Allow me to be cliché for a moment — in high school I was not necessarily popular, but well-liked.
Being well-liked was undeniably as a result of my kindness to others; people could fault me for being somewhat annoying, clumsy and almost always socially awkward (on a good day, I make Michael Cera look like Russell Brand) but they knew me as the person who’d gladly give them a ride home, listen to their stories, laugh at their jokes and tell them their clothes were cool. I say that not as a martyr — they were just as good to me as I was to them. My friends were and still are true, as is evidenced by how many of my high school comrades attended my recent 24th birthday celebrations (thanks again for the Yoda mug, guys)!
What I’m trying to say is, I’ve gotten spoiled in that I’ve not had much experience with being genuinely disliked.
Fast-forward to university — my kindness and patience was now well-coupled with a slightly more mature and eloquent presence, so I continued my pattern of being well-received in most groups. Was I at the bar partying and downing colourful shots every Thursday, Friday and Saturday? Nope. But that can be chalked up to choice.
When I started volunteering for my school paper, my section editor took notice of my talent almost immediately. We formed a strong student-mentor relationship — an odd pairing considering I was actually older than him. But his writing skill was years beyond that of anyone else his age and experience level, and I was eager to learn from him. When he nominated me for more of a leadership role, subsequently integrating me into the paper’s editorial board, I gladly accepted.
But as much as he was an excellent mentor, we never fully became friends. I felt extremely intimidated around this group of editors — a feeling I had rarely if ever felt around people, let alone those my own age, in my life. While I’m sure he felt slightly responsible for me after introducing me to the group in the beginning, he quickly tired of my awkward “charm” and his annoyance with me became blatantly obvious.
It was more obvious in group situations than one-on-one. One-on-one, our conversations were intelligent and sophisticated, and we taught each other a good amount. Each time we’d speak I’d kid myself into thinking that our in-group dynamic would change, but it never did.
It didn’t help that his significant other was our boss the following year, when he and I were technically equals. Suddenly, matters that were supposed to be confidential between my boss and I were known by him as well, which resulted in some pretty embarrassing moments for me — passive-aggressive social media statuses undeniably directed at me, under-the-breath comments at meetings about matters that were supposed to have remained confidential. Suddenly it was easy for him to be single me out, and I didn’t have the deep-rooted friendship with the other editors that he did, so my support was virtually non-existent.
The subtle-but-present aggression directed toward me not only on by him but also his partner was contagious in the sense that my co-editors allowed it to happen without protest, despite being aware of it. I was even, at one point, called into a meeting with the editor-in-chief (you know, the one who had been directing aggression toward me) and the president of the parent company who both made me feel like my alienation was my own fault, and with my EIC present I felt unable to tell the president what was really going on.
I have always had issues with anxiety, but I have had those issues under control for a long time. But in my final year of university, facing a demanding academic and extracurricular schedule, money problems, issues with roommates and now witnessing as my one solace — writing — became plagued by alienation and psychological torture, I was a ticking timebomb. I was ready to quit every other week, and the pressure affected almost every other facet of my life.
Fast-forward just over a year — I am sitting at the desk in my quaint little office that I share with my fellow news editor, Nick. I am on salary with a Toronto magazine publisher. I am on a pretty personal basis with Toronto city councillors. I have the respect of people older and more experienced than me. All of this should be validation that I am not the horrible writer — or the socially-inept miscreant — I was made to believe that I was. And yet I still feel a hollow sadness that I never did impress the person who was just never able to like me.
As a recovering nerd, my ultimate dream has often been to bump into my former tormentors — maybe on a busy street or at a bar — and happily chirp about how well things are going for me at this point. I know now that very few of us former editors are working as legitimate journalists, and he is one of the ones who found work as a writer but not of the journalistic variety. When I consider this, it should fill me with pride, but instead it makes me feel petty.
The odds of this hypothetical scenario occurring are low anyway, but let’s just pretend that someday soon I will bump into him and regale him with my tales of Real Exciting Grown-Up Journalism over bitter espresso. Would the news of my exciting new career make him realize that he had been wrong about me all along? If I recall, he never doubted my abilities as a writer. If him knowing how many people showed up at my birthday party, would he care? Not in the slightest. He wouldn’t have never wanted to show up anyway.
They say that the best revenge is living well, but to me the best revenge does not exist. If one is still fixated on revenge, then one is not a winner. I do not mean “winner” in the sense that we are always engaged in a battle with our enemies — rather, we are always engaged in a battle against ourselves. If there is anyone I can win against, it is myself.
I am still working on letting go how he and his partner made me feel, and it may take awhile yet — I never claimed to be a big person, only someone who attempts to be so. But as slow as the process is, I can feel myself slowly becoming more and more free of his judgment.