I won’t be ready for it.
It was two years ago today that I was making the final preparations for the first summer class I took at UT. Most important among these was going down to the used car dealership by the house (this was just after the fire, remember, so we were halfway across town at the Residence Inn at the time), where the question of how I was going to get to campus was finally resolved. I didn’t think that Toyota would last me two years, but it has, and I’m thinking it could last a lot longer. Let’s just not talk about me getting ticketed that night for driving without my lights on; I still get spine-chills thinking about that incident.
The first class went well enough — I started that streak of straight A’s that has yet to abate — but I still wasn’t sure if I was ready for a full-time courseload. And of course I just had to start full-time classes just three weeks before 09.11 threw everyone and everything out of kilter. Eventually I saw a counselor on campus briefly to deal with my problems, and she suggested I try to meet people on campus. Spectrum seemed the best place to start, and for a while there it was working.
Fast forward to the start of fall semester last year. I’d been elected the Webmistress of Spectrum a few months prior, and I was looking forward to becoming more involved with Spectrum. The semester started and everything was all right on campus — I had some cool professors and decent classes, and a whole bunch of new, interesting people joined Spectrum — but my life outside of campus was another matter entirely.
It’s hard for me to write about this even now, but I will try. My best friend — quite possibly the most magnificent human being I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting — had been going through a lot around that time. Her problems literally started less than two weeks before the fire, and for well over a year I barely heard from her at all. That summer, we’d gotten back in regular contact, and from what she told me, things were a lot worse than I had feared. And given how prone I am to pessimistic thought, that should tell you something.
Anyway, as she and I were talking, it became more and more clear that something wasn’t right. So I did a bit of investigating, and I discovered that she was lying to me about some stuff. She was still going through a lot, but she was making a lot of stuff up, and she had no reason to. I told her once that I’d do everything short of taking a bullet for her, and quite honestly I probably would have taken a bullet if she’d ever asked me to.
So I decided to confront her about what was going on. For my part, I’d been hiding some stuff from her that I shouldn’t have which I admitted to, in the interest of fairness. (Believe me, I have no high moral ground to claim in this situation.) As I expected, she got upset, and over time I grew more and more upset as well. After not speaking to each other for a couple of months, I finally wrote an e-mail where I told her off and ended the friendship.
At the time, it felt like the right thing to do, because our differences seemed irreconcilable. In a lot of ways, they still do. But a lot of the time I think that terminating the friendship like I did was the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in my life. If you’ve read the front page of the .org on any kind of regular basis for the past year, doubtlessly you’ve caught some of the cryptic messages I’ve been trying to send her. (My server logs reveal that she still reads the site.)
When I sent that last e-mail to her, it was right after I’d become Interim President of Spectrum, and I was busy getting together the most important presentation of my life. But I felt okay; I had made some new friends in Spectrum, and I felt like I had a safety net to fall back on. The presentation didn’t go as well as I would have liked, but eventually I was elected President of Spectrum, I had a good Thanksgiving with some fellow Spectrum members, and it seemed like things were going okay.
This is the obligatory one-sentence paragraph that follows forboding phrases like “it seemed like things were going okay” that lets you know that things didn’t turn out so okay.
In the “Situation” I was dealing with before the .org, I was in a leadership position. Most of what I was dealing with before I got out of the Situation had to do with me realizing that I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do; I had put myself in a place where I was doing stuff because I wanted others to accept me, instead of doing stuff because I enjoyed it. But another part of what I was dealing with was the fact that whenever you’re a leader, you’re faced with some pretty messed-up expectations.
Of course the expectations are going to be higher when you’re a leader. Duh. A lot of the time, though, those expectations grow to unrealistic proportions. Leaders find themselves put into the position of trying to please all of the people all of the time, and of course no one can do that. Believe me, having experienced this for myself, I try to cut some slack to people who are thrust into leadership positions.
I don’t know if I can really talk about all that happened this past year regarding things at UT and all that. From my experiences in the Situation, I’ve made a point of not engaging in wars of words with other people online. Given how tightly-knit the Spectrum community is, I wouldn’t even have to mention names for the people in it to realize who I was talking about.
I suppose I’ll have to tackle this as generally as possible: right after I became President of Spectrum, things really started collapsing for me. Not only couldn’t I please all of the people all of the time, it got to the point where it seemed like I couldn’t please anyone, anytime. My friendships began imploding, and the safety net I had counted on to get me through the agony of breaking up with my best friend wasn’t there. I tried hanging on to what friends I had remaining, but eventually even they split. Right after the spring semester happened, I even had the nicest person I knew in Spectrum go on this long tirade with me online, telling me how much of an asshole I was.
This was hard enough to take in and of itself, but when I really started second-guessing what happened with my best friend, things just became unmanageable. Things got so bad that I even began contemplating suicide, something I hadn’t done in years, and something I thought I’d gotten past. Eventually I went back into counseling at UT, and the suicidal thoughts disappeared, but the root cause of all the trouble — having all those friendships disappear on me — is still there, staring me right in my bloodshot eyes.
When people learn that I’m a straight-A student, they always have two questions: how do I do it, and why aren’t I happier about it than I am. The answers to those questions are: I have no life, and I have no life. I am proud of the fact that I’ve been able to get such good grades, that I’ve started winning writing contests and getting my work published, and that I’m able to manage everything I do in my life. At the same time, though, I don’t really have anyone to share it with. And sometimes it seems meaningless for me to do all of this stuff without having someone in my life to share in whatever joy I can derive from all that I accomplish.
One of the big reasons I chose to go back to school after the fire, instead of seeking out a job, was that I felt that college would give me an opportunity to learn the social skills that had eluded me most of my life. (In the nine years I spent in private school, I never had a real friend there.) If I’ve been getting straight A’s in my courses, though, I’ve been getting straight F’s when it comes to socializing. It’s not for lack of trying, but I just don’t seem to understand human interaction. I thought I was getting along there, but for me to have all my friendships cut out from under me there in less than a year, it’s obvious that I really don’t know what I’m doing.
Of course I still have Internet friends, but that’s not the same thing. I do value the people who read me online and respect me, but there’s still a huge difference between corresponding with people through e-mail and instant messaging, and actually sitting down with someone face-to-face and talking with him or her. This isn’t to demean any of you who are reading this, but Internet friendships just aren’t the same thing, and they aren’t going to solve my problem.
Honestly, I’m not even sure how I got re-elected to the Presidency of Spectrum; clearly it wasn’t because I was winning any popularity contests. And this isn’t like the Situation, because I do enjoy being President of Spectrum; the position enables me to work on things that are important to me, and opens up opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have otherwise. At the same time, though, I’m also forced to deal with the reality that most of the people who are in Spectrum right now hate me.
This past weekend I’ve been working on Spectrum business, trying to get stuff around for the new year. And of course what’s in the forefront of my mind is that people aren’t going to like what I do. I probably couldn’t do anything to please these people. Even if I left, I’d be criticized for abandoning the group, and not using my skills to assist the group with its mission. (Regardless of what they may think of me as a person, people tend to respect my raw abilities at certain things.)
I’m not going to find friends within Spectrum, that much is clear. And at this point I can’t allow myself to let thoughts of trying to find friends interfere with the job I have to do; I’m not there to make friends, I’m there to make Spectrum the best group it can be. If I don’t have Spectrum as a forum to find friends in, though, where am I supposed to go? The climate of the UT student body is fairly conservative, and Spectrum was the only place I really felt comfortable talking to other students. And I’m not the kind of person to go out socializing for socializing’s sake; even if I wanted to try that, I wouldn’t have any idea how to start going about it.
I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and there are parts to being a loner that I like. But the drawbacks are really starting to outweigh the benefits here. I keep trying to tell myself that things could be different when I go off to graduate school, and able to make a “fresh start” with the people I meet there. But looking back at social failure after social failure in my life, I don’t know if I can ever really succeed at that. I don’t even know if there’s a use in trying anymore.
Maybe I was just meant to be alone in a room with a computer, using the Internet as a sounding board, not having a real-life friend to confide in, constantly wondering what it’s like to be able to be sociable, to be able to make friends.
Maybe I never should have confronted my best friend, never even doubted what she said even when it sounded like it couldn’t be right, never thought that it would be better to be honest with her than continuing to tolerate the lies we told each other.
Maybe that guy from Spectrum was right: I’m an asshole, and that’s all there is to it.
Maybe someday I can delude myself into thinking I really like to live like this.
Everyone take care and be well. I’ll see you around.