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Sunday, November 25, 2007


My freshman year of college, I was friends with a senior named H. He was 23, meandering through school as a performance artist. He still needed many more credits to graduate. The last of his friends in his year graduated at the end of my freshman year and he returned the next fall when I was a sophomore to complete his final credits.

At first, everything was like it was the year before. And then one night in October, after the movie we rented was over, he looked at me and said, "I can't hang out with you anymore. It's nothing you're doing, but everything comes so easily for you and it makes me feel like shit when I see how hard I work and I don't achieve the same things."

And believe it or not, this post is not a musing on the parallel between H's earnest parting and the same thoughts I've had about overly fertile friends.

I didn't think I achieved things easily, but in retrospect, it doesn't really matter what was the truth and what was perception. H was entitled to his need to cut me from his life. I didn't take it well at the time. I spent a great deal of the week crying because I really missed having him in my life. But it was college and when one person slips away, another person usually slips in. I never forgot him but, for whatever reason, it didn't affect me tremendously.

At the beginning of my senior year, a mutual friend was getting married. I was sharing a car with my boys--that circle of friends that included H that I spent all of my time with during my freshman year--as we drove across the state to get to the wedding. Though I achieved a lot in my freshman year, the awards and accolades had sort of petered out over the next two years. I had been accepted two years early into my department--the youngest member--and I won a prestigious award my freshman year. But since then, I had not only been eclipsed achievement-wise by most of my classmates, but I was emotionally lost. I didn't understand how I worked so hard and my hard work wasn't recognized. I wasn't certain that I was going to get into graduate school and I didn't know what I was going to do after May. I had come off of a terrible junior year and a hard summer and I didn't really want to go to the wedding at all. But I got in the car and smiled broadly at my boys because it was easier than explaining why I didn't really want to see all of them much less drive across the state with them.

At the wheel was the only one I had remained close with throughout the first three years at college. Beside me on the back seat was R, a peripheral friend at best by that point. And H took the front seat, turning around to chat with R while I stared out the window. Finally, H turned to me and said, "I heard that things haven't been so great."

I shrugged my shoulders while R agreed with him, "she's not the little golden girl anymore."

At that moment, we passed by a sign for the Old Grey Horse, a bed and breakfast between our college and the wedding site. H turned to the rest of the car and he said, "Mel, she's that old grey horse who ain't what she used to be."

And I never forgot those words.

It really hasn't mattered what I've done since he has said that. It has always been in the back of my head and you better believe it came out to play when we were doing treatments the first time. I'm the horse who showed so much promise when we started trying after the wedding and years later, with my feet in the stirrups, I had turned into the mare in that dirge of a song. Not what she used to be. Plodding towards the same goal with a heavy heart. Feeling left behind.

I mean, I'm not. It's really ridiculous. A person cannot have momentous events happen on a daily basis. Now, looking back at college, it doesn't really matter that I didn't gather all the departmental awards for my sophomore and junior year. The perception that I was falling behind and not being the shining star that I was during my freshman year was just that--a shift of perception. The reality is that I wasn't a shining star my freshman year, except in my own mind and the reality is that I wasn't an old grey horse at the beginning of my senior year, except in my own mind. We think people spend a lot of time thinking about us when the reality is that I was neither the golden girl or the grey horse. I was simply one more student matriculating through the department.

What H said was not so outwardly terrible. It's not as if he turned to the car and yelled, "you're an idiot and a bitch and we're all thrilled that things didn't go smoothly for you after freshman year." What he said, based on both context and phrasing, was a snide remark, meant to be a small dig on my self-esteem. Bring me down a notch since he still saw me as someone higher up than him in the luck department.

And H probably stated his own insecurity when he said that line in the car. He probably saw himself as the old grey horse, now 26-years-old and still living in our college town. He was probably still jealous and still had the same skewed perception that had divided us two years earlier. I'm sure, if I wrote him today and told him this story, he would never remember saying those words in the car. They were something he flipped out of his mouth, a joke at my expense tying in the passing landscape. But for whatever reason, they are still words that come back through my head. They were the muzak playing through my head when I made my December appointment back at the clinic. Yes, I'm returning. Yes, I still can't conceive on my own. No, I don't seem to be ovulating anymore. Thank you for fitting me into the RE's busy schedule.

We never know what will stick in someone's head forever. Senior year was twelve years ago and I still feel like I'm in that car, fighting back tears. He probably didn't remember the words five minutes after he said them, but they shaped my night, they shaped my year, they shaped how I feel when I sit on the other end of the line with the clinic.

And knowing something with your head doesn't mean that you necessarily know it with your heart.

I have anonymous comments on my blog because we talk about something that is pretty sensitive. Infertility means talking about sex and hoohaahooteruses and soft core porn in the shwanking cubicles. It means talking about marriage and friendships. Sometimes, a person needs to get something off their chest--something that is only meaningful to them and not hurtful to another person--and they want to say it without their name attached to it in this googlable universe. Which is why I have anonymous comments on my blog--for those occasions.

I have been lucky that I haven't received many anonymous comments that have been hurtful and I hope this post isn't the tipping point where I see a bunch of hate mail each time I open my inbox. But I'm always surprised when I see an anonymous comment on someone's blog that is just that--the words that are meant to cut, the words that are meant to burn. The words we say when we're angry and bitter and we want the other person to feel shitty too. They're not always in the outwardly obvious, "you're an idiot and a bitch" vein, but they're sometimes words that we flip off our fingers: words that state judgment or are meant to bring down someone we see as luckier than ourselves or dismiss another person's emotions.

I think the fact that the person leaves the comment anonymously means that they know that what they're saying is potentially hurtful and probably wrong. I have a similar feeling when someone writes something hateful on a blog and stands beside their words, but that's a different post. This one is about the hand grenades that are thrown into another person's comment box.

Why am I writing this now? Because I saw one this weekend and it bothered me. Because it's the holiday season and emotions run high. Because we get tired and sloppy and leave a comment without thinking about how the other person might feel when they read it. I don't mean for this post to sound preachy. I am certain that something I have said before has hurt another blogger--I'm certain that I'm guilty, like H, of speaking without thinking. I even apologized for it at Yom Kippur a few weeks ago.

But please think before you hit send. The blogosphere has such potential to be the friend that you don't necessarily have down the street, but only if we engage in the same courtesies we use when we engage face-to-face. I know that will bring out the comment that people are hateful face-to-face, but I think you know what I mean. Think about how the other person will perceive your words and think about what you are trying to accomplish with your comment. If the words are harsh, are they necessary? What would happen if you walked away from a post that annoyed you without leaving a comment behind?

It's hard to see a comment that you know will be taken badly. It's hard to hear from the receiver how it affected their day. It makes you wonder if it will become their old grey horse, still plodding after them twelve years down the line.

It doesn't matter if there is also a function that can delete those comments; erase them from the blogosphere as if they never existed. The receiver still knows the words that were once out there. Write carefully.

Okay, stepping off my soapbox. I just felt terrible after I read the comment. It wasn't the first one I read this month. Making sure that everyone feels welcome and valued in the community is important to me.

Edited to add: I am speaking specifically about anonymous comments. I just can't give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn't mean the words to be hurtful. At least if there is a name and blog attached to the comment, there is a way to respond and have a conversation. Anonymous comments seem to give people the sensation that they can say things that wouldn't be appropriate if they were to be standing in front of the person.


Holly said...

Mel, I know what you mean. I think it's terrible that some people feel like it's okay to lash out at other people because they are angry or bitter. Whenever I leave comments, I make sure I read over them several times to ensure that my words are conveying what I truly mean and could not be taken in a hurtful manner. I would feel awful if I ever left a comment that could be construed as mean or hurtful. And if I'm unsure of how it will be taken - I just don't leave a comment!

I know there are some people who just don't think when they leave certain comments, and it's an 'oops' factor afterwards, which is why it's so important to put yourself in the receiving person's shoes when leaving a comment. But it's the people who intentionally leave mean or hurtful comments that I just do not understand - what do they feel like they are gaining? I guess maybe they are so angry that they think it will make them feel better by lashing out at innocent bystanders. It's truly sad when I see that happen.

christina(apronstrings) said...

you're right about people's comments really being projections of what they feel about themselves,or created by anger within them. just one big projection onto you.
too bad that doesn't make it feel better.
i changed my blog to force commenters to leave at least some name. i didn't want to do that, but i also didn't want crazy types to give their two on subjects they know nothing about.
what would we doo without angry morons?

Jen said...

I've yet to get a comment on my site that has been hurtful. I am very thankful for that. (However, not many people read me yet and I really don't get many comments!) I have gotten comments that confused me (what does this have to do with what I wrote? Did they even read it?).

I have read a few posts that I have disagreed with on a deep level. In that case, I do not leave a comment. The people with these views are entitled to their own opinion. There is one blog that I stopped reading completely because I always disagreed with the writer. But I have tried hard never to leave a comment that is hurtful or even slightly so. No one needs that. I read through my comments before I hit publish, making sure that it sounds like I mean it to sound. If the humor/kidding isn't completely obvious, I erase it. I have probably deleted some comments that would have made people smile but I didn't want to run the risk of making them cry.

Lori said...

There is so much in this post.

But the part that speaks to me the most is that tape of H that has been looping through ever since that day in the car.

Logically, you KNOW you should dismiss it because, hey, consider the source.

But emotionally, it has defined you. It has calcified itself into your psyche. It influences how you act and react to it, how you feel about yourself.

I have loops too. What shall we do?

Kristen said...

I've had one or two hurtful anonymous comments on my blog. I'm not sure if they intended for it to be that way or not - but the fact that they leave me no recourse to facilitate conversation is what gets me. If they took the time to write and feel so strongly about an issue, why hide behind a facade? I would have more respect for someone if they wouldn't hide their identity and would own up to their feelings and emotions.

And, for the record, I do not see you as an old gray horse. It is definitely a perception and unfortunately, we can change our perceptions of ourselves based on what other people say and do to us. No matter how wrong they might be. I wish I were stronger and could see those comments for what they really are - worthless.


Geohde said...


I saw a comment that really bothered me, posted anonymously, on the blog of a weiter who's been through a terrible loss, hammering her (albeit not with rude words or anything) about her choice of the word birthmother. Whether the commenter is right or not was ittelevent, it was inapproapriate to sound off in the way she did. Especially without giving anybody right ot reply to HER.

I didn't want to start a b!tchfight on anothers' blog, I don't believe that ever helps, so I post my comment below and ignored it.

But it bothered me.

And Ann, if you are reading this, I would have emailed you, but there's not an addy published on your site.


Geohde said...

replace weiter with writer, ittelevent with irrelevent etc. Butterfingers here....

Celeste said...

not much to say except that you're my hero. love what you said. love how you said it.


Fertilize Me said...

excellent points! very true

sky girl said...

Well said.

loribeth said...

I'm sorry you received a hurtful comment on your blog. I'm a very new blogger & I have yet to receive a nasty comment (although I did receive one that made me go, "huh??").

I remember shortly after the loss of my daughter, while I was on leave, a friend/former coworker called me at home -- she had tried calling me at the office & found me unreachable. I told her flatly that I had lost the baby. She said, "Oh!" & then started babbling. And made a comment that has rankled in my memory ever since then. I know what she said was one of those unthinking comments that people make when they are caught offguard & feel like they have to say SOMETHING to fill the silence -- but I have never quite forgiven her & have never felt the same about her since then (& our relationship has waned as a result).

She said, "Well, you know, you've had a pretty easy life so far." In some ways, she was right, and I knew what she was getting at -- into every life some rain must fall, we all have our crosses to bear, bad things happen to good people & nobody knows why, etc. But all I could think was that her life hadn't been going great lately -- husband left her, rebellious teenaged daughter, etc. etc. -- & I detected just a hint of satisfaction that mine wasn't going great now either. I had always tried to be supportive of her, and THIS was how she was trying to support me in return??

From Here To Maternity said...

I've read a blogs usually of women who just got pregnant and there something they said just irritated me. I'm chosen to be irritated and say nothing. I mean really, who am I, just one opinion coloured by my sometimes crappy experience.

decemberbaby said...

Well spoken, Mel. Well spoken.

chicklet said...

I'm with you on it. I've only had one anonymous that was hurtful, but it was from some psycho who left an 8 page rant about the world. So I was lucky in that it turned out not to be about me, so less hurtful. I don't get how people can do that. At all.

Amanda said...

It's always been a mystery to me why people feel the need to say hurtful things to other people. It's never made me feel better, how does it make them feel better?

I see the desire/need to leave anon comments in certain situations. But when you're leaving hateful comments anon...that's just cowardice. Put your big girl panties on and leave your name!

Well said!

Road Blocks and Roller Coasters said...

Well said! I couldn't agree with you more. People need to stand by their words and be honest and clear about who they are. I don't disable anonymous comments for the same reason as you, but I know the potential for intentional cruelty is out there. And as people dealing with IF intentional cruelty is last thing we need.

megan said...

I agree with you a 100% I think sometime people forget bloggers are real people with real feelings. I hate when people hide behind the anon title.

Michell said...

Well said and I agree with you completely. I don't think I've had any negative comments on my blog but I've seen them on other peoples blogs and frequently on a chat board I used to go to frequently. I guess I believe in the thought of if you don't have something nice to say don't say anything. There are those whose views I don't agree with and I don't usually comment to it. If it's a blog that I find truly offensive, I just don't go back to the blog. I try to not say hurtful things to others and apologize if I do. I know that sometimes it's unavoidable but with comments on blogs, it should be clear that if you can't post with your own name, you probably shouldn't post at all.

Isabel said...

I don't get why people 'troll'. You are right, H was basically saying "I am insecure" when he made that comment. I'm sorry it struck you like that. I hope the trolls stay away from your site!

Flicka said...

"She's not the little golden girl anymore" and "Mel is the old gray mare who ain't what she used to be?" Wow, that is *mean.* I understand not achieving the way you want to but saying that to someone who's a supposed friend? I'm surprised you didn't climb out of the car then and there.

Ditto for anonymous comments that are meant to hurt. What's the purpose there? How does it help? If I can't answer those to questions, I don't leave a comment, no matter how I feel.

Samantha said...

I don't know if your undergrad department was creative writing, but I know from my experience in music that the creative arts can bring out a lot of competition in people, because there's so few jobs, and your work becomes so public. Even while we all supported each other, there could be a subtle undercurrent of competition. I'm lucky in some sense that I never really stood out, so I didn't leave myself open for jabs. H's comments were pretty cruel, even though he may have meant them in a flip manner. It takes a thick skin to be able to brush off being called an old has-been, especially when you haven't even graduated college! I'm sorry you had to deal with it.

I'm lucky that I also haven't had any cruel comments on my blog (other than a couple of bizarre spammy comments). It can be tempting for some people to forget that there's a person on the other side of a web page, but as a community we need to support each other.

Tracy said...

I totally agree. I think it's chicken shit, quite frankly. If you have an opinion, have the guts to stand by that opinion.

Note that I left a relatively inflamatory comment here, but my name is associated with it. ;)

deanna said...

H's comment doesn't deserve a spot in your memory. I know it's easier said than done, but if ever anyone's tape needed to be erased, it's that one. And, why is it always the hurtful things peopel say that linger, while the compliments we get always fade?

Ready2BAMommy said...

Hope this isn't one of those comments that is hurtful because it is not intended to be.

I think the "Old gray mare" isn't was she used to be - she better. She's more mature, wiser, and has lived through more than her younger counterparts.

Words said anonymously are words without conviction. If you truly feel strongly about something, than you should have the courage to let others know what you said.

Words that do not educate, lift others up - just like H's & anonymous criticisms- are worthless and should be forgotten.

Baby Step said...

This was a great post, very well written. I hope that your anonymous commenter read it and learned something.

Ann said...

Hey there Mel,
You may or may not know this (I don't know which comment you were referring to in your post), but I received a rather startling anonymous comment this weekend. I wouldn't call it cruel, but it was definitely a bitch-slap.

You're right, I don't like that the commenter left no way for me to respond. However, her comment did cause me to think, which I'm sure was her intention. That's the good part. The bad part is, it reminded me of parading anti-war scenes at a soldier's funeral. Not the time or place, you know?

I have learned many, many things in the past few weeks. I guess chief among those things is that everybody views the world differently, and just because I've gone through loss and suffering doesn't mean I don't offend and hurt other people in my own way.

However, I don't do so anonymously. :)

Anonymous said...

Mel, you are one wise woman. I'm sorry if you got flamed. It hurts, I'm sure. I know it hurts in real life.

You know what I did early on in my blog-commenting career? I hurt someone's feelings. Really hurt them. And I knew I was being b!tchy while I typed.

I got wrapped up in the writer's style of angry, snarky, profane ranting and responded in kind. What a dumb mistake, especially since that's one of the great benefits of the blogosphere... being able to write out your anger/snark/profanity/rants on your blog, process those feelings, and then go on to function 'normally' around the people who count on you.

The dumbest part of the mistake? I took the writer in context of her most recent posts... not her overall blog-self. As I thought about it, I realized how much she and I have in common. And I felt like such an @ss. Still do.

I emailed her with my real name and email address, apologizing for the hurt I'd caused, but I bet my comment still bugs her every now and then. It still bugs me.

I hope other would-be snarkers learn from my sad mistake. And Charlotte, I'm still sorry.


gold star said...

you brilliant gemini, you. so glad you posted this. I got my first judgy-judgerson anonymous comment recently, and I just deleted it, because it made me sad and I thought: i can make that go away. So I did.

Carole said...

This is so well said...and so thoughtful.

I agree with what Celeste are my hero.