ANNAPOLIS, MD–In times of crisis, local neurotic Beth Haller is thankful to have a support network to turn to: her group of equally neurotic friends.
"My friends are so important to me," said 36-year-old Haller, tearing up as she spoke. "They're always there for me, and I do my best to be there for them."
Haller and her three closest friends, Shannon Olbrich, Jennifer Beech, and Leslie Chevik, are in near-constant contact, sharing stories of hardship over the phone, at local coffee shops, and during intense weekly get-togethers over multiple bottles of wine–a Sunday-night ritual they refer to as their "recharging sessions."
"Do you think my wearing my hair like this is some sort of subconscious cry for attention?" Haller asked the trio of fellow neurotics at a recent recharging session. "I know I said I wanted to be happier with my self-image, but then I realized, how can I be truly comfortable with the inner me when the outer me doesn't match my image of the me I see when I form a mental picture of the person I think I truly am?"
"Oh, totally," Olbrich said. "That's why I got the interior of my car reupholstered. Something just wasn't right until I did. But now I wish I would have gotten black. Do you think the tan looks stupid? At first, I really liked it, but now I think maybe it just looks cheap. You don't think so, do you?"
Haller said that close friends "have literally saved [her] life" on countless occasions.
"I know this isn't how it's supposed to be, and I feel guilty about it, but my friends are more like a family to me than my actual family," Haller said through subsequent tears. "That's okay, right? I mean, I love my family, but Jen, Shannon, and Leslie are the ones I spend real Q.T. with."
Though members of Haller's family care about her well-being, most maintain little contact with her.
"I just couldn't stand it anymore," said Haller's sister, Deborah Barkum, who lives in nearby Edgewater. "I'd get frantic phone calls in the middle of the night about some meaningless comment her boss made. She'd drop by for dinner, and I'd spend six hours listening to her go on about how she has to find a new apartment because the landlord refuses to do anything about the dogs down the hall. I finally made a rule: I'll talk to her on weekends, but that's it."
For years, Barkum was frustrated by her sister's emotional neediness, but most of Haller's neurotic behavior is now addressed by her cadre of neurotic friends, from whom she receives constant affirmation and reinforcement. As a bonus for Haller, her friends' own neuroses make it easier for her to view her perpetual state of anxiety as normal.
"Beth is such a special person, so complex and multi-layered," the Prozac-taking Chevik said. "I'm happy to be there for her when she needs a shoulder to cry on."
"It is truly amazing how she's held on after the split," Beech said of Haller's 1991 divorce, still a major source of pain, heartache, and confusion for her 10 years later.
Beech herself knows the pain of love lost. Six years ago, she dated a man for two months and then suddenly never heard from him again. According to Haller, the experience has made it impossible for her friend to trust any man.
"Poor Jen," Haller said. "She was badly wounded by someone who said he'd call and then never did, and, as a result, she's built up this wall to protect her from ever leaving herself vulnerable like that again."
Added Haller: "It seems like some of us have our load to bear in life, and no matter what we do, it never gets any lighter."
Haller was cryptically alluding to any one of her own crises, including: her strained relationship with her mother, caused by an offhand comment her mother made in 1979 about never having expected to have a third child; her indecision about whether to return to school to receive a Masters degree in English; her "demeaning and demoralizing" research-assistant job, one of the few positions in publishing that a divorced woman her age can get; her home computer's hard-drive crash, which wiped out nearly five pages of notes for the novella she intends to write someday; and her new relationship with a man who is obviously a commitment-phobe, begging the question of what is the point of even proceeding to a third date.