They say you haven’t really made it until you have haters.
So as of last Tuesday, I guess I made it.
That’s not to say I haven’t attracted some negativity or even controversy on this blog in the past couple years. I got blasted for packing jeans on my career break trip and someone seems determined to disprove everything I’ve written about my budget in Central Asia. And of course there was that time earlier this month when my post comparing the tourist experience in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan practically went viral in Azerbaijan and attracted a fair number of comments telling me how wrong I was.
But none of those were personal.
What happened on Tuesday was personal and I have to admit, it initially got to me.
It all started when I was taking a peak at my stats for the day. I saw several dozen hits from a website I had never heard of, which of course peaked my curiosity. So I checked it out. What I found was some sort of discussion forum for law students/lawyers where someone had started a new thread for the sole purpose of making fun of me and this blog. And people jumped on board.
They called me a shrew. They called me fat. They called me ugly. They made fun of me for being gluten free even though I have to be out of necessity, not by choice. They made fun of the fact that I run marathons and they speculated that I only traveled the world to have something to make my girlfriends jealous because I have nothing else they could be jealous of. Or that I traveled because I couldn’t find a man and was trying to do the Eat, Pray, Love thing. They made all sorts of assumptions without knowing me at all.
I was close to tears at first because it was all too familiar.
See, I grew up hearing a lot of that. Many of my memories of elementary school and junior high involve being teased relentlessly. I was chubby, I had acne, I had braces, I had frizzy hair. Add in that I was a straight A student with questionable social skills and I was the perfect target for bullies. I’m thankful that the internet didn’t really exist back then – it was bad enough dreading going to school every day and then coming home to deal with prank phone calls that didn’t stop until I took the phone off the hook. When you experience that year after year, it can eventually wear you down, but it can also serve as motivation.
They say it gets better as you get older but it’s not because it goes away. All too often those 11- and 12-year old bullies grow up to be twenty-something bullies and even forty-something bullies. I’ve experienced some level of bullying at just about every stage of my life, from the junior high classmates who teased me about my acne, to alleged friends who ended up stabbing me in the back, to the boss who made fun of me for being single. For a long time, I really let these things affect me. I can still remember crying on my way home from a bar after a guy told his friend to stop talking to me because I was ugly – and then wondering every time I went out in the following months whether every guy I talked to was really just thinking how ugly I was. As someone who has always been insecure about her looks, it haunted me.
But here’s the thing: over time, I’ve grown up and grown stronger. And that’s really all you can do. Not everyone is going to like you and that’s okay. Not every guy is going to find you attractive and that’s okay. Not everyone is going to understand the decisions you make in your life and the direction you decide to go and that’s also okay. And the people who go out of their way to be mean and cruel aren’t saying anything about you as a person; they’re making a statement about themselves. They’re projecting their own insecurities and trying to build themselves up at your expense. And the ones who do so on the internet, hidden behind the veil of anonymity? They’re not worth a minute of your time, much less your tears. It took me a long time to realize this and I think the sooner you realize it and really internalize it, the better.
I quickly got over last Tuesday’s incident, but not without venting about it on Facebook first. The response I got from my friends just affirmed everything I said above and some comments even brought me close to tears again, but for good reasons.
If anything, I now find it kind of amusing and almost flattering that someone would find the fact that I run marathons, avoid gluten and quit my job to travel is so incredibly offensive that he had to roast me on the internet about it.