“Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker’s God-given right.” – Mayor Lenny Clotch, Ghostbusters 2.
When I was 15, I got a holiday job working at Sears. I was so excited to have a real job and make my own money. One evening at work, a woman approached me. She was in a panic because her car broke down and she had her tree in it and the tow company only took cash and she didn’t have any. She looked on the verge of tears and I said, without a second thought, “I’ll help you.” I gave her $300 and she promised to come right back.
She got me hook, line and sinker. She didn’t care that she was taking advantage of a kid just trying to be a good human. The experience left me feeling like total dog shit. I no longer had the money I needed for gifts or gas and I certainly considered never helping anyone ever again. I did not gain any abilities to see through peoples’ lies and bullshit nor did I learn to think more before acting. I was a sweet kid, always ready to help others. I always thought that being approachable was a good quality to have; it is, but it also leaves you vulnerable if you don’t protect yourself. Putting up a personal wall doesn’t make us bad people. We need to do it because bad people exist whether we like it or not. They come in all shapes and sizes and they do not discriminate.
No one has honor anymore. No one stands up for what’s right, no one stands up to oppression, no one gives a shit about anyone else. We step on each other to pick up a nickel and pretend not to notice when someone clearly needs a hand. Don’t be that guy.
So what do you do if you are a good person and want to do good things for others? Be a super hero, of course! Learn from the lessons life has dealt you. Pick and choose your deeds carefully. Be discreet. Do something because it is the right thing to do, not because you want applause. Let your morals and ethics guide you. Show respect as a reflection of your own character. I learned what kind of human I wanted to be from watching Saturday morning cartoons in the 80s and 90s. The moral of every story was do the right thing even if it isn’t popular, be kind to others, look out for the ‘little guy’ and, most importantly, anyone can be a super hero. I aspire to be a living embodiment of everything I have ever watched – mostly Garfield, Ghostbusters and Thundercats. I fell in love with The Avengers as an adult. Yes, the movies. And, also yes, I’m sure the comics are better but they don’t have Robert Downey Jr.
There are experiences that harden us over time to protect our feelings and keep the random douchebags out. We all know, even if we won’t openly admit it, that there is a good chance the “tolerable” humans we do decide to let in will eventually turn into some kind of douche when our presence in their lives no longer serves them.
Friend break-ups are perfectly acceptable when your well-being is at stake due to a toxic person in your life. If you get taken for a ride and don’t wish to continue, get off at the next stop and move on. Becoming permanently jaded to the world doesn’t help matters either. What exactly do you gain by taking your frustration out on someone who has never done anything to you? It isn’t right to punish other people who had nothing to do with the original offense. Don’t be that guy either.
I have had a few toxic friends in my life, but this one takes the fucked-up-shit cake. I met her playing poker and we always had a good laugh. We are both loud, abrasive people, so we got along great. We drifted apart for a few years and later reconnected when she got pregnant unexpectedly. I was already a mom, so she felt I could help prepare her and help her through the emotional roller-coaster that is pregnancy.
The father didn’t want anything to do with a family life. He made that perfectly clear to her on several occasions, but she forced her will on him. She even went so far as to bring his very traditional mother into the mix, which put even more pressure on him to live a life that he didn’t want. I understand what it feels like to want someone to love you so bad that you feel like you’re going crazy inside and you try to come up with all sorts of ways to keep them around, but seriously, this was verging on psychosis.
She was super emotional all the time and I wanted to be there for her, but after 6 months of renewed friendship, things became unbearable. She bought a new condo that was closer to her baby-daddy to create a nice home for the 3 of them… he still had no interest in the life she was creating for them. He was allergic to cats, so she thought it would be a better idea to have all her cats euthanized before moving instead of attempting to rehome them. She made this decision not because he gave her an ultimatum but because she was convinced that it would somehow fix the problem. How could an animal lover do such a thing? I will NEVER know. I lived in a shit hole apartment for 2 years because it was the only place I could find that would take me with my dogs. While I lived in said apartment I was dating a guy who was allergic to cats. I had been talking for a while about wanting to get a cat for my kid. He told me not to get a cat because of his allergy. Guess what? I got 2 cats. Zero fucks given. No pets. No deal.
She asked me to drive her and her 10 cats to the vet. This should have been when I pulled the plug on the friendship, but I didn’t know how. She was very pregnant and even though I absolutely HATED what she was doing, I decided not to judge her and instead to help her by being a supportive friend. She also hated what she was doing. She loved her animals. She didn’t want to risk them being euthanized in a shelter or going to an abusive home. I tried to reach out to find a rescue that would take that many cats at once. No one could help me so the deed was done. When she moved away, she asked me to come out with my car on weekends to help her with errands, run around for a baby shower, or help build furniture. I did it for months because I wanted to be a good friend and she would always tell me how much she loved and appreciated me. I was exhausted and going through my own life stress. I didn’t want to drive an hour on my only day off every week to be a replacement husband, but how do you break up with that without feeling guilty? Even when you want to say no, you can’t because you feel they rely on you for love and belonging.
I ended up also lending her a lot of my baby items, including a very expensive breast pump. After 2 weeks, she told me she broke it and was complaining about not being able afford another one. She never apologized or offered to replace my broken equipment that I planned on using again. In the end, I never saw any of it ever again.
She would complain about how I came out less and for shorter periods of time to see her after having to get rid of my car. She complained because I had a boyfriend who I spent some weekend time with. She kept telling me how to live my life, and got pissed when I didn’t take her advice. I didn’t buy another car, I didn’t break up with my boyfriend, I didn’t move closer to her. I cringed every time I got a text message, because I was afraid it was from her. I found myself feeling like I needed to lie, that I left my phone home or didn’t notice the volume was off. I finally had enough. I decided to love myself , be an adult and break up with her.
Holy crap was THAT stressful.
I spent hours crafting a perfectly phrased letter, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to take hearing her voice and her crying and/or screaming at me. I knew I wouldn’t remember everything I wanted to say and I was afraid I would start to feel guilty, possibly attempt to undo what I had started. I wanted to guarantee success. I knew my decision was best for me. I didn’t want her to feel hurt but she caused me too much anxiety. I was honest and I wished her well.
Her reply was vicious.
Apparently, I was a shitty person for choosing myself over her. Once it was said and done, I physically felt like a weight had been lifted off me. It was empowering to finally feel in control. After having done it once, I could do it again if the need presented itself.
Now that is freedom! I decide who stays and who goes. I decide when I’ve had enough and I’m not afraid to speak up about it. Be THAT guy and let everyone know that that is who you are. People will not hold you to unrealistic standards if they know up front that you won’t tolerate it.
So whether it’s a complete stranger or someone you consider a friend, ask more questions and watch more carefully. Boundaries are important, not selfish. And don’t be afraid to let go of relationships just because they exist. Everyone needs someone to come to their rescue sometimes. Don’t let people use you, but don’t forget that the world needs random acts of kindness. I choose to remain a secret super hero, because it makes me feel good about how I am living my life. I will be the first person to jump up and help if someone drops papers on the floor, the first person to offer the $1.75 that you’re short at grocery store. I will offer my seat on the bus if you look more tired than me and allow moms with small children skip me in lines so they can get moving a little faster. It’s the little things that you do that make you a hero. You don’t have to solve all the problems, you just have to care enough to help when you can. And if you can’t help, that’s also fine just don’t intentionally hurt people. In other words, just be a good human, the rest will work itself out.