just ponderin'

… on the benefit of toxic friendships

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADid you just start reading thinking we were going to go all psychology-ical and discuss friends that are bad for you and how you should begin the new year with a clean slate?

Just cast off those toxic relationships and greet 2014 with a renewed sense of wonder and bliss, free of the baggage of unhealthy relationships, freeing you to be all you can be?

Are you shitting me?

Do you not know me at all?

If you cast off every single one of those unhealthy relationships, what would you be able to laugh about all to yourself when you were with these people?

What?

Yes, I’m nice!

But, dude (or dudette), in order to be nice, a gal needs something very important.

Her sanity.

And sanity requires at least a dash of ‘happy’.

And happy requires at least a tablespoon or two of ‘laughter’.

Which is derived from combining equal parts ‘creativity’ and ‘funny’ into a nice roux.

(I’ve been cooking a lot lately).

Seriously, don’t you play games in your head when you have no choice but to be with toxic people (and later share the results with your nearly perfect husband or wife, or dear friend or dog or cat or cherished reptile?) You don’t? How can that be?? So, what do you do when you are faced with a nasty or self-absorbed or otherwise toxic human in your midst?

Just take it like a grown up and complain about it later?

Man, you are so evolved.

I am all about juvenile coping mechanisms.

I embrace them.

I cannot count the number of times I have been completely on my own with someone who is driving me out of my mind, and I say something or notice something that completely cracks me up inside and I think, “I cannot believe there isn’t someone else here to appreciate how dang funny this is!”

Now, I should be clear, I am not laughing at the person that is driving me crazy, but the situation I’ve found myself in (that I then have to either figure out how to enjoy, or extract myself from, depending on the possibilities).

What’s that saying, ‘It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters’? (Yes, that is the saying, and I know because I just looked it up. Epictetus said it. I know that because Epictetus says a lot of things I like. Also, I remember his name because it reminds me of Ipecac – that syrup that makes you throw up.)

So there are many ways to cope with people who drive you crazy – without being hurtful to the people themselves – that don’t require you to hold your negative energy in, thus risking a messy or embarrassing explosion (physical or emotional) at some point.

Sometimes I rope John into my coping mechanisms (because if you can’t share your juvenile coping mechanisms with your best friend on the planet, who can you share your juvenile coping mechanisms with?)

We once knew a couple who truly, absolutely could not talk about anything but their kids.

Not kidding.

Oh, you think that you have known a couple exactly like this in your life, but I am telling you that I would put my kid-obsessed couple up against your kid-obsessed couple any day of the week. And they didn’t just want to talk about ‘kids’ (you know, “What are your kids up to?”, “How many soccer games did you stand on the sidelines of this week?”). No.

They wanted to talk about their kids.

In painful detail.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a great story. But ‘Little Johnny just got voted ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ over the entire second grade class at Pipsqueek Geniuses Elementary, is more of a brag than a great story.  A great story would be if Little Johnny just got voted ‘Most Likely to Succeed’ and then, when he was receiving his award, a little girl noticed that the mean, popular boy was holding a rope attached to a bucket of pig’s blood and – before she can do anything about it – he pulls the rope and then there is mayhem and telekinetic activity and a huge fire…That would be a great story.

But that would also be the final scene in Carrie.

So we can’t use that.

Anyway.

To keep from the aforementioned messy explosion, we came up with a game called “How many sentences to the kids?”

It came about because, as we paid attention to the conversations we witnessed, no matter what the topic was, this couple would expertly guide the conversation back to their kids. They seemed to work together on this, like a team.

Well, if they could play this game, so could we.

So we did.

A lot.

To play the game the kid-obsessed people had to be going on and on about their kid for a while.  To the point that we or (if we were in a group) no one else was really saying anything.

We didn’t worry about finesse. We didn’t worry about gently guiding the conversation away from the kid topic (wouldn’t have worked anyway). One of us would just say something like, “Topic hop! I know this is off subject but did you guys hear about…” (and you had to pick an interesting or juicy topic, or the kid-obsessed couple would ‘win’ too easily).

So we’d drop the ‘topic hop bomb’, and then we’d just count sentences.

Bombs we dropped: “Did you hear about the serial killer who is likely loose in Alaska?” (7 sentences to their kid); “Did you see the most recent pictures from the Hubble Space Telescope?” (complete with visual support of images on John’s computer (12 sentences to their kid)); “Do you guys believe in alien abduction?” (7 sentences (‘alien abduction’ tied ‘serial killer in Alaska’ – go figure)).

You get the drift.

The all time standing winner with a record three sentences from topic hop bomb to their kid?

The death of Pope John Paul II.

Three sentences.

Three sentences from ‘the Pope died’ to the sentence that connected his death to their kid.

It. Was. Magnificent.

The record stands to this day.

I don’t think it will ever be broken.

You know, this column was actually going to be about joy. Not kidding. I didn’t even have to change the title (because what screams joy more than the title, “The Benefit of Toxic Friendships”?).

Sorry for that. I’ll do joy a little later (maybe. You (and I!) just never really know).

In the mean time, I purposefully didn’t copyright or trademark our game.

You can use “How many sentences to kids?” any time you want. Go crazy. Create a board game. Make a few million.

Actually, you can substitute ‘kids’ if you want, because it would work for any subject-obsessed person or couple or group. Like, for instance, if you accidentally find yourself at a Jesus Rave, and you are overwhelmed or bored, you could play, “How many sentences to Jesus?”

But you might want to call that “How many sentences until I am struck by lightning for utilizing juvenile coping mechanisms?”

Thanks for readin’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA* As always, you can come on over to Just Ponderin’s facebook page to comment or just hang out.

Elena Peters

midlife blogger & pinterest master

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