Friday, October 26, 2012
"Go On": An Introvert's Nightmare
I've been watching the Matthew Perry sitcom Go On over the last couple months, but I think I'm pretty much done with it. It's pretty funny - certainly enough for me to keep watching it - but I have now seen two episode that seriously angered me in how they portray the relationships of everyone involved.
The basic premise of the show is that Perry plays the host of a sports radio show whose wife has recently passed away. He ends up going to a support group for those who have lost loved ones. The support group is full of very... quirky people, to say the least, and led by a woman who really has no qualifications to lead a group of this many people with possible psychiatric disorders in anything. The characters are entertaining and generally well-intentioned, and it's clearly meant to be a "tough guy opens up his heart to lovable eccentrics" story. Occasionally I think it's trying to be a less funny, more trying-to-be-heartwarming version of Community.
However, Go On much more strongly perpetrates two horrific myths that, as an introvert, I believed for a long time.
1. Friendship with everyone in a community is obligatory.
A few episodes ago, Perry's character revealed that he did not actually consider the people from the support group friends. He had no desire to hang out with them outside of the group. They took it very personally, which I understand - it hurts finding out that someone you think you're friends with doesn't consider you a friend. However, they then decide that it is mandatory and essential that he make up for not considering them friends by... making them his friends. They demand that he spend outside time with them to get closer to them and, in the end, they even guilt him into letting each one of them drive his expensive new car, EVEN THE BLIND GUY, because they found his non-friendship so offensive.
Let's set this straight right now.
He can choose his own friends.
He is under no obligation to be friends with anyone he does not want as friends.
He can make friends at his own pace.
He reserves the right to back off without judgment and forced interaction if he feels uncomfortable with the level of the friendship.
Nobody can claim someone's friendship as a right or an obligation. There are many people I have worked closely with for years, have shared many of the basic pleasantries associated with friendship, but for whatever reason I just never feel all that comfortable around them. So I don't count them as my friend.
I'm allowed to do that.
As much as it sucks when someone you want to be friends with doesn't want to be friends with you, what you do is let it go. You accept that they've made their decision, and you don't retaliate, or pout, or decide you're going to force your way into their lives.
Do people do all those things? Of course, they do. Is it charming and healthy and heartwarming when they do? NO. No, it is not.
(Incidentally, as I said in my posts about church earlier this month, this is why I have a bit of an issue with church. Church is a forced community and implies that a good person will find friendship in that group. If I don't, or if I don't try, people end up assuming I am not open to fellowship with other believers. It's not true. I just like exercising the right to choose my own friends.)
2. Once friendship is established, boundaries are no longer necessary.
Nearly every episode features some major transgression of boundaries done in the name of friendship, portrayed as something fair and just, something that all good people would agree to. These boundary transgressions include such things as invading people's house in the middle of the night (this has happened twice - once, when they broke in, they forced him to eat him until he got sick and no longer wanted junk food), stalking people, coercing someone's longterm boyfriend to share embarrassing details about them, and forcing everyone to talk about all things private when they have no obligation to and clearly don't want to do so.
The majority of these moments happen at the heartwarming climax of the show.
Except the problem here is that it is not heartwarming because NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE OK AND THEY ARE ALL TERRIBLE FRIENDS.
I don't care if you think you're helping people, crazy therapy group. You are not allowed to decide what is best for anyone but yourself, much less to take it into your own hands to fix them against their will. The fact that he seems to begrudgingly accept this as part of the deal does not make it any less awful.
Friendship does not mean you own the rights to that person's life now. It really doesn't. They can make their own decisions, and you have to honor them. Just because you are friends with them doesn't mean you have any more right to control them. If you are about to do some big gesture that you think will fix everything, and you have a feeling they would object to it if they found out about it ahead of time, then DON'T YOU DARE just go ahead and do it. None of these "easier to ask forgiveness than permission" nonsense. I will tell you right now, if anyone tried to do to me ANY of the things they do to this guy, I would not feel loved. I would not feel safe. I would feel claustrophobic, paranoid, and unsafe, knowing that at any moment, any of my so-called "friends" felt they were allowed to show up and manipulate my life to their own satisfaction.
My friends are aware of my boundaries. They are aware of my desire for privacy. And they respect that. If they didn't, I would no longer be able to consider them friends.
Do you know how horrifying life would be if these two myths were true?
It would mean that anybody, ANYBODY had a right to control my life and tell me what I can and cannot do, as long as they claim friendship. Since I cannot reject friendship and, once we are friends, I cannot reject any of their intrusions on my life, I no longer really have any say in my own life. If my friends like, they can intervene as much as they want.
Now although this may sound like an attractive idea to some people, to me it sounds horrible and awful and if you think I'm antisocial now...
It is a little sad to me that a show focusing on the psychology of healing so deliberately ignores any kind of positive social interaction rules, focusing instead on the "goodness" of invading other's personal lives because of course you know what they need better than they do.
I can't see that group as charming and well-intentioned. I have been on the receiving end of unwanted friendship initiations, and it doesn't matter how well-intentioned it is. Crossed boundaries are crossed boundaries, and privacy is something people are allowed to have, and, except for a very, very few dire circumstances, ignoring that does not make you a good friend. It makes you a creep.
And that is why I'm probably done with that show.