March 21, 2013

Another Appetizer Report and Some Hand-Wringing About Socializing in Groups

I tried another of the appetizer recipes for a get-together and I am ready to make a report! This time I tried Emily's party bread, which a friend of hers posted about here. It's a loaf of Italian bread, cut into cubes that don't break through the bottom crust (so that it all still stays together), stuffed with a pound of cheese, drizzled with a stick of butter, seasoned with garlic, and decorated with poppy seeds (I also used parsley flakes for additional visual appeal). Then you bake it.

I was worried because the party was 15 minutes away; I could have done the second heat-up at her house, but I felt nervous about that and preferred not to, so I took the bread directly from the oven, put it into a bag, and ran from the house. It was just fine for the party: not piping hot, but still plenty warm. If I keep going to these get-togethers, I might buy some sort of insulated transportation bag.

Next time I'll bake it longer: the cheese in the middle hadn't melted. But the edges were great. People kept going back and picking at it more. There were about seven of us there, I think, and we ate about half the loaf---and that was with six other appetizers to choose from. It seems like it would be a nice flexible recipe that could handle a bunch of different kinds of seasonings. I've added the recipe to my recipe box.

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Okay, so what I really want to talk about is that these get-togethers are getting me all agitated, and I don't know if it's good or bad. It's really hard to tell the difference between "Getting outside your comfort zone! good for emotional stretching and growth! relationship/community-building! change of pace! social needs! wheeeee!" and "This is not a good fit for me, and is resulting in distress and agitation instead of the good things that might be experienced by a different person."

And sometimes in a situation there might be the additional issue of telling the difference between "Not everyone is going to get along with everyone, and one of the benefits of a group is that it's good for us to have experience dealing with people we wouldn't have chosen and/or people who have different views on a subject" and "Yes, and that can be true of dealing with the rest of the people in the group because they also have upsides, but this particular person is a humorless, strident, pushy, aggressive, oblivious ASS, and contact with her should be severely limited, and she ruins the entire event so maybe these alleged group benefits should be experienced with a DIFFERENT GROUP."

...Okay, just typing that out was a big help. I think I will continue to get all RILED: it's not only a matter of there being one person I find challenging, it's even MORE an issue of general overstimulation (TONS OF PEOPLE! TONS OF TOPICS!), plus all the usual party issues of "Did I talk too much/little, was I boring, did I say something I shouldn't have, did I keep killing the conversation, was I too quiet/loud?" But overall, and for now, I want to keep going anyway.

Plus there's this issue: if she's so awful, why is she still in the group? Maybe I'm the only one who finds her insufferable. Maybe everyone else finds her sufferable.

And even with the insuffering, the good outweighs the bad. Just for starters, these are the moms of kids in Rob's grade. EXCELLENT INSIDER INFO AND NOTE-COMPARING. And also I do like THEM. And perhaps I will learn some tips on how to deal with the particular sort of person I mentioned, since there seems to be no world shortage.

I also noticed two other things that lead me to wonder if a Difficult Person can actually enhance a group:

1. You know that thing about friendships being based on shared dislikes? Another guest and I made a huge leap in friendship over one single "o.O" facial expression.

2. I noticed that the one strident person's strident views seemed to make everyone else more open to the concept of assorted views. Like, a conversation might be getting a little intense and divided---but then Stridentella lets loose with her views, and suddenly everyone else is saying things like "Well, different choices make sense for different families." It's like she shows us a caricature of how our own views were shaping up, and that makes us all want to back away from that.

25 comments:

MonkeyBusiness said...

So this might not be the classiest way to keep food warm, but I always take things straight out of the oven and wrap in the biggest fluffliest beach towel we have. One time when I did this, we were having a friendsgiving dinner and I brought sweet potatoes - we had problems with the turkey and didn't eat until four hours after I'd left the house. And the stuff was STILL hot. I swear, it was ridiculous. NONE of my insulated travel carriers work that well. So nix the travel carrier, go beach towel all the way.

d e v a n said...

There always seems to be at least one insufferable one in each little group. I often find friends based on who can't stand the same people I can't stand. Sounds bad... but true.

Karen said...

I'm with Monkey business. The "wrap your hot stuff in towels" technique has been used by generations of my family, and (though it's not super classy) it's totally effective.

Joanne said...

It's so true about the one strident one! I belong to an online/in person stay at home mothers group and there is one woman who everyone, across the board, despises but there she remains and over the years I have come to appreciate things about her. Her oldest, and only son, is on the autism spectrum and so's mine, so we have that in common. Also, she is a former computer programmer and in a LOT of cases, people who become computer programmers don't do so because they are so great with people. I KNOW that is a generalization but it's one I've formed over years of working in IT. Anyway, we break off and do stuff without her sometimes and sometimes SHE breaks off and does stuff without us and it works out okay. She is probably sick of us, too, ha! In my experience, there is a natural progression of The Strident One and usually they move on to bray in greener pastures or something. It takes a while to get a groove going, but it's worth it, to me.

Stimey said...

My husband and my marriage is based almost entirely on common enemies.

I think this is a tremendously interesting topic (the social part, although I was interested in the appetizer part as well) and I love reading your points of view on it. I can relate a lot.

Tracy said...

Stridentella! LOLOL - Snort!

MomQueenBee said...

Please, please, please do an entire post on Stidentella. I'm in a study group that until recently was cozy and warm and wonderful and we had far-ranging discussions that made me open my eyes and mind. Then our local Stridentella joined and holy cow, every time she opens her mouth it kills the conversation. Kills it dead, right in its tracks, and we have to completely re-stoke the boiler before the train can move again. She knows she has this effect so sitting down with her and saying "Hon, you talk too much" would have any effect. It's not like we're a pack of Oprahs who are so fascinating ourselves, but what IS that utter lack of perception of how your contributions to the conversation do or do not move it along?

Misty said...

Stridentella! Sounds like a hybrid of Stridex pads and nutella...which isn't all that good either.

I think I will try out the yummy bread recipe!

H said...

I live in the land of potatoes so baked potatoes with toppings are often featured at fundraisers and other events. The trick, I'm told, is to wrap hot food in a thick-ish towel and then put it in a cooler. It keeps the food warm but prevents it from melting the cooler, which HAS happened!

I'm part of a group that started as a mom-group but now that our kids are out of the house, we're more of an older-ladies-who-like-to-talk group. (We're JUNIORS!) One woman's personality has evolved and has become problematic. We've been meeting monthly for about 20 years and never spoke about each other TO one another, but this woman has changed that. She's not HORRIBLE but she's difficult. We've gotten to the point that we help each other out when things start to derail.

Lawyerish said...

I have definitely found that almost every group ends up having one Stridentella (or Debbie Downer or Smartypants or One-Upper, or what have you), and I do think it ends up galvanizing the rest of the group. So despite her unpleasantness, she's actually doing her part to make you closer to the others (you're probably going to have a long and lovely friendship with your fellow o_O face mom!).

I think one of the reasons that groups keep the Unpleasant Person around (usually without talking about it) is that it makes everyone feel more secure to know that you're not the kind of group that ousts one member. You know what I mean? Like if everyone secretly met and kicked Stridentella out, you'd each be wondering if you would be next. So by tolerating her, the group is showing its tolerance for everyone.

el-e-e said...

Oh, YES, I have been in that group, with THAT person. It's fun to find the ones who are willing to share the o.O with you. I LOL'd at that sentence!

You're wise; keep going. I bet eventually Stridentella will cease to be invited. Groups sometimes downsize themselves, I find.

Swistle said...

Lawyerish- This comes to me as if bathed in the golden light of revelation. YES. I think you are RIGHT.

Robin said...

I second MomQueenBee! I would love to hear more about this group, your interaction, and specifically Stridentella. Specifically to help address my ongoing nightmare: how do I know I'm not the awful one?! God, it keeps me up at night.

Hope T. said...

These posts are so interesting to read. I'm an extreme introvert and shy to boot but I don't have trouble in groups that are organized around a discrete topic. What is the organization of your group? Is it a neighborhood get together or a school get together or a meetup for people who want to try out new recipes? I miss being in a group (parenting, book discussion, etc.) but a loose social get together with a large number of people would terrify me. I think you're brave to keep pushing yourself to go until you find out definitively whether or not it is a net gain or loss.

Swistle said...

Hope T.- We are "mothers of kids in the same grade"---sort of. More accurately, we're probably "the friends of Annemarie": she wanted to get together once a month with a bunch of women, so she invited a bunch of us from various circles, which turned out to be all people she knew because of her child. So some of us have known each other since our 14-year-olds were in preschool, and others are more recent.

Jenny said...

The difficult person in my group of friends has many stellar personal qualities -- she is intensely loyal, very generous, etc -- but is so oblivious, unpleasant, negative, and downright toxic in other ways that I have had to cut down on seeing her to group interactions only. I can't take it one-on-one, for my own mental health; I would go over and over our conversations afterward, trying to see how I could have done it better, or coming up with more effective answers to her long shrill monologues. It wasn't working. Group situations are better, because I can move away and talk to someone else.

Maureen said...

Another great topic, Swistle!

Robin-if it is keeping you up nights worrying about being the awful one, I can assure you-you aren't!! I'm afraid the awful ones probably think they are the cat's meow, and don't give a second thought to how they might be coming across in a group.

Swistle said...

Robin- WE ARE TWINS. I even wrote that the first time, and then deleted it because ACK. Yes. If SHE doesn't know, maybe _I_ don't know!! What if everyone is wishing I would stop showing up?? Aiiiiieeeeee!

snoozical said...

Well, I suppose this is a bad reflection on me, but some of my most galvanizing moments with my dear friends have been the shared WTF look as a Stridentella babbles on cluelessly. I'm giggling, remembering a few.

Gigi said...

I have a feeling you and I would bond quickly in those types of situations.

I'm convinced the insufferable among us have NO clue about just how insufferable they are.

Sarah said...

OK... you know Girl Scout Mom that I wrote to in my most recent post? She's a Stridentella. To the point that every single person I know, who also knows her, has at some point burst out to me in a moment of frantic pent up frustration, that she has got to be the most annoying person they ever met. She herself seems completely oblivious to it. BUT her intense and excruciating presence makes all of US very aware of and more thoughtful, I think, about our own behavior and comments, so in the end perhaps it is beneficial to have such a person around!

Robin said...

Aw Swis, love ya and wish I could 'like' your comment :)

Elizabeth said...

I too am terrified that I am the awful person at the gatherings, now! And THEN because that's enough, then I castigate for being so self centered that I have to go and make EVERYTHING about me. I figure though, I always bring good snacks, so that has to count for at least something.

Lauren said...

S,

Been a sometime lurker, and now decided to comment. My BFF reads you daily and she and i often use your posts as a diving-off point from which we discuss "our" world-at-large.

I have a blog (http//thoughtfeast.com) which you may like or may find really really kind of dumb and a little "too, too," but i thought i'd throw it out there.

Regardless, i think you are a "just-right" writer, who hits the mark effortlessly every. single.time. I really admire your knack for saying "it."

For what it's worth, you are not alone. Additionally, thank you so much for letting us all know that we are not alone, either. We all lay awake at night, listening to our husbands breathe in, breathe out, as we mentally review each and every "witicism" we offered in a group conversation that upon further over-analysis, may have actually missed the mark by so much that we now fear we are the weird-o of the group.

Hell, who cares what anyone else thinks. Life is short -- just seek to find the humor in it all, and then transcribe it onto your blog for the benefit of others.

You are awesome. Keep writing....I'll keep reading.

L

Emily said...

I'm glad you like the bread! It's absolutely the kind of recipe you can change to your own tastes (that's how it came into being anyway).

When I have to take it somewhere, I do all the baking except the last 10-15 minutes needed for cheese browning at home, keep it in the foil and wrap it in a towel, and finish the baking when I get to my destination. It's sort of expected that I'll be bringing bread, so it's not weird for me to ask to use the oven, but I'm guessing no one who hosts these get togethers will mind if you need to use her oven.