My Mrs. has been going through a fairly stressful few weeks, with one event enough to send my mind wandering down a path of confused questioning: why are morally superior people usually anything but? In most situations, the arrogant person has an unjust ego feeding their self-esteem, using a belief or skill that has been inflated to idiotic levels. I will cite three examples from my dumb life in explanation.
Several years ago, a friend’s girlfriend went off on me because she didn’t like a particular band I was into. She berated the band, berated me, and then ended her tirade with what she thought was a coup de grâce: “Well, I went to the so-and-so music school, and have been classically trained, so I know music.” Hearing that, I sat laughing on the inside and shaking my head on the outside; arguing wasn’t worth it. Not because she had anything over me, but for the exact opposite reason: she had nothing. I could have responded, “Well, I went to the Berklee College of Music, which is prestigious in its own right, so eat a bag of hammered assholes.” (Hammering assholes, for the record, is how I believe you prepare them as culinary delights.)
The reason I held my tongue is: what point would there have been in a tit-for-tat? Music isn’t about critical analysis, it’s about emotional connection, something pointless to argue over. She had a classical background; I had a history of jazz immersion. Is one better than the other? No, it’s personal preference. She thought she trumped me using her musical education, but didn’t realize I had one just as valid. I could have popped her bubble, but didn’t care enough to. Besides, more often than not a silent win means more to me than an outward show of chest-thumping.
For the past twenty (or so) years, only my two closest friends heard this story. At first it was somewhat personal and not for all ears, but it gradually faded into something barely even worth space in my memory.
While in college in I was hired to tend bar at a restaurant called Pieces of Eight. It was located on Lake Michigan, and had just constructed a patio so customers could smell the fresh scent of dead fish and semi-scrubbed sewage while they got drunk—a treatment plant was about a mile away, down the lakefront.
I found a brown-haired cocktail waitress named Becky to be on the attractive side of things, so one day I up and asked her out. She turned up her nose and responded, “Are you kidding? Me, date you?”
I didn’t mind the rejection—I’d already been rejected often enough to be used to it by that time in life—but was turned off and annoyed by the attitude and reason. Becky looked down on me because I was attending the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (slogan: “We’re like high school, with tuition!”). It wasn’t a very prestigious school, and therefore made me what would be in regal terms, a “commoner.” Becky informed me that she was attending Beloit College, a private and powerful university that was exceedingly difficult to get into. Because of this situation, I was somehow beneath her. Considering we were both working summer jobs as liquor-monkeys for the masses, I didn’t think she was in any position to really judge, but oh well.
Bug firmly entrenched in my butt, I decided that I wanted to check out this “Beloit College,” a place I hadn’t even known existed. In the days well before the Internet and on-line applications, I made several phone calls, paid a $25 fee, and received a packet in the mail. I filled it out, and several weeks later received a phone call: I met all their criteria, would I like to come in for an interview? Why, of course I would! How charming!
*Raises glass; sticks pinkie finger out*
They were meeting potential students at the downtown Hilton, and scheduled a slot with which to pluck my brain. I showered, shaved, made my hair all purty, put on a nice shirt and proper slacks, and went in to “wow” them. I don’t remember what I said or how exactly I acted, but upon leaving a fellow with a smile shook my hand heartily and said they would be in touch. Within days, they were: Would I like to be a part of the Beloit College student body? If so, I was welcome to attend starting next semester.
I declined; I had no interest in continuing my collegiate career with them. Becky’s rejection made me want to prove to myself that her method of judgment was beyond silly and nothing more. I took her reasoning and turned it on its head; if she thought she was better than me because of something so absurd as school choice, she suddenly found herself on very shaky ground.
Not that I ever told her. Or anyone. It was something I simply did for me, and me alone. Over time I told my two best friends, more in passing than as if absolving myself of sin, but other than disclosing it to them I remained silent. It was a personal, private moment I created just to prove to myself that no one person is ever better than another.
(I later found out Becky harbored a crush on another bartender, a man named Greg who treated her with rude contempt every time they interacted. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand how to play with women of low self-esteem back then. My ignorance kept me out of what would have been damaged relationships doomed to fail, but also meant I didn’t know how to take advantage of such women and just have fun with them sexually. Dammit.)
If things like education allow certain people to feel better about themselves, then rising above both of those reasons is the one area humans use to champion self-righteousness above all others: religion. Gandhi said it best: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians.” All too often, people use their personal belief systems as a device with which to hold themselves in higher esteem than others. Which brings us to my wife.
For two years we have unsuccessfully been trying to have a baby. When unprotected sex didn’t work, we enlisted the help of medical professionals. First up came fertility medications. When those didn’t work came the turkey baster—a direct squirt right atop the egg—and at the end of it all the petri-dish baby, otherwise known as in vitro fertilization.
Lydia has handled the adversity like a champ, but as can be expected in any situation she has been frustrated and emotional at times. Having been pumped full of hormones nightly for the span of weeks at a time has not improved the moments of frustration or sadness.
One of her go-to friends for venting was someone she had known twenty-five years. The woman had been her matron of honor, was her supposed “best friend,” and a person I met for the first time at our rehearsal dinner.
From what I was told, she didn’t like me. Not me specifically, but the idea of me. Many times people from small towns have small minds and see life using a very narrow worldview. They like things to fit into very easily understood boxes: men act as breadwinners, women make babies. Families own a house with a white picket fence, you buy a dog and have 2.5 kids, and everyone goes to church. Needless to say, I fit none of these little stereotypes and was therefore immediately suspect.
Though I don’t remember interacting too much with this woman at the wedding, I’m pretty sure I made my way to her at the rehearsal so she could poke and prod at me with the sort of questions women like to ask. If anything, my memory of her was pleasant enough. Aside from that evening, combined with the following day—our wedding—I never saw her again.
Around our one-year anniversary, this woman let loose a secret she had been harboring; Lydia said it had poured out of her friend as if said in great relief, something she had been holding in for a long time and was happy to get off her chest: “I don’t like Nathan, and think you can do better. I think you should leave him.” Well hey, happy anniversary!
She determined that from just one five-minute conversation? Awesome! Who knew I could make such a charming impression? (Lydia thinks that it had more to do with my inability to squeeze myself into the small-town stereotype of a man—hunting, baby-making, “normal” job—but that my personality probably didn’t hurt any)
Lydia didn’t tell me this back then; it was something she held on to, all the while wondering, “Why would my best friend say such a horrible thing about someone she doesn’t know, and who I love?”
It’s a good question, especially considering the circumstances. While I may not have a conventional job, at a time when people are laid off left and right without warning, who can say what safe employment is? Plus, I’m not a bad fella. I don’t drink, would never cheat (thanks to having been cheated on in my history), I make Lydia laugh, dote upon her, and love, respect, and engage her on those intangible levels in which two people just “click.” Sometimes these things are unexplainable, but in our case it comes down to our ability to communicate really, really well.
While Lydia didn’t like her friend’s judgment of me, she was willing to look past it. To the matron-of-“honor,” however, the problems in their relationship just kept building. Lydia is agnostic; she doesn’t believe in any conventional religion and isn’t shy in her convictions. Her friend is Christian in belief, if not function. Lydia shares her problems and life difficulties; people from her small town do not discuss such things openly; they believe in repressing and denying—polite people do not have problems, they have game-faces.
All of these differences apparently festered, unknown to Lydia, until they reached a breaking point. On the eve of her first round of in vitro, a time when she is supposed to be stress-free and relaxed as possible, Lydia sent her friend an excited email offering the measurements on all her eggs. The emotion behind the email was hope; after all this time, Lydia’s fingers were crossed so hard they were white in anticipation and pressure.
The response Lydia received was as unexpected as Pearl Harbor: “We are different people and I don’t think our friendship is working. Good luck to you. I will continue to pray for you.” And like Kaiser Soze, twenty-five years of friendship were gone. This email came from a woman who, when having problems of her own, would be on the phone to Lydia, crying and spilling her guts regarding problems in her life. Yet when the tables were turned and Lydia at her most nervous, the night before a surgical procedure in which she needed nothing but love and support, she instead got direct rejection. I’m not positive, but if you look up “classy” in the dictionary, ditching a lifelong friendship via email is probably scribbled in.
It was stated the friend didn’t appreciate Lydia’s wide-open stance on sharing her problems and frustrations of the infertility process with people, but Lydia suspects the last line, “I will continue to pray for you,” was more than a throwaway line. Apparently frustration over Lydia’s refusal to step-in-line with the conservative, blinders-on way of life always rubbed her friend the wrong way. The big, outside world is a scary one, and if you don’t approach it the “correct” way you are doomed. That Lydia feared neither judgment nor punishment for her beliefs became an increasing bone of contention her friend refused to let go of. Lydia fears it pushed what had been teetering on the brink, over the edge.
In the end, it’s always, always for the best. I wouldn’t have wanted to date the cocktail waitress who was interested in superficial things, and at the end of the day, Lydia’s “friend” was absolutely right: they were “too different.” One is loving and understanding and supportive, and the other is… well, not.
And who would want someone like that in their life anyway?