Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My Toxic College Relationship, Conclusion

After graduating from college, I drove straight back to the west suburbs. What was supposed to be a three-month layover has dragged on more or less for nine years. Regardless, after that last encounter with Babs returning home felt cathartic; I knew our friendship was strained, and she wouldn't bother me in a part of the suburbs that she detested for vague reasons. (Her July 2006 visit was a disaster, but she already had a preexisting bone to pick with Downers Grove and Westmont.) We were still Facebook friends, but I felt no inclination to drop a private message, or leave a wall post, or even a solitary poke. The distance was geographical and emotional, palpable yet comfortable.

Babs reached out by DM in March 2008, three months after I graduated. It was a sincere apology but also a belated one; it seemed like she was finally doing something about her hair-trigger temper. She suggested meeting up over summer break, but with my work schedule and general lack of interest, I didn't take her up on the offer. Communication after this point was sporadic, the occasional email or Facebook message, and just that.

Even though I felt cool and collected, I was still struggling to move on. My inherent social awkwardness and lack of dating experience made asking women out a landmine of failure, and the handful of dates I went on went nowhere. I created an account on POF, but that was also a dead end. Babs continued her pattern of meeting guys of her particular type, getting bored and cheating on them, then dumping the cuckolded guy for the new slab of meat. Then this happened.

I was lethargic for days, and a phone conversation with Babs a few days later did little to console me. I thought it was strange that she would get engaged less than five months after meeting this guy, but knowing Babs' tendency to act on impulse and not thinking things out, I was almost certain the engagement would fail. Did she even know the guy? Indeed, it did fall apart and for a lot of the same reasons she dumped me: she clashed with her would-be mother-in-law, religious differences, her fickle tendencies. In our next Facebook chat, Babs implied that he was verbally abusive, and legal action was taken to prevent the two from ever encountering each other again.

Professionally, Babs was also fledgling. Her lifelong dream was to be a park ranger, or at least work in the U.S. Park Service in some capacity. Apparently, she had a job interview for a ranger position, but lost the job to a woman of color. Not only did Babs complain about affirmative action to me, but she also complained to the woman who conducted the interview... in person. (She was escorted out of the building.) Ultimately, she landed a gig working in a rehab facility for troubled teens, which was demanding and only sporadically fulfilling. From a distance, I worried if her temperament would be her undoing again.

I continued to maintain a distance. Our last real conversation was in July 2011; she wrapped up the late night chat by saying she wanted to see one of my improv shows someday. She loathed city driving, or being in urban areas in general, but I knew in that instance she meant well. At the same time, her hair-trigger temper was starting to spill into social media. On three occasions, I commented on a status update she posted, and she called my response pointless and idiotic. On the last of those occasions, she posted something about a sick grandmother, though it was unclear if she was talking about her own grandma or someone else's. She left a terse wall post clarifying that it wasn't her grandma, then unfriended me. I replied in defense, but I knew she wouldn't have read it. It was the last time I attempted to contact Babs. I knew she was overreacting (again) but this was the final straw. It was March 2012, six years and two months after we first met.

For some inexplicable reason, my sister is still in touch with Babs on Facebook. She claims they only talk about dogs, and only every now and then. I have asked my sister to sever ties with Babs, to no avail. On the one occasion when I dared to ask about her current whereabouts, my sister told me she moved to Dallas in 2014. Babs and I one had a dozen mutual friends; when I last looked at her profile two years ago, we were down to three. I was still friends with most of these people, and I wasn't the only one that get fed up with Babs. Maybe she was projecting her insecurities, maybe she had an as-yet-diagnosed case of borderline personality disorder. I'll never know and quite frankly, I don't care. It goes without saying that I have no intention to reconnect on my own volition.

So why am I sharing this story? In some ways, Babs is a cautionary tale; it took a lot of growing up and introspection to realize that abusive relationships may not necessarily be rotten at the surface. It was my first relationship and the one that provided the harshest learning experience. There is something cathartic about excising toxic people from your life, a person who may seem sweet or wayward on the surface who gradually exposes the worst attributes of their personality. I've moved on; I've been in relationships with other women, and I'm content without Babs in my life.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Morning(s) After

Over a week later, I'm still a little gobsmacked. The man who hijacked the Republican Party will become our 45th president. A man who ran for president for his own personal gain got what he wanted. Any speculation of a schism within the GOP was quashed by a conscious effort from former chair/new chief of staff Reince Preibus. Top Democrats weren't able to do the same, crippled by the Schultz-Sanders affair and their own aloofness. Bigotry, bloviating, and opportunism won. I think this essay by comedian/writer Dana Gould sums up my thoughts to a tee. (Yes, you can still read it if you don't have a Facebook profile.)

I want to end this post on a positive note, so I'm sharing (and tweaking) my 12th annual "thanks/no thanks" list. I don't think I need to elaborate further upon what I'm not grateful for, so I'll accentuate the positive: my family, my friends, my Facebook page, and having a car that runs without problems.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Some Final Thoughts on the 2016 Presidential Election

This year, I saw America. This wasn't a specific goal, but the circumstance and result of doing some long-awaited traveling. I spent quality time in seven different states, including a part of my home state of Illinois that I hadn't visited in some time. I nonchalantly interacted with locals, tried things I had never previously experienced, met the spouses and family of good friends, and generally tried to appreciate the atmosphere of an unfamiliar terrain. I connected with some wonderful people and created memories that I'll always treasure, in an attempt to temporarily bridge a gap between age, religion, and culture.

I mention age, religion, and culture because I spent of this time in what would be considered "red state" territory. The atmosphere was humble and relatively speaking, socially conservative. I largely avoided talking politics, even though this brutal election was on nearly everyone's minds. I came to realize that Donald Trump, the multimillionaire who finagled his way to the Republican presidential nomination, represented none of these people.

In the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign, I was baffled by how Trump and his incendiary, nationalist rhetoric was polling ahead of the perceived GOP front-runner, Gov. Jeb Bush. As it turned out his anti-Mexican, anti-Muslim, and mostly meninist platform catered to an ignored demographic, a new silent majority of sorts: social conservatives that didn't identify as Republicans. They were on the fringes of society and politics itself: bigots, rubes, conspiracy theorists. The type of people that make the most appalling hashtags trend on Twitter, who only listen to conservative news-talk pundits like Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, and Alex Jones and perceive them as beacons and not bilious entertainers. In other words, people who think mainstream conservatism is too out of touch with their toxic beliefs.

Indeed, Trump took advantage of this silent majority, and made Twitter his playground. If the election was limited to one social media outlet, then the New York real estate mogul would be winning decisively. He ran laps around Sec. Clinton, demonstrating a lack of filter and tact not previously seen by a presidential candidate. The woman who would become the Democratic candidate did her best to take the high road until she finally told Trump off. She tweeted "Delete your account," a succinct but oddly flaccid retort. Where Clinton emphasized her many qualifications (and Trump's lack thereof), Trump just kept attacking anything and everything without remorse. The pandering and flame-throwing was incessant, and his status as the fringe right's patron saint was solidified. Clinton knew better than to add gasoline to a flame war, and stayed on the high road instead.

I grew up around mostly Republicans in a shallow-red Chicago suburb. I was raised to not judge a person by their gender or race or faith or creed, even though my hometown circa 1991 was overwhelmingly white and Catholic. That wasn't something to came to me innately; I remember my first grade teacher, a woman of Greek descent, struggling to explain why Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks were so important to American history to a classroom that was over 90% white. I had two minority classmates, a third-generation Mexican-American and a girl who was half-Haitian, half-African American. The Latinx classmate was extroverted and well-liked, but the other girl was awkward, timid, and a bully target. My teacher failed to make her (and our class in general) understand what King and Parks sacrificed to give her the right to be as equal as everyone else. It was until she moved away, about a year later, that my classmates and I realized how awful we were.

When I see the childish antics of Trump's most ardent supporters, I think back to that first grade classroom. They all had something in common: they were rural or suburban and overwhelmingly white, but also left behind in the new economy, expect easy answers to hard questions, and worst of all reluctant to accept that America is more multicultural and diverse than its ever been. They see Muslims, blacks, and the LGBTQ community as threats, but their real-life interaction with them is minimal and they base their fear out of stereotype. As a result white supremacy, anti-Semitism and sexism have shifted from the fringes to the middle of the discussion. Moderate conservatives, or at least Republicans that supported minimally more palatable candidates like Ted Cruz and Dr. Ben Carson, begrudgingly joined the frenetic Trump bandwagon because, well, who else was going to beat Hillary?

Even though the Democrats have labeled itself as the "party for women," there was a time in the early-to-mid 1980s when the GOP headquarters staffed more women than men. Where Democrats have more or less embraced feminism (with some qualms), Republicans have largely been either ambivalent or oblivious. Where the women of the GOP mostly stayed in low-level administrative roles, women in the opposing party ran for office and inspired the next generation to follow their footsteps. The backward legacy of Phyllis Schlafly, the face of anti-feminism, lingers in the GOP months after his death and will likely do so for years to come. If the 2012 election was a deliberation on women's health rights, then 2016 is about what it means to be an American woman, period.

This is the sixth election, presidential or midterm, that I've covered in this blog. I usually end each pre-election missive with a nonpartisan plea to vote, to demonstrate the most basic tenet of democracy. This year, I can't bring myself to play my intercession down the middle. Where Hillary Clinton has many flaws, Donald Trump has proven repeatedly that he is vile and shortsighted beyond redemption. He is shameless opportunist that will break every campaign promise the moment he enters the White House, then blame his failures on everyone except himself.  Trump was overexposed as a reality star 10-plus years ago and exhaustively omnipresent now. Say all you want about decades of unproven rumors and right-wing vilification, Hillary Clinton is the only logical choice to be our next president. Someone will bring up Benghazi and the private emails, but someone else will retort with at least 20 things that Trump did. This election is about a leader against a demagogue. Beyond the former first lady, there is no other viable option.