On Being Teased and Made Fun of
On my first day of kindergarten, I remember mindlessly singing Under the Sea from the little mermaid and getting destroyed by my table mates about it. I cried, the teacher intervened, and eventually those boys became my best friends growing up. But a feature of our relationship was them teasing me incessantly.
And as I grew up, it kept happening. My cousins, slightly older than me, made fun of me to the point at which I’d dread them coming to visit and would also at once be excited. My friends in 7th grade made fun of my lack of athletic ability, though this was also the year I really discovered singing, which counteracted the depression over a lack of sportsmanship.
“This is what kids do,” my mom told me. “You have to have a thick skin. Act like you don’t care.”
But I did care. I was wrapped up in what people thought of me, how they perceived me, but most importantly, the messaging I got from adults in my life was that the burden was on me. That it was normal behavior to be ridiculed or ribbed, and I just had to accept it or accept having no friends instead.
“It’s how boys communicate,” a teacher once told me.
“Then I’m not a boy,” I told her.
“We make fun of each other,” friends would say. “It’s not just you.”
And sure, I’d watch them rib each other. But it wasn’t the same with me, I didn’t rib anyone back. There was an imbalance in our communication. It just wasn’t my style.
I tried it once. Spent a year or two intentionally making fun of others to see if somehow my new behavior would allow me to finally fit in to relationships that I’d felt had always left me out.
It didn’t work. Or I didn’t do it right. It came off as inauthentic. Because it was. So I stopped.
And on it went.
“Just giving you a hard time,” a friend told me when I got upset at a particular comment he made.
“But as my friend, wouldn’t you want to be giving me an easier time? It’s hard enough as it is with the people I don’t know.”
I’ve realized a couple things over the years.
It’s perfectly okay to let go of friends who tease if I’m not into that. They may not have malicious intentions, but that’s irrelevant – it’s an aggressive communication style and it just doesn’t work with my communication style. For all the good times we have, it isn’t worth the constant feeling of vulnerability. The weight of the imbalance is too taxing.
Also, it isn’t necessary. I have plenty of friends who don’t do it, that I love being with. These are people who like who I am, and when I’m around them, I can truly be myself. And to be clear, some of these folks do “rib” me on occasion and vice versa. But it’s rooted in an otherwise trusting and mutually loving friendship, so it feels less like I’m a joke and more like we are joking together about our quirks.
It’s those who choose to be vulnerable around me that get the privilege of pointing out the humor in my quirks. Because they love them and find them fascinating, and vice versa. And surely there are those who love and make fun of my quirks but refuse to be vulnerable around me themselves, and I don’t have much tolerance for that. It’s unfair, inequitable, unbalanced.
And that’s what it comes down to, and what will drive my social decisions going forward. If I can’t be my true self around a person without being ridiculed, even lightly, we are not a good match. If the other person can’t be themselves around me, if they are constantly hiding under a cloak that they’ve woven to protect themselves and still insist on coming after me and my weird qualities, then I’ve decided I have no room in my life for that.
This is not a mantra for everyone. Some people do just fine in relationships like these. But they don’t enrich my life. They drain me.
And so I’m through with them.