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Waxing Philosophical: Two Random Cases

In a successful society, everyone has their niche. Ideally, this niche both fits each individual's needs and wants, AND meets the society's needs and wants from that particular individual. Being in the appropriate niche means being surrounded by other people who affirm that you are in fact inhabiting the niche that fits you and the surrounding society's general expectations of you based on who you are as a person. This is a simplistic and idealistic view, but it's the basic framework from which I operate when I am indignant over things I consider to go against that - things as broad and multi-faceted as the U.S.'s imperialistic warfare on the rest of the civilized and "uncivilized" world, but also things as private and microcosmic as a good friend's marital problems or basic disappointment in someone I once trusted.

The Society of Marriage
Someone John and I are close to has significant and disturbing problems in her relationship with her husband, and it's beyond the realm of "no marriage is perfect". It's unhealthy to the point of dysfunction; his behavior towards her constitutes psychological abuse at the very least. And their kids? They should be in therapy now, but they're not -- and as long as these two stay married, they won't be; he believes their family has an outer image of "normalcy", and maybe even superiority to other families they know (and therefore forbids any activity that would publicly declare otherwise), and she, while aware on some levels that there are problems, pushes most of her awareness under the surface of her day-to-day consciousness to avoid the crushing waves of pain she feels when she faces it in its fullness. John and I were talking about it yesterday and I was railing against the husband, spewing disgust and hatred for who he's become and how he's damaging his kids in the process of systematically destroying his wife's sense of self. John pointed out that because of the nature of the situation, we were only hearing one side of the story, we don't know that she's 100% innocent in all of this, we can't jump to conclusions. This is true. But during a conversation with her last week, she was discussing the possibility of leaving the marriage; they have talked about divorce during fights and during the last one he made a crack about what a huge custody fight there would be - she told him there would be no fight: he could have the kids. She told me this with a straight, numb face. How dead do you have to feel inside to have no more instinct or motivation to keep your own kids with you? This is how much he's beaten her down. Theirs is not a successful society or community: she has no niche -- not as a contributing and fulfilled inhabitant of the home, not as his wife, not even as the mother of her own children. It makes me sick. Yes, he is not 100% at fault - no one ever is - but he is the one who has dictated that the direction of the family will be down the ravine of secret dysfunction, and he has no intention to recognize or change this - his daily life feels JUST FINE to him. Of course, no one is psychologically crushing his identity with every step he takes, either.

The Society of Friends
On a lighter note, a few years ago, an acquaintance of ours invited us to a big "game night" - an annual fundraising event. She presented it as an opportunity to have a night out with friends while raising money for a good cause. We accepted, giddy with the notion of finally being invited to do something with someone other than our moms. We were making friends! How about that?! We went to the event and had a nice time, but I picked up a little vibe from our acquaintance that perhaps she was taking the competition of the game night a little too seriously. "Oh well," we thought, "that's our buddy! She's so quirky and interesting, look at her getting so worked up over winning! Ha ha ha!" The next year, she invited us again, and having forgotten the slight doubt I'd felt at the end of the night the year before, we accepted again: "Look at us! Friends who invited us back to the same event! We're moving up in the world!" This time I picked up even more strangeness from our acquaintance - she was visibly concerned about seating arrangements and team structures. We hardly talked to her that night at all because she was so busily strategizing on how best to win the FUNDRAISING game (...uh, I thought we were here for a good cause and to hang out with friends...?). Still, we were on our "we have friends!" high and we let it go. This year, another invitation was extended to us, and out of habit, we accepted. An e-mail was sent with seating arrangements, and when I received it, I was taken aback. I called John: "What's this? Now we don't even get to sit with people we know?" I e-mailed my acquaintance and half-jokingly told her we didn't know anyone at our table, and without directly saying it, let her know I was curious as to why we wouldn't be sitting at her table - you know, with the PERSON WHO INVITED US. She e-mailed me back with lots of assurances - "oh, don't worry, you'll recognize some of the people at your table, blah blah blah."

When we got there, out of a table of 10 people, there were two who John and I had met - about three years ago. John looked over at the table where our "friend" was sitting and said, "hey, isn't that the guy who knew all the answers last year?? How convenient that he's at her table again." I blew it off, but as the night went on and the acquaintance never even came over to say hello (so much for a friendly social function, huh?), we confirmed it: we were at the Loser Table. I was enraged. I hissed my displeasure to John: "who does she think she is? I guess we didn't give them enough good answers the first two years and since apparently her whole goal in coming here is to win the pathetic game prizes and bask in her year-long glory of fame within the completely unknown community of People Who Attend Fundraising Game Nights, we were banished to the table of people she's just obligated to invite! Screw that! I thought we were coming here to socialize and have a night out with friends, but instead we get stuck at a table full of people who don't even know each other. I'm done with this. I will NOT be coming here next year!" John just laughed and then five minutes later spilled a beer in my lap, which caused my already fuming red face to turn purple, but when I got back to the table after cleaning up, I found a new niche for myself and decided to drink lots of cheap margaritas and talk to the people with whom I had been banished. We all knew we were the Loser Table, thrown together because of our mutual acquaintance's intense need for victory in this stupid, stupid event. We also knew that there was ONE member of the other table who was providing all the correct answers, so we all conspired the best way to have him miss the competition next year, and a pool was started to hire a hit man, but then we decided that was too extreme, and we'd only be stooping to our acquaintance's level, so someone decided that whoever got the flu next year would simply go find this man and cough in his face for an hour a few days before the game night.

Ha. You screw with my societal niche, woman, and I'll go after your precious genius boy. (By the way, she won first place. We tied for fourth place and in a moment of extremely high-pressure memory mining that cemented our not-so-impressive ranking, I remembered the name of Calvin's favorite cereal in the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip - anyone else remember this? And no cheating by pulling out old C & H books - guesses can only come from memory...I'll provide the answer in the comments in a few days.)