Well, hello there. I just feel friendly today. We’ll get to the letter in a moment. It’s down there below this note –>>.
But first: I’ve been out of Salon for a good six weeks now and am adjusting to being newly independent, an entrepreneur, dedicated to finding a way to exist economically in this culture without a regular paycheck from a company. It’s not that new for me, but it has been a long time. I worked at Salon steadily for 14 years, through periodic crises for the company. Many times commentators said Salon would go under but it never did. I watched people come and go and I just stayed, doing my little column, for a long time.
Now for the time being I’m an independent economic entity.
So, can I just tell you how great it was last week to receive donations from people for the column? Over the years people have occasionally emailed me to say they’ve been struck, moved, changed even, by reading certain columns. They have told me that. It is a priceless point of connection when someone tells me something like that. It does feel like community. Like we are all in this together. And, now being outside of Salon, not insulated or buttressed anymore by the salary, it seems even more that way.
So now, folks have the opportunity to donate once, or perhaps several times, at the end of a column, and that actually seems cool. And the fact that some people actually did last week was awesome. It felt like a good, solid, honest economic transaction. An honest and hearty thanks to to all who have donated! If I haven’t thanked all of you individually yet, I will.
So I am building a new Internet store on the Magento engine. I’m not sure that the store will be a robust enough source of income all on its own, but it will certainly be better and easier to use than the haphazard WordPress plugin we are currently using. So far Magento has proved to be reliable and, while quite complex, not bafflingly so — just necessarily so. It is comprehensive and has many features but they all make sense and are well documented.
The plan is to have our new Magento-powered store up and selling books and ebooks as well as workshops and getaways in time for the big holiday buying season — by Black Friday, and in time for Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday! So after posting this column, I’m back to building the store.
See you around the Internet, or around town. If you see me on the street, say hi. I’m doing fine. Glad to be alive and free to move about the cabin, and glad to be engaged in this new phase of economic self-sufficiency.
My wedding is coming up.
But I am dreading having my self-absorbed, flirty family member be present at my big day (at my mother’s insistence). She is already invited, so that cannot be changed. In the past, she has flirted with my boyfriend (now fiancé), and demonstrated her appreciation of him (kiss on the lips goodbye, ongoing physical contact, in conversation, as well as trying to friend him on Facebook immediately after meeting him. p.s.: Without even asking me). She is an “alpha” personality type and thinks that her behavior and life experience is “fascinating” and worthy of attention.
Since that initial meeting, I have avoided her. That was over a year ago. I don’t fear abandonment, that she will “take” my boyfriend or he will fall for her, but I do worry about how she gets so close and so intense, focusing like a laser on the men in the room and trying to create private, inappropriate flirting and it grosses me out.
Even though she has a boyfriend, he is mousy and retiring, the peahen to her peacock. She tries to create this “jet setter” facade, someone who’s always on the go; trumped-up professional responsibility and success; or someone who always knows the latest and greatest. She even repeats compliments unknown third parties paid her (re: looks or physical ability). Every time I meet her, she always begins our conversation with, “Just got back from…” It feels real pretentious.
Even though we are family, she is not what I would describe as loving or tender with me. I sincerely find her advances upsetting and disrespectful. Growing up, I vividly remember how she has flirted with friends of the family, talked about sexual topics — and always alone in the company of someone’s husband or boyfriend. And always there was this tone of defiance to raise taboo subjects. One time, I remember her telling my father that she and her [then] boyfriend used porn [of women] and…. why they used it. It turns my stomach to recall how every man in the room had bated breath with each pronouncement she made. She was loving it. Gross. Needy. Her conversation struck me as distasteful even then, young adult though I was.
Since those days, she has also crossed the line with other partners in our family. When the women reproached her for her behavior, including reaching out exclusively to the men, or disregarding wives in favor of their husbands, her response was that they had a problem, not her. She definitely wasn’t open to “touchy- feely” exploration of their concerns or her own behavior/motivation. She is very unemotional that way. In the end, she claimed not to be interested in the men she flirted with. But I notice that the more modest members of our family (i.e. in terms of looks, “career success,” etc.) don’t seem to have this problem of her unwanted attention. In short, she focuses on some members who have her “currency” (money, lifestyle) while she barely acknowledges others.
In the past, my boyfriend’s head was turned by this behavior (we had just begun dating when they met). Damn him! He even flirted back. Since then, he admits that she was interesting to talk with, but asserts that he has no interest in her and that this is our day. He is very clear and strong about who he is marrying and who he loves.
Nonetheless, I still feel tense, and torn about what I should do.
Cary, can you share some sage advice to help me gain balance and perspective?
How? How do you ignore her? In basically two ways. One, don’t react or respond or try to change the situation. If she is in a room and all the focus in the room is on her, let it be. If you don’t like it then get out of the room. Do not attempt to take the attention that should rightly be yours. Let it go. Excuse yourself. If you are talking and she appears and dominates the conversation, do not engage with her directly other than in a formal, or even icy way. Basically just don’t react to her. As you draw back and fail to react, notice what you are wanting in the moment. Are you wanting her to acknowledge you? Are you wanting praise and attention? Just notice that, and notice that you don’t need these things. You are fine as you are. It is your day. You have the love of your fiancé and your family and friends. You have your whole life opening up in front of you. You have permission, on this day, to enjoy yourself.
But how do you actually not react? It’s easier said than done. The best way is not to struggle with your reactions and try to shut them down but simply find something else to focus on. If she is in the room, find something that needs to be done elsewhere. Ask someone to come with you and exit the room. If she asks you a question, pretend not to understand, or promise her an answer later, or send her to someone else for an answer. Obfuscate. Do not engage with her. Put up a smoke screen. Delete her from your mental screen. Withdraw into yourself and redirect your attention to those people and activities with which you feel strong and safe.
That is my suggested approach. Now, you might find yourself resisting this, as though it’s not right. So here is something sort of “meta” about this. In a larger sense, this is about getting in touch with your self-protective instincts; it is about a good kind of social aggression. It is about recognizing that you don’t have to be polite all the time. You don’t have to treat people as though they were your friend. You can cut people off and you can refuse to engage. It doesn’t have to be done overtly, i.e. you don’t have to announce through a bullhorn, “I hereby refuse to engage with you because you are a narcissistic pest and you suck the air out of the room.” You can just firmly refuse to engage.
If such behavior is new to you then practice it. Try when you are out in public not smiling and nodding and agreeing. Try giving the cold shoulder. Watch how people respond. Take note of the fact that women are socialized to be kind and polite and smiley-face but you don’t have to be. You can project toughness. If it’s hard to practice this toughness on people, start with dogs. Dogs understand body language. If you lean down and smile and talk in a high voice the dog will come and get in your face. If you cross your arms, plant your feet, look away from the dog and project an air of “I’m not interested,” most of the time the dog will not engage. That’s what you want. You want to project an air of non-engagement. It’s the only language some people understand.
Work on it. Be just a little meaner. It’ll help you survive.
Oops … almost forgot to put the “Donate” button here … hold on, it’s coming, gotta just cobble it together … (working feverishly) … OK, here it is: Ta da!