I was 24 when I met a guy while I was on holiday. Graham and I dated for the month I was there. He lived in the town, worked as a director in a local company, and knew almost everyone—he was a real extrovert, cheerful and energetic.

Graham and a long-term girlfriend had recently broken up and, although sad, he felt it was for the best. However, they had signed up for a couple of dances at an upcoming ballroom dancing competition. It was an informal event, open to anyone, and he loved dancing. He felt he had to bow out—that is, until he met me. He asked if I’d be his partner in the foxtrot and cha cha cha.

Well, I was not a dancer, unless you’re talking pop-of-the-pops glam rock disco dancing (this was the late 70s). I told him this, but Graham was one of those guys who could sell coals in Newcastle, so to speak. He talked me into entering the competition with him (I must have been completely mad).

“I’ll teach you,” he said. “We can spend a few afternoons going over the moves. And don’t forget, I’ll be leading, and can guide you on the floor.”

He did teach the moves, but I knew I was clumsy. I needed months to be any good at it. I wanted to back out. Graham pleaded. He’d already paid the entry fee and really wanted to dance in the contest, and with me, so I gritted my teeth and wore a classy purple dress for the event. We sat at a table with a few of his friends and I made sure they all knew I was a novice. As I said, he lived in the town. Anyone who walked by our table stopped to chat to him and be introduced.

An hour into the evening, up we got for our dances, along with a few others. I can’t remember being so scared, with all those people watching us competing on the dance floor. I pretty much froze. Thankfully, Graham skillfully twirled and pushed me in all the right directions until it was over and we were sat back at the table. I smiled apologetically, and joked to the others that I was hopeless.

The men didn’t say anything. But the women tore me to pieces: “Yeah, you were pathetic.” “Oh, you really let him down.” “He may as well have been dancing with a mannequin.”

Even women at nearby tables joined in the jeering. I felt myself crumple.

Graham was furious with them. In a loud and stern voice, he said: “Well, at least she tried. Very brave, when it was her first ever time. She did this for me!”

With that, he gently took my arm and we left. Outside, he thanked me and apologized profusely for his neighbours. Walking back to his car, he told me he had never seen this side of these people: the women being so sarcastic, their husbands and boyfriends not saying a thing to stop them.

“I’ll always see them differently after this,” he said. “And one of those women’s names has been put forward for promotion. I’m going to make sure she never gets a management position in the company. Someone as rude as her would just be a bully boss.”

So, think about that. When a group of people demeans someone, they’re really showing themselves up. And sometimes that’s noticed. Sometimes it ruins their supposedly good characters. Not yours. Theirs!

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