In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. – Martin Luther King Jr.
One of my main growing edges as a person is being a recovering people pleaser. Blame it on being an only child, a lonely extrovert without lots of peers to play with, a quirky black girl in a mostly white world growing up, a Gemini with a penchant for being a chameleon who can adapt to any situation… I used to put other people’s feelings and needs before my own. That shit sucked!
I ended up doing a lot of things out of obligation because it suited other people, other people who weren’t even that close to me because I really didn’t want to lose anybody. One of my best friends told me about myself. She asked, why am I investing all this energy in pleasing people who ain’t got my back? In people who don’t call me on the phone, won’t support me, when I’ve got real friends who are being left in the lurch all because I don’t like conflict and I don’t want people to be mad at me? Oh…
That conversation was a revelation. As well as being in the CFC. Writing with this group of women and with this man was super empowering. I felt like writing collectively grew my strength and willingness to take risks in my posts, risks I wouldn’t have taken before. The camaraderie emboldened me, made me want to shirk my past habits of shying away from conflict, particularly in this group. I told them things I’d never told anyone. I talked about my people pleasing/conflict avoidant life. Part of the reason Robin wrote How to Say No was because I and a few other CFs discussed our particular challenges with this word at the first CF retreat. I started getting closer to these folks, some whom I knew before and some I didn’t. We were doing great work and we were taking names.
And then I started to have challenges with one member in the collective. I was high on my feelings of CFC connectedness and brought my issues to her again and again. In her words, I was hypercritical, always pointing out what was wrong; in my mind I felt empowered not to people please because, if nowhere else, in this community I could tell my truth. The tension between us, my desire for more queer content on the blog, among other things, became a raw point in the collective to the degree that we sought mediation.
Mediation allowed me to feel the impact of what my friend had said to me about my people pleasing, conflict-avoidant personality. When faced with the reality of the conflicts between members of the collective, rather than feel like they had to pick sides, some people just stayed silent. Some folks talked abstractly, others shut down; all our various defense mechanisms were on display. It seemed that few people wanted to say how they really felt lest they displease one or the other of us at the center of these disagreements.
That hurt my feelings. I thought I had grown in friendship enough for folks to tell me if I’m not doing right but rather than really addressing how they felt about interpersonal dynamics, some folks chose to remain silent on the issue. I want the kind of connections to folks that allow us to tell each other when we’ve got something in our teeth and that did not seem to be what other folks wanted or were willing to do in that room. I realized that the collective and friendship are two different things. On that note, I decided that it was best for me to leave the collective because it became clear that I had different ideas about how I wanted to engage our issues than some of the other members.
I’m not saying all this to bad mouth the collective. On the contrary. I want readers to know how much the CFC is invested in trying to work through the hard parts of itself. The good work that comes from the collective is created by people who have real challenges while working together and that should be acknowledged. The blog that folks have come to love so much requires the dedicated labor of a few, some more than others, with sporadic and informal compensation. It seems that we are capable of laser-sharp critique through the blog but it’s been much more difficult to do the emotionally complex work of sitting with ourselves. A growing edge for the collective and still a growing edge for me.
My feminist principles compel me to tell my truth in this situation. As much work as I personally put into making this collective, I could not slink off into the night and lick my wounds privately. I needed to be transparent. Writing this post is an important part of my feminist process of healing and closure. I want to remind you dear readers that there are real people writing the incisive pieces that have come to characterize this blog. We’re just people. We are figuring it out as we go along and we don’t have all the answers.
The CFC, ironically, helped me develop the strength to walk away from it, to tell my truth while inside the collective, and not be bitter, though I’m still hurt, by the silences of some my colleagues. I get it. I was that girl who got quiet to keep the peace but the CFC helped me out of that. I feel acutely what my friend had pointed out to me about my own behavior and it is not fun. This experience reenergized my need to live authentically and do the things because I want to, not out of a sense of obligation. I feel like one of the ones who walked away from Omelas, trusting there’s another way to do things even though I have no idea if the road ahead of me holds anything better than the world I left behind. I’m willing to risk it though.