By: Ariel Fixler
So what is a User “Schmoozer? It is not an earthed Dr. Seuss book. It is the term I use for people who buddy up to you during your illness under the premise of expecting something in return. Some hints are subtle. Others are as blatant as a Real Housewife need for press or an In Touch Weekly “spread”.
I was going through my sign in/memory book from my fundraiser tonight. I was hit with amazing memories and sentiments. I snapshotted the entries and photos of friends I knew would appreciate their presence there that night. However, a small number of the people who attended I don’t regularly speak to anymore or I only hear from when they NEED SOMETHING. When I realized what they ALL had it common it hit me they were User Schmoozers!! They buddied up to me and visited me at my most vulnerable BUT they always had an AGENDA.
Once, I “fixed” their problems, “fixed them up” with a set up or opened up my resources and connections to them they were gone. My friends joked I was the original “Fixer” before Olivia Pope and Scandal became fashionable. The visits, the outreach, the check-ins either vanished or became less frequent. Is it weird to say I became used to it? Though it also hurt like a MOFO I won’t lie. It became as usual in its frequency as people not saying a simple thank you or an expression of gratitude for acts of kindness or gifting (in the helpful advice piece “gratitude the great:).
Here are some examples of people who went missing in action as soon as their desires and wishes were met. Take them as classifications we can all learn and grow from. Everyone makes mistakes in how they conduct themselves, but maybe you can all see these and learn from them. These examples and are not extolling shame. These are examples that everyone and I mean everyone, makes mistakes with in their outreach and how they conduct themselves in the presence of the ill.
Case 1: The career booster. A friend who was unemployed and recently dumped after moving to a new city for her boyfriend. Once she came back she spent multiple visits venting about the break up and being unemployed. She brought me some tabloid magazines and seemed to be really there for me. I decided to help her on the job front and then help her on the boyfriend front. So I introduced her to a good friend of mine who was head of an event and marketing firm. In time they hired her full-time (she freelanced for them a few months beforehand). And just like that she was gone from my life. She never checked in and never reached out. She had the job and she was set. She came to my fundraiser and hung out with all her new colleagues who I was also friendly with. Her college friends were also in attendance and they actually came to visit me at the hospital, helped me at doctor’s appointments and were some of my favorite people to have around me. They also said it was so nice I got this friend a job. They said she is in a much better place because of you. I kept silent about how sad I was that she used and schmoozed. I mean she has been working there for 4 years at this point and I have not heard a peep from her. When she got what she wanted, I never heard from her again. I let it go. I had enough negativity going on.
Case 2: The set up scenarios. This referred to people who visited who dropped the single bomb (not with any subtlety I may add). They also asked how I was doing then said something like this: “I was looking on Facebook to see how were you doing and I stumbled upon your photos or a friend’s profile and I wanted to know if he/she were single”. Some people even asked for group visit with my “hot friend”.
My hospital room became an unscripted episode of the Bachelor and Bachelorette. I remember my mom watching this all go down in the hospital lounge at New York Presbyterian. The same goes for people I set up. They would pretend to check in on me, but also throw in, “Oh and FYI I never heard from said date, any idea what happened”? There were even friends who said I think it will distract you to set me up. Or can I sign on your Facebook and make a list. Can I come visit and go through your Facebook with you? Oh also, just saying, can we go through your Facebook and Instagram to set me up. It will be so fun for you I promise! It will distract you!
Case 3: The Charity Case. The offender who reaches out to check in on you, but also wants to know who you can recruit and help for an event. Can you use your contacts for signed swag, raffles, send out an email blast? Is it easier to share your contact list with me and I can send it out for you. Some asked if they could tag me or I could tag them for their event. But, of course, they asked how I was feeling beforehand, so not to totally miss the mark (sarcasm inserted here).
Case 4: the Networking Negotiator. Same went for networking contacts. People who show you a whole lot of love, when you are doing something for them. There was a friend I was friendly with since I was a teenager. We were never consistent friends, a “let’s grab a drink soon” type friend. I knew we would never grab a drink but appreciated the effort. I attended every birthday and going away party. I sent her scripts and pieces to my writing colleagues and agent friends and the she wanted to visit every week. It’s the least she could do she said. She was the most unfocused visitor I ever met. Eyes down, phone down, and focus on her. So the visit was more of let me tell you all my drama, listening to this will be SUPER FUN and DISTRACTING for you. When I set her up with a guy friend of mine she was constantly “sending love”. When all that fell apart, she started canceling visits, and stopped attending networking and fundraising events I asked her to volunteer at in my absence. She became the typical UNRELIABLE person. When she was having a hard time, I sent her items to cheer up and help her through a tough time. My mom coached her and helped her network and reboot her resume and career approach. When I needed to share or vent, she kept a cool distance. She had one word responses and constant delayed responses and approaches. My CancerCare group called her “a case of coping via 13 going on 30”. They see it all the time in the support system of people my age.
Case 5: The Parental Units. To me parents are always off-limits. They always get a free pass. Whether they are pregnant, nursing, juggling parenthood and work life or being a stay at home mom. Every type of parental role is worth admiring and is a FULL TIME JOB harder than any 9-5 gig.
When friends make it clear they still want to be supportive even when in mommy mode, I tell them it’s ok you have a lot going on. They hush me and say no I want to be there for you.
I had a good friend, her name is Mandy Tenner and she is one hell of a mom who set the juggling bar high. I had such admiration for her. She came on her lunch break from her legal practice weeks after giving birth. Her mom is a cancer survivor and all around amazing mother and grandmother. So she had fantastic role models. Mandy was back at work breast pumping in front of me, bottling and listening to every word like it mattered. I thought to myself, wow! Where are the cameras? Is the real? She is amazing! She took her lunch break, multi-tasked and didn’t make me feel like that is was a big deal. I wanted to see her and, you know what, she wanted to see me. Do I care about her multi-tasking? FUCK NO. I had so much admiration for her. Her boobs were as glorious as her advice and story telling.
There were my friends who came with their kids, brought toys for them and we all engaged together. I loved it. There were friends who came solo and left their kids with the sitter. They had one-hour windows or more and I was grateful.
I had a friend Lee who ate her lunch with me and ran to the grocery store for me. She even used to put things aside for me when she went to grocery shopping at specialty stores. I felt like I was a part of her family and in her thoughts, even when she was juggling being a brand new mom.
The one thing that was said to me a few times, often somewhat defensively, was I don’t get what it’s like to be a MOM. I may never be a mom, thank you so much for reminding me that I may never experience that. I had to freeze my eggs before chemo and I am pretty sure they will forever remain frozen solid. So if you are a parent, no one says you have to visit. No one says you have to reach out regularly. You are off the hook, so take that hall pass and run with it. If you are pregnant the same goes for you. You will always get a free pass. But if you are game, let me experience your joys of motherhood with you. Just promise you won’t say the “you will never understand the balance being a mom and life”. There are better ways to let us understand those challenges and demands. We can be there for you and in turn, you can be there for us in the right way.
Case 6: The Penter Venter. The friend who comes lock stock and two smoking barrels full of drama. Saying I know my crazy drama life and or relationship will distract you from your illness. The Penter Venter would dump that drama (and negative energy) on me, tell me terrible things about their significant other to vent and ask for advice. As soon as I played Dr. Fix and “solved” their problems they were gone, not to be seen again (until the next dramatic occurrence arises). God forbid I gave them advice they were not ready to hear, then they went completely MIA and became defensive.
These “friends” are the epitome of “pumping and dumping.” No breast milk is involved, despite the pun. They pump you for information on everyone you talk to or had visited, then dump on you like a proverbial snowstorm. Your stories do not distract us. Your inquiries or asking us to play Gossip Girl won’t kill the cancer cells. Yes, we are in touch with a lot of people, but maybe those relationships are still going strong because we keep the content private and sacred. So let’s not act like a CW or Bravo show. Let’s have the same concentration, intuition and depth as a Serial Podcast. We value your time and want you to see our value you as more than someone to tell us your problems.
Case 7: The Bandwagon/Group Visitor. There were those kind of visitors who could never visit you alone. They always made sure it was a group visit. I always wondered why they couldn’t have an intimate visit. They don’t GROUP TEXT ME SO WHY GROUP VISIT ME? When they came they never addressed how I was feeling. Visits felt like watching a Ping-Pong match. I was in the middle of the group conversation, but not an active participant. It was like they were pre-gaming for a night out, forgetting this wasn’t another social call. Were they scared to talk about what was going? What triggered them to want to make sure they were never alone with you? It is tough as a patient to have large group visits. I was lost in the shuffle and felt as if no one wanted to address why they were here with me.
The others were bandwagon visitors. They found out a certain person visited me and wanted to arrange a group visit with those people they admired, had a crush on or hadn’t seen in a while. I loved more than anything to bring people together, especially those people who had lost touch or seemed to want to make a connection. I always wondered why it has to be while visiting a sick patient. It made me happy (in many respects) bringing people together, but sad because I barely said two words and after I was left feeling a mixed bag of emotions. Those visits had me on the sidelines watching a reunion taking place where I was just was a bystander in my own visit and illness. Now this is just me, but I felt a sense of sadness after everyone departed. As if visiting me was the holding area, the green room, the pre-party for the bigger and better event that came later on.