17 Nov

When I was 12, while spending the night at a neighbor girl’s house, I learned what it’s like to have a friend who’s a bully. Her name was Cindy, and she held me down and wiped Secret roll-on across my forehead, arms and legs. For obvious reasons, since then I have NEVER used Secret roll-on. “Strong enough for a man, made for a woman.” Hm, the brand doesn’t say this to me. It says, “You just found your first frenemy.”

Honestly, I think I must have been a real sucker. Because that same summer, another girl named Debbie tried to drown me in the city pool. I thought she was joking around, but when she kept shoving me underwater over and over again, I knew she was for real.

I’ve also run into this behavior with adult female friends. One friend, a former colleague, was having an affair with a married man and could barely keep her act together. She called me continually, on the brink of one breakdown or another, and I just kept listening, kept being supportive. This was unfortunately followed by a Secret roll-on incident perpetrated by her, in a work setting. Her lash-out was uncalled for, and it left me wondering, “Why me? Am I bringing this on myself?”

Another friend that I used to be close with did something cutting and sly. We were one night having a conversation about what to do if you disagree with someone’s values, their way of life. She described a friend she felt this way about, and asked how I would recommend communicating this to the friend. Years later, I realized that she was seeking advice from me about how to tell me she wasn’t cool with my value system, my choice to be a working mother and not stay at home with my kids. Ouch.

Bullying is an interesting phenomenon, and it shapes the way we look at the world. My son’s school has an anti-bullying program, and I’ve paid attention to what they are teaching. There is a song that they sing called, “Don’t Laugh at Me.” It has meaning.

I think that everyone at some point in time has been bullied, by a boss, a client or someone on an opposing sports team. Somehow, it’s easier to take when it comes from the “other team.” What really stings is being targeted by someone who poses as a friend.

Over time, I have learned to be more guarded, less trusting, probably less naive. And I’ve thought that I brought it on, or that the other person was just fundamentally flawed. It’s probably somewhere in the grey area, though. We’ve all been in situations where someone has used power against us, or vice versa. To know a bully is to have bullied, on some level, ourselves. It happens. I’m learning to do more judo moves, not reacting or taking the blow, but letting the bully’s momentum carry him or her into a natural consequence. Not gloating or being glad for their fall, but standing firm on my own two feet and knowing that karma is real. And deciding not to take negative action against another, knowing that consequences will come back around eventually.

One Response to “Frenemies”

  1. Artie Isaac at 10:28 am #

    Great post. Thanks.

    I’m a big fan of Operation Respect, which brings us Peter Yarrow’s “Don’t Laugh At Me.” It’s a marvelous song.

    Peter was in town singing DLAM a couple years ago (to the public, to the department of education, to business sponsors) and he said, if I recall correctly: “Music isn’t merely a poem about what’s going on. Music is what changes society. There is no civil rights movement without ‘We Shall Overcome.’ There is no anti-war movement without ‘Blowin’ In The Wind.’ ‘Don’t Laugh At Me’ can change the world.”

    To hear the song:

    For more information on the organization:

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