The Cult That Made Me Me

When I think about the concept of a cult, I often think of fear.  Of control. Of oppression.  Of media stories of escapees and crazy leaders and duplicity.  

Siobhán was a member of a cult.  Her experience was nothing like that.

Her story is extraordinary and annihilates my preconceptions.  I hope it does yours, too.  Here is not fear, but love, and deep deep friendship, and community.  Over to you, Siobhán:

 

The other day on my birthday I got a message on Facebook from a guy called Steve.  After all the general pleasantries and catch ups we had the following conversation:

Steve: “Are you still a Joinee?”

Me: “I don’t think you stop – I think you just become lapsed. I compare it to my Catholicism in that way. So many of my friends were met through it (including you) that I think it will always be a part of who I am. I even met my husband through it.”

He said I’d summed it up about perfectly and so I am starting this with that.  Join Me changed my life so much I cannot even begin to imagine what my life would look like now without it.

Joinees mingling (picture by Adam)

In 2002 a book was published chronicling Danny Wallace’s attempts to form a cult (though he says we are not a cult but a collective) and from that came people meeting up and from there came the online presence through the Joinee Forum.

My university friend Jo read the book  when she was ill and then later, when she was alone in a new town, she contacted the Joinees through the Joinee Forum and found them really helpful, and, when I moved to London she asked them to meet up with me, and they did.  They tend to be kind and welcoming like that.

I first met some Joinees at a Robots in Disguise gig.  I dragged along my then boyfriend’s best friend James for some moral support and then found myself surrounded by people who, unknown to me then, would become some of my best friends.  Shortly after that I attended my first Karmegeddon  in December 2004, and not long after that I joined the forum.  There I found support from some fabulous people as well as jokes, music recommendations and all sorts of things in between.  That is where it started to really transform my life.

Lou, Siobhán and Jo (picture by Claire)

In 2008 I broke up with my ex-boyfriend and found many Joinees offering support, places to live and respite for a weekend.  I was even heartily encouraged to attend a meet called Joinverness.  I got to Joinverness because my friend and fellow Joinee Jane (a retired teacher) drove me there from the Midlands.  She put me up the night before and fed me, and we had a lovely chat all the way there and all the way back.  At Joinverness I met a guy called Matthew for the second time, in the interim we had been emailing every day but it was great to meet him.  Matthew and I discovered we were interested in each other and started dating, and then we found out he had to move to Canada (this might be a whole other blog post one about how I met my husband through a cult and then he emigrated to Canada).

I was obviously devastated about the move, but also elated as I knew this was the man I was going to marry.  I found a lot of support from Joinees in both the joy and the sadness.  They were amazing and shared my happiness and made it easier to focus on the positive, they made me feel less crazy for knowing this was my future husband and more confident that things would work.

Kieran, Angharad, Sheli and Craig (picture by Jane)

At Karmageddon that year,  lots of people were asking after him, and how I was doing with the distance as well.  It felt like being in a room full of love, the only thing I can compare it to is our wedding day. One person there, Janey, said this to me:

“We like him.  Go to Canada and bring him home”. 

I was indeed going to Canada to visit Matthew the following January and had been scrimping and saving for months to get there.  Then my friend Claire came over with a Christmas present.  Suddenly I was surrounded by lots of different people.  I un-wrapped my present and found a guide book to Canada and then tucked in the back many Canadian dollars.  Quite a few Joinees had contributed what they could so Matthew and I would have an unforgettable time on my visit.  I was thoroughly blown away.  I still am today.  I ran up to Danny Wallace and told him that he had changed my life and that I wanted to thank him.  That year really did change my life.  That year would not have happened were it not for Join Me.  For his part Danny looked slightly bemused and said he was glad.

Joinees throwing confetti (picture by Jason)

A table full of Joinees (picture by Jason)

As a group , Join Me has raised money for charity, played ridiculous football matches, drank a few pubs dry, consumed an insane amount of tea, worn a range of silly t-shirts, arm bands and badges,  built a school but more importantly than any of that, we have supported each other and made a community filled with love and kindness.  There are Joinee marriages, Joinee babies and so very many Joinee friends.  My life would be much poorer without them and I am grateful every day for Danny Wallace writing that book and unwittingly transforming my life. Join Me made me who I am today, and for that I will always be very grateful.

 (Beautiful) official wedding picture taken by the talented Euan Cherry

Categories: Family, Friends and Relationships, Life Experience
15 interesting thoughts on this

15 Comments

  1. Posted April 15, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    I had forgotten all about that Danny Wallace book. This totally makes me wonder if we could class AOW as a cult…. ?? And also, this is the second time in the last week that I’ve heard hints of how you and your husband got together Siobhan – I think we need the full story!

    Px

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      I wil try to write it. It was such an odd time. But I will write it. Also thanks! And it is a good book as well as a phenomenon that changed my life!

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      YES! What can we call ourselves? Whatever it is will be better than ‘internet friends’.

      • Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        I think we could borrow from Join Me’s taglines:

        Join Me – “It’s not a cult it’s a collective”

        Or the forum tagline – “It’s not a cult it’s an online community”

        I think AOW is both of those. :)

    • Clare
      Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s a really interesting point Penny – what makes a cult a cult? Why is AOW *not* a cult, whereas Join Me is? Not that I necessarily want us to be a cult, but I’m interested as to what makes it the difference between a community and a cult?

  2. heulwen
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Awww, this has made me smile.
    I still remember the first time we met in Nottingham :)
    And so happy that you & Matthew managed to work it out despite the initial distance thing… Never seen someone as giddy with happiness as when you told me the full story of you getting together, late one night at a party in Wapping.
    I love Join Me!
    X

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

      HEULWEN! Hello!

      See AOW – Join Me is full of lovelies. The fact that I compare here to it is because here has a similar vibe and similarly great people.

      xxxxx

  3. Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    YAY! I’m so glad you wrote this Siobhan after telling me a bit about it at Any Other Hen. I think it’s a great story. I always remember watching Danny Wallace talking about it on Richard and Judy!

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:40 am | Permalink

      I remember it too – I think they might have joined. There are a few famous Joinees to be fair.

      It is a wonderful group of people. I am so lucky I found it and made such wonderful friends through it.

      I’m extra soppy today because two couple who met through Join Me announced thier engagements this weekend! More joinee marriages to come!

  4. Elsie
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never heard of this but I really like the sound of it. I’ve only ever moved city/town for university so had the safety net of knowing I wasn’t the only new person in a new place who didn’t know anyone else and I have always wondered how I’d get on if I had to move to a totally new place at this stage of life. I know you can make friends through work, and I have been lucky to have made some really good friends in previous jobs but I know not everyone is that lucky. Join me sounds so welcoming and chilled out, I think it would be something I’d join. Also, I too want to hear the rest of your how you met story please Siobhan, am totally intrigued and I LOVE your wedding dress.

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Thank you – I feel so lucky I found them when I did. London is HUGE and I did not get on massively well with the group I met at my first job here (some were great but the culture was based on drinking a LOT of wine and a group of people who liked tea as much as wine, if not more was a better fit for me).

      It was less chilled out when I joined (many of us were in our early to mid twenties and so we had some more exciting times, but it has mellowed into something quite lovely.

      And thank you for the dress comments. If I write about how we met can I add more gratuitous wedding photos do you think?

  5. Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I remember reading this book and thinking it was a great idea! So cool that you’ve met so many people through it.

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

      It really changed my life – and to think it could have just been a fun easy to read book and it became so much more!

  6. Victoria
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi girls! I just asked myself exactly the same question. What is a cult and what’s not? And I think it’s experiences like Jane’s that raise the question of what is a cult and what’s a “club”. I think, and it’s unfortunately so, that the word “cult” has been tarnished so many times that it’s now seen as a negative concept no matter what. I think that the original meaning of “cult” has been lost. It’s “sects” we need to be worried about, and I remember something from my sociology class that differentiates them (wish I could remember more right now to explain myself more clearly!). The cult word is always seen as a negative thing, except in cinema perhaps. Why is that? There’s nothing wrong with The Breakfast Club is there?! So I have no problem with indulging in some cult blogging at AOW!

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      The tagline Danny went with was “It’s not a cult its a collective” though obviously it started with an add in Loot saying “Join Me” so it could have gone either way!

      I think its less of a cult and more of a group of lovely people from different backgrounds and with different ages. In that way it feels more of a community as it has the real mix you get in an organic community and gives the chance to gain different perspectives that brings too.

      I think AOW has a lot of those qualities and think the idea of what a cult is and what a collective and a community might be are very interesting topics to discuss!

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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