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Help Me Rescue My Pal From A Stupid Cult!
Welcome to an occasional advice column by me, Sara Benincasa, a person with many opinions. This column will not diagnose or “cure” anything at all! Hopefully, reading it will entertain and perhaps comfort you. Think of it as a high-five from your mom’s gay friend Sallie who surprises everybody by marrying the parish priest, Father O’Looney, and then it turns out they’re in a polycule with your parents but you don’t find out until everybody has peacefully passed away and honestly it makes your childhood make more sense and you’re glad they all found love and also they left you so much money. Send questions to email@example.com. If I use your question, I’ll keep you anonymous.
My sweet neighbor joined a shitty multi-level marketing scheme. She lives in the nicest house on our block and has plenty of money, but her sister recruited her and I feel like the money isn’t the motivator. She’s supposedly progressive, but this place is full of conservative white lady nutballs. She’s posting about it everywhere, even in the group chat for our neighborhood softball league. I’ve read articles about psychological abuse within the organization. Leadership apparently also soft-peddles a pseudoscientific, anti-vaccine political agenda. I like my neighbor a lot. I want to say, “Joining this pyramid scheme makes you look stupid and untrustworthy. It will not be good for your social or professional life.” Can I do anything to get her away from these people? — Also I Don’t Want To Buy Her Trash
The Kool-Aid is spiked with essential oils, and she’s guzzling it down, Mama! I don’t think you should waste your energy on this one.
She’s already chosen to join a cult, probably because a) she’s going through some mental or emotional hardship and b) her sister has leaned on psychological tactics to draw her in. The cult taught her how to do this, using their own buzzwords, just as all cults do. A higher-up encouraged the sister to recruit your friend, likely incentivizing her with sweet cash money or their creepy cult’s very own version of pats on the head.
It’s even harder because the sister brought her in. You can’t fight blood with logic. The relationship between siblings will almost always carry more emotional heft than that between friends. Siblings may not love or even like each other, but they can get under each other’s skin in a way that is primal. These specific sisters have probably got a codependent, unhealthy little cult of two people, anyway.
Like dysfunctional families, cults function through manipulation, coercion, and deceit leavened with partial truths. They replicate feelings of pain and comfort that were experienced or longed for in the individual’s childhood. People are often drawn to what’s familiar, not to what’s healthy.
I was raised Catholic and genuinely believed what I was taught in church: Abortion was murder, gay people could pray the gay away, and sex between people with vaginas wasn’t really sex because sex requires a penis. I’m not kidding. I actually prayed to not be attracted to women and men (I didn’t know gender was not a binary, although I had my suspicions, I tell ya!)
My parents didn’t believe any of that garbage or teach it to me. They thought I was getting a little TOO into catechism, in fact! But church was a refuge from the emotional chaos of my upbringing. I loved the seeming serenity, order, and quiet of church. And the local parish did that ‘90s Christian marketing thing where they tried to make it sound compassionate: Homosexuals just needed to be loved and prayed for and they would change. God gave them a burden like he gave Jesus that cross. (AGAIN, I AM NOT KIDDING! I BELIEVED THESE THINGS AS A CHILD!)
It took me a long time, even as a horned-up twenty-something artist living in NYC, to un-learn some of the shit I swallowed.
It seems stupid to the outside world, but when it fills some need, you justify it to yourself. Logic doesn’t come into play.
The Roman Catholic Church is the world’s oldest and most successful long-running corporate real estate pyramid scheme. There are many newer versions of the same old scheme. Sounds like your friend is in one, and I bet it doesn’t even have good incense or cool stained-glass windows! It is not in fact raising her up on eagle’s wings!
Personally, I wouldn’t talk to her about it. It wouldn’t change anything, and it might provoke a dispute that spills over into weird shit about property lines and whose tree is raining stinky blossoms on whose lawn. It’s annoying and also sad that she isn’t awake and alert enough to spot the obvious issues with this place (and the actual reliable reporting on it — do a Google, Miss Neighbor!)
If this neighbor were your best friend, I’d say sit her down in person and have a good talk. But she’s not, so speaking to her about this would likely just be to help you feel better. If you feel you need to do it, go for it, but be kind and not condescending or cruel. Also, be prepared for blowback.
I think your best bet is to mute her across social media and be prepared to politely decline when she invites you to patterned leggings parties or scrapbook ritual sacrifices or whatever it is she’s pushing. She will be encouraged all the time to see other people as a mark (they won’t use that word in the cult). Keep in mind, she doesn’t know she herself is a mark.
If she ever tries to aggressively sell you on products, you can say, “I am not interested. Please don’t ask again.”
Here’s another complete sentence: “No.”
It may never get to that point, and I hope it does not.
I salute you for being compassionate. Take care of your own health and wellbeing first. You can be distant yet kind. You can’t fix her or save her. She’s on her own path. She may truly need this experience in order to learn something valuable.
Last year, my lifelong friend broke up with his wonderful girlfriend of two years. She still lives in our town, as does he. I figured they’d stay together and she and I could get closer, especially if they got married. Anyway, I miss her a lot, but their breakup was messy and it is really too chaotic a situation to try to juggle two friendships. Neither party would accept neutrality, I’m sure. Now he’s got a new girlfriend, and I have to see her a lot, and she’s just not as great as the old one. My partner thinks the new girlfriend is a bore but we need to just deal with it. Our friend really is our priority. So why do I miss the ex-gf so much? — Surprised To Be So Sad About It
What you’re going through is common in this time of breakups and divorces en masse, as well as brand new romances and people moving everywhere and quitting old jobs and starting new adventures. It’s a big time of transition for a lot of our communities in this country.
I can tell you really liked this gal a lot. Sounds like she became a part of your community. But this friendship has come to its natural conclusion. Your job now is to grieve so that you can move on.
Even though you adored her and she may have liked you a lot, you were always going to be a friend-in-law, so to speak. It’s best not to try to reach out. She may be hurting, but I assume she has her own friends to help her out.
If engaging with her online content is a big temptation for you, I’d mute her on social media. Don’t message her there. If you see her in public, be as kind and warm as you wish, but don’t ask invasive questions or carry tales back and forth. It’s fine to say, “I miss having you around. I wish you the best. You’re awesome” or some variation thereof.
But don’t talk shit about the new girlfriend, even if she sucks. And it sounds like she doesn’t! She is just not Old Girlfriend Whom You Loved.
Mourn however is healthy for you, but do it on your own time, in therapy, or with your partner. Stop comparing the two of these ladies. Perhaps the experience with the past girlfriend can be a cautionary tale for you to have good boundaries with this one and not get so close or expect she’ll be around forever.
Dick is fickle, but crocheting circle friends are forever! Go do a pottery or join a non-cult or take a line dance/twerking/Brazilian jiu-jitsu fusion class at the local VFW. It sounds like you’re craving some friendship, and there are many friends you simply haven’t met yet.
As ever, I assume You People will have your own thoughts on advice you’d give. Share away! If you’ve been through it yourself and want to talk about it, please be sure to disguise the people involved by naming them all Tina or Frodo or Uncle Daddykins or naming them after a very specific fruit of your choice. Is this for legal reasons? Honestly, no, I’m just really jacked up on pumpkin chai because I’m a basic piece of GARBAJJJJUHHHH.
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