Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Dynamic Shift

As I've mentioned before, I often spend great portions of my time dissecting the ins and outs of the interpersonal chemistry and group dynamics of those around me. While my previous posts focused on questions of what forms the basis of such dynamics, my blog post the other day brought to mind an example of a dynamic in which I have observed a sizable shift in a positive direction. Gradually over the last couple of years, I have reached the point that time spent with PigPen and Cap'n Peanut leaves me feeling like part of a trio of good friends, and not just a third wheel tagalong.

It's not that I always felt like a third wheel when hanging out with them, but more often than not, if I was around the two of them for an extended period of time, I would eventually slip into that self-defeating, Outsider state of mind. There were several things which contributed to this, on both ends. On my end of things, there was my natural, neurotic Outsider tendencies, which are really always just a moment away from kicking into full gear in any social situation. But there were a number of factors in the PigPen/Peanut dynamic that exacerbated my neurosis. To start off with, PigPen and Peanut had been best friends for years and years before either one of them met me, breeding a bevy of inside jokes, commonalities, and shared experiences that can be daunting to a newcomer at the best of times, but even more so when you factor in the specifics of the duo's behavior.

For you see, much as the combination of PigPen and Cap'n Shack-Fu results in HyperTwin activity that dwarfs their usual hyper behavior, and the combination of Li'l Random and myself leads to Odd Squodd weirdness which sometimes makes our individual randomness seem logical, so does the combo of PigPen and Peanut result in a ratcheting up of their normal behavior to a sometimes intimidating degree. In their case, the amplified behavior is of the trash talking, insult/put-down humor variety. Once the two of them get on a roll, it's a sight to behold, as they feed of each other's energy and go all out to one-up each other; woe to any outsider who tries to get a shot in on one of them, for they are then hit with both barrels from the united pair.

Adding to the joy was the fact that my status as PigPen's perpetual whipping boy was also usually amped up. So, for example , if Peanut made a crack at my expense, PigPen would jump in and join in the attack; if I were to take a crack at Peanut, PigPen would retaliate on his behalf, even if my crack at Peanut had me taking PigPen's side; can't imagine how that could spark my Outsider complex, can you?

A brief aside: Since people tend to read much more bitterness and vitriol into these sort of posts than what I intend, let me take a moment to state for the record that as far as I'm concerned none of this was malicious or purposeful. PigPen was just trying to zing me like he always did day in and day out, just like I tried to zing him; once again, our friendship is based on mutual antagonism, and I am as guilty of starting crap with him as he is of starting crap with me. That being said, when Peanut got added into the mix, I couldn't help feeling like I was constantly being ganged up on and marginalized. I know that wasn't his intent, but it's how I perceived it, and over time I began to feel more and more like PigPen didn't want me around in general, and resented me impinging on his time with his best friend in specific.

So, what changed? A couple of things.

I think the first and most significant change was that Peanut and I became good friends. You see, even though Peanut and I had known each other for a while before I even met PigPen, let alone moved in with him, we were more passing acquaintances than friends. For the longest time, I thought he didn't like me for some reason; after I moved in with PigPen and got to hang out with Peanut more, I soon learned that what I had read as disdain and dislike was actually a variation of the same misunderstanding that occurred when I first met iamam and Rebel Monkey -- turns out that Peanut wasn't always comfortable when in a new group, and kept to himself until he got more acclimated. Sound like anyone else you know?

Anyway, over time Peanut and I got more chances to hang out one on one, and I gradually began to dismiss the thought that he only put up with me because I was rooming with his best friend, and started to accept that he considered me a friend in my own right. Once I made that mental shift, and began to believe that Peanut actually wanted me around and I wasn't just getting invited along out of pity, that third wheel mentality started to fade. But it wasn't quite vanquished, because I had only dealt with one part of the equation.

The other part of the equation, of course, was my growing paranoia that PigPen really didn't want me around. How did I confront this problem? By employing a radical solution: I talked to him about it. Using my patented Paranoia Resolution Formula, we each figured out where the other one was coming from, and moved on from there. Sadly, by the time I'd finally burned away all of my self-consciousness regarding my place in the group, it was only another month or so before they both moved to Lewisville, and my chances to see them vastly decreased. But at least now that I do get to see them, I can just relax and have a good time, and not question my place in the group.

Although I'd been cognizant of the shift in our mini-group dynamic on some level, it was the day after the evening of multiple buttkickings that I really started to reflect on how large a change there had been. Yeah, PigPen and Peanut still egg each other on to a crazy degree, and yeah, there are times when they gang up on me; but there are also times when Peanut and I gang up on PigPen, and there are times when it's every man for himself, and there are times when we're all united against someone or something else. I no longer let their long standing friendship trigger my Outsider complex; instead I just sit back and enjoy the moments when their long history manifests itself, and spend the rest of my time forging the bonds of the newer friendship I'm building with both of them now.

Amazing what can happen when I get out of my own way, isn't it?


Flunky lover said...

I think 3 is a very very difficult group dynamic. You've shown that with determination it can work. I would never have tried as hard as you did. Good for you for persevering.

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Occasionally, my stubbornness will work to my advantage . . . occasionally.

Honestly, I think I've just become so hyper-aware of my self-defeatist nature that I sometimes stick things out well past the point of no return just because I'm worried that anything less than that will be letting my neurotic tendencies claim victory.