The Shame of the Game


Am I the only one who feels terrible any time someone tells me I am a good person? Or guilty whenever I am praised for good work? Perhaps it is because I know something my complimenters don’t – the truth about what really goes on inside my head.

As a New Englander marinated in three solid centuries of Puritan stock, I have engrained in my DNA the need to be “of use”. I like to help, to listen, to be there for my friends whenever possible – as, I am sure, do most people. But that doesn’t mean I am not also a completely selfish bastard. If my inner monologue is any indication, I absolutely am.

One time, not too long ago, when I had hit a particularly rough patch with Cancer #3, I found myself in need of some serious girl talk (a mood that doesn’t strike me terribly often). Fortunately, I was already set to meet up with two different girlfriends that week, so things were looking up. Both of these were good friends, and I had certainly been there for them many times; I had no doubt they would return the favor and impart whatever wisdom or tough love I needed.

When it came time for the first get together, my friend opened with her distress at a recent argument with her fiancé and her resulting uncertainty about their impending nuptials. In the card game of girl talk, “possibly broken engagement” trumps “frustrating boyfriend” every time, so of course we spent the evening talking through her doubts and fears and options. Of course. But while I was a good friend on the outside, I was bitter Jan Brady on the inside. She gets to be engaged, planning a wedding, AND have the more serious problem this week? Why does she get to have everything? Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

My next shot at girl talk went even worse. This friend had a large family with a genetic predisposition to cancer and other ailments, so inevitably that week one of her relatives had finally succumbed to his or her long battle with illness. Which is awful, of course – exponentially worse than dealing with a commitment-phobic forty-something Eggplant – and also entirely out of her control. Of course we spent our time talking through her frustrations and sadness and all of the family dynamics that go along with planning a funeral. Of course I was there for her… but in my head I was also thinking, oh my god, I hate you, everyone you know dies all the time! When is it ever going to be time for MY problems?

In my head, I am an asshole. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad girl. I may pick up the phone and be cheerful, but in my head I hear the cursing because you called while I was in the middle of a crossword puzzle. Sure, I will go to your show / party / game, and even cheer you on, but in my head I hear the running calculation of whether or not I can still get home in time to read or watch Jon Stewart before bed. My text response will be pleasant and caring, but in my head I am pining for the days of the Pony Express.

This is my secret shame whenever anyone tells me I am a good friend. Or whenever I am commended for a job well done; sure, I am proud of my work product and I did finish by deadline, but I also know that I spent the first three-quarters of my time binge-watching seasons 1-3 of Leverage. I probably could have done better work, and finished early.

But I can’t admit to that; then I would be guilty of a humblebrag. Ugh. Life is impossible.