A year ago this week, I stopped playing the social game.
Most people are smart enough never to get involved in the game in the first place. They never dive head first into the social scene, or seek approval and acceptance from their peers, and wind up living happy, secure, normal lives.
But not me. Because I'm me.
When I moved abroad (I'm home now, thank the lawd!) I convinced myself that without friends, or more specifically, social acceptance, I would be lost, and my time in a foreign country would be utterly awful--borderline intolerable.
I was wrong. More on that later. But...I was convinced that without being a part of the social scene in the wealthy, pretentious, ostentatious town my husband's job had placed us in, I (and more importantly, my kids) would be miserable.
And if you've never lived abroad with a child who is utterly miserable, then pat yourself on the back, because you've dodged a very painful bullet. Living in South Korea with grotesquely unhappy children darn near ended me.
It. Was. Awful.
And our "community" didn't help. If anything, it made things worse. But, I digress...
As I was saying, I moved abroad thinking that the #1 thing I needed to do was find my place in the social scene, make friends with the right people, so that their kids would be nice to my kids, and rub elbows with the right crowds, so that my family would be seen as part of the crowd, the people others wanted to hang with, the people others needed to hang with.
It was all pretty stupid and adolescent, if you ask me. But hindsight is 20/20 and all that. At the time, all I knew, all I could see, was that we'd moved to a foreign country where people were not all that friendly, where myself and my children did not speak the language, and where there was a much, much smaller expat presence than we'd originally been told. Upon landing in this place, it quickly became clear to us that in order to survive abroad, we would need to get in with the expat circle, and that if we didn't, my life--and the lives of my kids--would be very, very lonely.
And what is the one thing a parent who just moved their kids abroad fears most? Loneliness. Nobody wants their kids to feel lonely.
So.........I started jumping through the hoops.
Whenever I was invited somewhere, I went. Whenever someone's children wanted to meet my children, I complied. Whenever I was asked to participate in things, I did. I packed away my hermit tendencies, and became a social butterfly. I went to cocktail parties, despite not being the type whatsoever, and also not being a drinker of any way, shape, or form...and I rubbed elbows. When they needed volunteers at my children's insanely pretentious and overpriced school, I shoved my own workload to the back burner and went. When the women invited me to lunch, which seemed at times like that was the only thing they ever actually did, I accepted. When I was told someone was not acceptable to be allowed in the fold, I agreed. When they "accidentally" forgot to invite others, I went along with it. When they gossiped, I gossiped, too. When they Mean Girl'd those they found unworthy, I participated.
I became a lesser version of myself.
I did not like the person I became.
Sure, my kids had friends, and "seemed" to be enjoying their time abroad (as much as they could between bouts of crippling homesickness) and my place on the social totem pole insured that they would always be smiled at, invited to things, and welcomed (however begrudgingly at times) into the fold.
But at what price?
I'd become a colossal bitch. I was acting like a Regina George. Who in the heck sets out to become a Regina in their 40's? I mean, honestly.
So...during my last year abroad, after having three separate unpleasant experiences with three separate women in this social circle...something inside of my snapped, and I said, "I'm done."
I just walked away. I ended every toxic relationship I had in that town, and I cut them out. Snip, snip, and they were gone. Just like that.
And oddly enough...everything was okay. My children didn't suffer that much. Sure, they got some grief. After all, when her BFF is the daughter of one of what I'd always referred to as "The Holy Trinity," that I'd just divorced myself from, there was inevitably going to be some backlash. But, oddly enough, my daughter maintained herself in a manner above and beyond what a typical 16 year old could do. She came out of the refiners fire a better young woman, stronger, able to stand up for herself, unwilling to be treated like garbage. A true bad a**, if you ask me.
And my son's didn't suffer as much as I'd expected. Some of the playdate invitations waned, but overall, they still maintained friendships that were based on silly boy things like anime, Harry Potter, and potty humor. They did alright, despite how many people disliked their mom! Who knew?
As for me? Well, I actually managed to have a great year. I still had a couple friends. We went out from time to time, but not often. I wrote books, I read books, I enjoyed the peace, and I patiently waited for my time abroad to come to an end. Not having these toxic women in my life didn't effect me nearly as much as I'd originally thought, and if anything, I'd become stronger, more secure, and happier in my newfound independence from the dreaded social game.
At one point, I'd been scolded for not greeting a woman properly (the whole kiss, kiss on both cheeks thing...I'd apparently been rude and thoughtless for waving to a group of women as I passed, chasing my son, while calling, "Gotta go! Hi everyone!" Again...who knew?) and now I was coming and going without having to give another thought to who I was with, who would be seeing me, what I would be wearing when I was seen, and whether or not I'd said or done the right things at the right times, and not embarrassed my uncouth, rednecked self in front of all of the wealthy, well bred socialites. That last year abroad I was free! Truly myself for the first time in a couple years.
Almost alone, yes. But free. And it felt great.
I'm not sure I'll ever understand women who play the social game. Who manage their social lives like a constant game of chess. Who determine each move, each activity, as if their very place in the social infrastructure depended on it. I see it all the time! Even here in rural Washington, amongst my church family. Sure, it's not as evil and toxic as the social scene in Songdo, South Korea, but it's still there. That Social Game, that determines who is at the top of the totem pole, and who is at the bottom. It's like we, as women, cannot get off of this awful treadmill that is the game. We get on when we're my daughter's age, and turn it up to a speed that makes it darn near impossible to hop off and catch our breath!
Well, I got off. I excused myself from the social game a year ago, and I've managed to stay out since. Even here in the USA I don't participate. I am back in my old church family, and while I see some cliques, some friendship groups that I'm on the fringes of, I just don't dig in too deep. I refuse to feed into the idea that if I'm not friends with the right people, or rubbing elbows in the right crowds, that I am not where I am supposed to be--with the people I'm supposed to be with.
I am where I need to be. I am with the people I'm supposed to be with. I don't have to be anything I'm not. I can be me, and either people will dig it, and stick around, or they won't, and they won't.
Either way, I'll be fine.
And for the first time in my 42 years, I'm really, truly okay with that.