I understand about New Year’s resolutions. Meaning, I get the appeal. I used to write really neatly every September and promise myself that this year…THIS year I would finally be the buttoned-up student I knew was hidden somewhere deep inside of me. But by October, without fail, I could only open my locker an inch to grab one book at a time or else I’d have an avalanche. Nah. New Year’s resolutions have never been anything more than a message from my internal patriarchy that I would, inevitably, rebel against. Useless.
I do something else.
I have an intention.
But it’s not an intention to be someone different or to even a better version of myself.
It’s an intention to explore a path. To see what’s on the other side of something I’m struggling with.
Like last year, I really wanted to explore the love thing. As you know (in excruciating detail…sorry!) I had a habit of falling in love with men that were broken. I didn’t see them as broken. I saw them as totally sexy and interesting. But then I’d get cut with their jagged pieces and be looking at my friends like, “How did this happen??” 2022 was about figuring out WTF was happening once and for all. I went on many intentional journeys inside and outside myself with various therapists, healers and men (and for a spell, no men at all) to better understand my wiring. And for the first time in my life, I’m in a relationship with a healthy person. I’ll write more about that shift in the weeks to come, but today I want to write about what I’m exploring this year.
This may come as a surprise to you.
(Or if you really know me, maybe not.)
I was a bully.
And sometimes, I still am a bully.
I’d written ad nauseum at CosmoGIRL! and Seventeen about how inadequate I felt as a teenager. It was something we had in common, right? Something all people feel at one time or another. But I don’t think I ever told you that I was also a bully. Sensing another girl’s vulnerability really jammed me up. Today, as an adult, I realize that it was because I needed to keep my own vulnerabilities buried. Or at least that’s how I felt. I didn’t really have grownups in my life with bandwidth for what I was going through, so my young mind decided my shit had to be buried and I needed to be tough. It felt like a matter of survival.
In grade school, I targeted more vulnerable girls doing goofy, but still hurtful acts like putting a spider down their shirt. In high school and college, I would gossip or turn my friends against whoever I was choosing to target. I also seemed to always have one girl in my friend group on my radar and ever so gently kept my metaphorical foot on their throat by gossiping about or excluding them. It sickens me to think about it and embarrasses me to admit it. I have compassion for and forgive the traumatized girl I was. And I have so much compassion, love and respect for the girls I hurt with my unconsciousness.
Fast forward to my career. Being a bully in the media industry was a positive attribute, so there was certainly no pressure to be introspective about this part of my character. I was a thug amongst thugs. I broke phones when I was angry, blacklisted people I felt slighted by, used the media to my advantage. As I worked my way up the ladder, I frequently maneuvered to get people I didn’t like fired and yet always managed to have a very “nice guy” reputation. I know. It’s upsetting to me, too. That was the way the game was played, and I was a natural at playing it. And if you were looking for proof that bullies are cowards underneath it all: As an Editor-in-Chief, I didn’t like firing people so I would turn the heat way up under someone’s ass when I was done with them so they would quit on their own. Anyway, you know the cliches, you’ve seen the movies. I was a bad bitch, and I was rewarded for it.
And yes, I bullied my husband.
We’ve all had friends married to a woman like me.
I was that woman.
I remember at one point in our relationship, I went on an SSRI. I was feeling super anxious: I was transitioning from CosmoGIRL! to Seventeen, had just gotten back together with him after a separation, we were moving, and in general I treated him like an emotional punching bag. I knew it wasn’t right and I wanted to fix it. The Paxil worked like magic…but just as things started settling down, he begged me to get off of it. He didn’t like the milder, gentler me. He said I wasn’t myself anymore. He’d rather have the “real” me instead of this new agreeable, sweetie-pie.
That was always interesting to me. You know what they say: It takes two to tango. He was actively choosing the bully and hell; it was a role I was born to play. When he and I finally decided to separate, it felt like a director had yelled, “Cut!” and we both dropped the scripts we’d been play acting for the past quarter of a century. Leaving my marriage felt like an important step in my ability to explore who I was beneath that role.
But here’s when I realized I still have a whiff of the bully blueprint.
Like you, I see a lot of girls I went to high school and college with on social media. But there is one particular girl who follows me on IG and frequently makes lovely comments. But I simply wouldn’t follow her back. My friend Stephen uses the word, “thirsty.” I’m sure you know what he means. Too eager, too desperate. This girl was always a nice girl yet she has and had an intense need to be liked that clearly triggered my own similar feelings. Here I was at 50 years old, not following her back. That felt just bitchy. Clearly there’s something in me that’s also “thirsty” and I’ll be sitting with that in the coming weeks and months. And yes, of course, once I realized I was intentionally not following her, I immediately followed her back.
Admitting this stuff is so “cringe” as my 14-year-old would say.
But there you have it. My intention for the year…my 2023 exploration. I suspect there will be many amends to be made. And many questions to consider: Why was I a bully? In what ways am I still one? What are the super tender feelings that the bullying part of me is protecting? Being that big-time Editor-in-Chief clearly kept those vulnerable feelings at bay. But today? I’ve got no big time anything to hang my hat on or to give me an externalized feeling of worthiness. Let’s see what’s under my well-honed strategy to manipulate and control people. I don’t need to be a bad bitch anymore. Or at least, I’d like to use my power intentionally and wisely and not out of fear and insecurity.
Oh, and when a friend or partner tells you something hard to hear about yourself when you’re fighting and/or break up? Honestly? They’re probably right to some extent. You may not be ready to hear it in the moment and for sure, it’s likely not as black and white as they may be making it. But hold it in your pocket and take it out for examination every so often. That’s how I got to this bully piece. I’ve been called a bully before, but I wasn’t ready to hear it. My sense of safety was too tenuous. I would hide behind all the good things I’ve done to protect myself and I had no shortage of friends who would join me in scoffing at the notion that I was anything other than a good guy in any given narrative. But I feel safe enough now and I can hold it all with compassion and love all around. Looking forward to seeing where this path leads me but for now? I’m just sitting with some healthy shame. And that’s okay. It’s all part of the process. To be continued, to be continued.
Let me know if there’s something someone’s said about you that just may be true…
Soundtrack of my 🤍🖤❤️: