The ladder to nowhere

Elise T. Chisolm

March 05, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

HER HUSBAND works for some Big Daddy Corp., and she wants him at the top of the company. He's almost there.

She is sometimes subtly aggressive, so you don't find her out right away.

I'll call her Ima. She's the quintessential social climber. She is a user.

Everybody knows one.

I knew her in a small town a few years ago. You probably have known one along the way.

Everyone likes Ima's husband, George, and he is going places, but not fast enough for Ima.

She likes him too, but not enough to leave their social progress to him.

Here's her modus operandi. It's typical of the species.

First, she finds the right house in the best part of town, the established neighborhood, a house with a two-car garage, patio, large room for entertaining and a Chem-lawned yard.

Her next step is to find the right church regardless of their religion. She was a Baptist, but she converted in two seconds when she found the right Episcopal Church, the same one, coincidentally, where his boss worshiped.

Now she had to find the right friends. She took her time on this safari.

She goes to the right boutiques and listens in on which clubs the ladies belong to, and where they go for lunch, tennis and bridge.

She tries for the DAR and the Junior League, and her daily life brightens with anticipation. The next step: the right country club. This was easy, but she hit a snag -- there was a waiting list. But they waited only six months.

She buys the right BMW, she sold her Chevy four-door.

The neighbors accept them with open arms because they make an attractive and well-educated couple. They can discuss the right things -- anything from Bach to banking.

They are on the right cocktail circuit but are careful not to drink too much.

When she gets pregnant, she looks around for the right kindergarten and signs on. She gets on the symphony board.

Now she could relax.

She seemed to have everything. She was in the right place, her husband had taken up golf, she'd given him the clubs for his birthday.

She'd never been happier.

To my way of thinking, sycophantic social climbers are a species that almost could be called a form of lowlife.

They can hurt people. When one woman wants to be president of the club and she gets the job by social climbing, it usually means she's bashed others who were more deserving of the job. Hurt and disappointment make for depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem.

Social climbers are dangerous in the workplace. They step on other people's tender psyches to get where they want to go. They can destroy the careers, families and the homes of others.

And don't forget there are male social climbers too, but they are more apt to be in the board room.

I saw Ima two years ago. Her husband's corporation merged with another, he lost his job and is a teller at a local bank. She has two kids now in public school and is working at one of the boutiques she used to frequent.

Ima is very unhappy. She tells me she is always tired and has nothing. Her marriage has gone sour, and she whines now about life in the suburbs.

I wanted to tell her that social climbing is in itself a very hard job and its path is loaded with mine fields.

But I told her what she wanted to hear: that they will be fine, and that I'm sure with her aggressiveness she can get a better job, one with another ladder to climb.

I didn't tell her that she was wrong about happiness, and that I'm right about the down side of social climbing. It is an exhausting and avaricious job.

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