Live Through This

Hero Takes a Fall

The hidden dangers of idol worship.

3. Friends

When I friend-crush, I friend-crush hard. Everything a new friend says or does seems totally ~magical~ to me, and I find way to awkwardly jam their name into any conversation, no matter how inappropriate it is: “Oh, are you reading the new Zadie Smith? My friend Emily told me about that book. Yeah, Emily’s really smart. She’s also super funny and has a wicked record collection and smells like sunshine.” Then, inevitably, “Emily” will commit some horrible transgression (i.e., reveal herself to be a normal flawed human being) that will make me do a 180 and see her as evil, which is just as wrongheaded as seeing her as perfect.

One friend that I fell really hard for started to lose her luster when I noticed that she trash-talked our other friends a lot, often about incredibly petty things (“God, have you ever noticed how loud Marie’s laugh is? It’s so obnoxious”). But when we would go to a party together, she went back to being super fun, and my crush would be reignited. My feelings alternated between too hot and too cold, which is clearly super healthy and the type of thing you should look for in any friendship.

Now, one of the big differences between famous people and your actual friends is that your relationships with the latter aren’t one-sided. So instead of having to figure out how to accept this friend’s trash-talking on my own, I was able to talk to her, to let her know I wasn’t OK with it. Calling her out wasn’t easy or fun—at first she just mumbled something about how she was merely “venting”—but she obviously got the message, because she stopped gossiping so much around me, and we were able to hang on to the good parts of our friendship, like going out and getting into crazy shenanigans. I didn’t let one little shortcoming undo the genuine fun we had together. I think this is called maturity?

While there are definitely valid reasons to end some friendships, if I did that every time I hit a speed bump with someone, I wouldn’t have any friends left.

4. You

My junior year of college, I had a complete mental breakdown. It started over nothing—it was Halloween, and I was dressed as a 1980s Republican (because where else was I gonna be able to wear my pastel-pink polo shirt and my yellow plaid blazer with shoulder pads?). Walking to a party with my friends, who were all dressed in adorable flapper and nurse costumes, I started to get into character, saying what I thought a social conservative would say: “Hussies! You’re all dressed like hussies.” My friends laughed, but as the night went on (and I drank more) I kept beating the joke with a broken stick. Wasn’t it funny how every girl at the party was dressed like a slut? Aren’t sluts the worst? Sluts sluts sluts!

At that time in my life I was working really hard to be the most perfect, self-actualized, inclusive feminist in the world, as if social justice were some competition that could only be won by being perfectly consistent at all times ever (which I now understand is a losing battle), so my friends knew I didn’t really mean what I was saying, and they just started ignoring me at some point in the evening. But when I woke up the next morning, I feel HORRIBLE—like I had committed a mortal sin. I texted everyone saying “SORRY IF I LET THE JOKES GO TOO FAR I DIDN’T MEAN IT” and they all replied something along the lines of “Anna, it’s fine. We know you weren’t serious.” But I wasn’t satisfied. What if somebody else at the party overheard me and didn’t realize I was joking? What if I made some stranger feel terrible? Was all it took to turn me into a raging asshole a few drinks and an ironic disguise?

That incident triggered a lot of anxious feelings that I had never really dealt with before. I started remembering every bad, stupid, offensive, or hurtful thing I had ever done. There was that time I gossiped about a friend’s secret, and that ninth grade chemistry test I cheated on, and every cruel thing I’ve said to my mom in an argument. I suddenly lost all faith in my ability to be a good person.

Eventually I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which I am now dealing with (if you become so stressed you stop eating for a week, SEE A DOCTOR), but those moments of doubting my own essential goodness still come back frequently.

With everyone else in the world, there’s a lot they don’t let you see—they have the ability to filter to some extent what you know about them. But you can’t hide from your own mind. And recognizing your unsavory thoughts can be scary.

After my breakdown, I went to see the campus therapist. I told her about the stupid jokes I had made, and everything that followed. I told her how scared I was to ever talk to anybody again or leave my dorm, in case did something else dumb.

She looked me in the eye and asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“I could offend somebody,” I said. “Worse, I could hurt someone.”

“That’s true,” she said. “That’s always a very real possibility. But then what will you do?”

It was a simple question, but one that caught me completely off guard. It made me realize that even if I do something bad, life goes on—it’s possible to live with myself even thought I will never be perfect. I will never stop embarrassing myself or having bad thoughts or making mistakes or trying to correct them. I will also never stop learning from them.

Not obsessing over my every flaw helped me stop freaking out over other people’s, too. I realized that I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by idealizing my friends, my family, or even Amy Poehler (she is kind of a superhero though, I mean come on). No one can live up to unfair expectations, and no one deserves to be punished for being human. All of that is exhausting, for idol and idolizer alike.

It’s scary to let people just casually step off their pedestals instead of making them topple, because when they’re on your level you have to look them in the eye; you have to grapple with their humanness and let them see into yours. You can do it, though. You got over that whole Tooth Fairy thing just fine. ♦

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15 Comments

  • 062131 December 28th, 2012 3:24 PM

    Ah, this is so good.
    “My feelings alternated between too hot and too cold, which is clearly super healthy and the type of thing you should look for in any friendship.” Sometimes I think this is very annoying, at least for me. Sometimes I just want to think “this person is really cool but still a human being with flaws,” but I guess that’s a lot harder than “OH MAN THIS PERSON IS GREAT” or “wow that wasn’t nice.”
    This was a very very good article and I liked that you talked about family, friends, famous people and OURSELVES. You have to try to be good but you’ll probably fail sometimes, it’s not so easy to remember it’s okay.

    Oh and just to let you know, the link about the Tina Fey joke just links to this article.

  • llamalina December 28th, 2012 4:01 PM

    I do this too! I always place people on a high pedestal, and they always end up crashing down. Especially the friend-crush thing, as well as my parents.

    “It’s scary to let people just casually step off their pedestals instead of making them topple, because when they’re on your level you have to look them in the eye; you have to grapple with their humanness and let them see into yours.” I really like that.

    http://llamalina.blogspot.com

  • GlitterKitty December 28th, 2012 4:35 PM

    Maybe I just didn’t get the point but Amy Poehler is the awesomest goddess/superhero of all time.

  • Anabel December 28th, 2012 4:51 PM

    “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.”
    - John Green

  • Mayne December 28th, 2012 5:19 PM

    Thanks so much for this, Anna. I identify with everything you wrote in this article, and it’s comforting to know that somebody else does that awful anxiety thing to themselves too. Meow. Meow.

  • kikikaylen December 28th, 2012 5:38 PM

    This is such a brilliant and relatable article. In the past year or so, I’ve become more aware of my perceptions of people, including myself. I’ve realized that my parents, my friends, my celebrity crushes, and even myself are fallible. So I don’t have to agree with every single thing the people that are important to me do, and although I look back at some things I did shamefully, I don’t have to beat myself up about it forever. I think my parents have been the people whose imperfections I’ve had the hardest time coming to terms with, but in the end, we’re all human.

  • iamrachii December 28th, 2012 5:48 PM

    I’m terrible at hero worshipping ~famous~ people who have regular flaws. I used to love the singer of my favourite band for being straight edge and then I found out he’d stopped and now he goes on about how much he drinks like a teenage girl in interviews and I was so down about it for months that I threw myself into bands who did drugs and slept with all the girls cos hey, they couldn’t let me down like that right? Now I sort of know better, famous people are just people and they can change their mind about things just like me and it’s silly to expect more than that (but I still will, at least a little). There is an AFI song about all this called Veronica Sawyer Smokes which I think Rookie will appreciate, tying together the theme of this article with one of the best characters ever (basically the singer spent his youth daydreaming about Veronica and how perfect she was and then there’s that scene where she smokes and his little world came down, pretty much exactly how I felt) so that’s something to check out.

  • violet9 December 28th, 2012 7:07 PM

    Thanks for this, I used to suffer a lot from anxiety, and one of the things that helped me was being asked to think through the consequences of my actions which I was so scared of, and realising that they really weren’t that bad.

  • carabear December 29th, 2012 1:34 AM

    Ugh, sometimes it feels like all I ever do is idealize people. It’s terrifying when they fall from their pedestals. I still haven’t figured out how to not romanticize as many people as I do, and it just causes so much heartache.

  • nia December 29th, 2012 12:53 PM

    Amazing article. I know the link is broken but I think she was talking about this: http://www.vulture.com/2010/09/30_rock_rape_joke.html

    Because it made me step back and look at Tina Fey differently too. It’s pretty horrible so please be warned.

    • Anaheed December 29th, 2012 4:08 PM

      Link fixed! Thanks for the heads-up.

  • Erykaneisha December 30th, 2012 7:24 PM

    I can totally relate to this article. At the moment, I’m dealing more with #3 & 4. I have a friend who I absolutely adored when I first met her because I thought she was beyond amazing. As time progressed, I became disappointed with her extreme arrogance, her unwillingness to learn new things because she believes she knows everything (so I really can’t share much with her), and ‘fakeness’ when it came down to having relationships with other people.
    As for #4, I feel awful for judging her because she IS human after all and I want to tell her how I feel about her attitude. But I don’t want to hurt her feelings & I feel I might have confrontational issues. *sigh*

  • Lydia Jane January 4th, 2013 7:06 PM

    For me, #3 and #4 go hand-in-hand. The pattern goes somewhat like this: make a new best friend, become obsessed with new best friend, find flaw in best friend, focus on flaw, judge/get angry at friend. This is followed by judging and getting angry at myself; I mean, maybe she’s not as great of a person as I’d thought if she only talks about herself, but that means I must be a terrible person too for focusing on the negative and hating an otherwise wonderful person.

    I wish I could stop this cycle, but it’s difficult. Anyway, great article!

  • Kathryn January 15th, 2013 11:40 PM

    Before I clicked the link about the joke in 30 rock, I totally know what you were talking about. I was weirdly thinking about that earlier today, even though I haven’t seen that episode in a long time, and how mixed my feelings were.

    • Kathryn January 15th, 2013 11:43 PM

      PS totally and completely irrelevant, but I just saw Anaheed’s comment and it made me remember how earlier today I was listening to the “Animal Sacrifice” episode of This American Life, and I really liked the story about Piney! I hope he’s doin’ well.