My roommate “Dee” had been telling all of us about this cool, interesting new girl “Marla” who just got hired at her work. The first time Marla came over to the house, the three of us were drinking and having a fun time playing horseshoes in the backyard. But when Dee ran inside the house for something, Marla took the opportunity to tell me how much she enjoyed “The Kings Speech” and that she really understood the challenges I face everyday because of my “disability” (I never really thought of it that way) and then she gave me a reassuring pat on the shoulder. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and laugh into my drink because I didn’t want to be rude, and I knew she was, in her own way, trying to be helpful or share a connection with me or something.
Well, Marla soon began to spend more and more time with my group of friends and it became more difficult to tolerate her rude behavior toward me. When we’d all go out to eat and the server would take down our orders, Marla always ordered for me. The first time she did this I sort of looked at her wide-eyed and surprised, but she just smiled and mouthed “It’s no problem” at me. I have tried explaining to her that this is inappropriate and that I don’t need someone to order my food and drinks for me, but she doesn’t seem to understand. She keeps insisting “No, really. It’s no problem.” Or she will tell me that the place we have gone to is crowded and she knows the waitress doesn’t have a lot of time waiting for me to spit out my words. This one hurts, because quite often I feel that way, too. It took me a long time to have the nerve to go up to a bartender to order my own drink. I used to pretend I didn’t speak English, and I would point to what I wanted or have someone else order for me. A few times I even tried bringing flash cards with my drink orders written on them. Being able to order my own food and drinks was a big step for me. I do sometimes need to stop in between words because my jaw feels clenched. Sometimes, I am in a busy place and I do feel bad when a bartender or a waitress has to stand there and wait for me to spit out “G-g-g-gin and t-t-tonic”. But I think it’s important for me to do these things even though I hate to think that I may be an inconvenience to someone else.
Whenever I am excited and I run to tell Dee or the others about some good news that has happened to me and Marla is also there, Marla gives me this weird smile and goes, “Aww, honey. That’s so sweet. Good for you,” the same way you would talk to a young child. I suppose there is nothing particularly malicious in this, but I am the only one she does this to. She always finds a way of bringing the conversation back to my stutter. When did I start stuttering? How did my parents try to help me? Have I tried taking up singing? Is it weird for guys on a first date? I think there are many more interesting things about me and I have more unusual qualities than this one thing.
I have tried talking to Dee and the others in private about this, and they have all told me the same things. They believe that I am being too sensitive and that Marla is only trying to be nice towards me, and that maybe I perceive people’s kindness as rudeness because I got teased a lot in school and I’m probably just “overly sensitive about this stuff.” I have stopped hanging out with my friends when I know Marla will be joining them, which is almost all the time now. When she comes over to the house, I smile and say hello and then head straight to my room. Dee says I am being unkind towards Marla and that I am being “petty.” She says that I can’t expect everyone to treat me with the exact level of understanding and patience. I’m starting to think that perhaps she is right. It’s just… I can’t get over thinking that Marla thinks of me as some kind of novelty or someone to feel pity towards. I don’t like being around someone who thinks that way because it makes me feel embarrassed. I don’t think Marla is trying to hurt my feelings, but I feel like she does not understand or won’t understand my point of view on this.
Am I being too sensitive? I don’t want to lose my friendships with Dee or the other girls over this. I don’t want to have to make anyone choose between someone else and me. But ever since Marla showed up, my friends think her behavior is acceptable while before we used to joke about people who acted the way she does towards me. — Can Order For Myself, Thanks
There’s no doubt, Marla is a jerk. But she’s not the only one here who is behaving badly. Your friends are acting even worse! They know you. They know how much you’re capable of and how much of a non-issue your stutter is. They know you as YOU, and not for the person who talks a little bit differently. They know how much you hate people making a big deal about your stutter and treating you like you’re unusual or like the most interesting thing about you is your stutter. And yet, here they are sticking up for a person who repeatedly condescends and patronizes you, treats you like a child, and behaves grossly inappropriately in your presence. I know you don’t want to lose your friendships over this… but, frankly, among the things worth dumping some friends over, the inability to appreciate you for who you are and to stand up for you when you’re being treated badly, and insisting that you’re being overly sensitive when someone challenges your independence and tries to make you feel inferior, are pretty close to the top. True-blue, honest friends wouldn’t treat you the way your friends have been treating you. Marla? She’s just some girl your roommate works with. These other people are the ones who are really hurting you and they should be called out.
I urge you to summon the power and strength to tell them exactly how you feel. No more “trying” to tell them or “trying to explain” how you feel. Just fucking set them straight. You’re a grown-ass woman who can order for herself, dammit. You’re a grown woman who has overcome a childhood of ridicule and is better and stronger for it, and you’ll be damned if you’re going to let some Shirley Temple from the office waltz into your life and shake all the self-confidence you’ve worked hard to gain. You’re willing to lose friends over standing up for yourself — especially if they’re the kind of friends who would leave you for doing so — but you sure as hell are NOT willing to lose your self-respect by allowing anyone to continue treating you the way Marla and your “friends” have been since she entered the picture. This is not you being overly sensitive. This is about demanding to be treated like everyone else, because the only thing that differentiates you from them is a few extra syllables and that’s hardly a “disability”! And even if you did have a disability, unless you are asking for help or have expressed a need, either verbally or nonverbally, for special treatment from anyone, NO ONE has the right to step in and do shit for you that you can perfectly well do yourself, especially when you have already explained that the “help” is unwanted and unnecessary!
My hunch is that Marla’s effort of making herself feel superior to you is her way of combatting what is probably low self-esteem. I also bet she has trouble maintaining friendships and sees your ready-made circle of friends as an ideal solution to her loneliness. Pushing you out to make room for herself is a super lazy way of trying to fit in, and I think it will probably come bite her in the ass sooner or later. But that’s beside the point. What’s important to remember is that you don’t deserve the way you’ve been treated, that you need to stand up for yourself loudly and clearly, and that you need to accept that, if you lose friends over doing so, they weren’t your true friends to begin with and that Marla, in an effort to make room for herself in your circle of friends, has succeeded in making room in your life for people who will actually respect you. They’re out there, I promise. And they’re going to love you for all the unique things about you — your stutter not even making the short list of those qualities.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.