Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Treated Like a Yo-Yo

It wasn't exactly an "Auntie Seraphic" letter. It was a true story of a broken heart. And when I read it, my mind travelled back through the years to my undergraduate days. The story was so familiar, and so basic to the experiences of young men and women, that I'll tell the story as generally as possible. See if you've lived it yourself.

A young Nice Catholic Girl met a slightly older Nice Catholic Boy, and they hit it off right away. They had a lot of ideas in common and they enjoyed spending time together. In fact, they hung out every day. The NCG suggested that they be in a "relationship", but the NCB said he had feelings for another girl and he just wanted to be friends. He explained that he didn't feel a spark.

The Nice Catholic Girl didn't believe in sparks, so she kept hanging out with the Nice Catholic Boy every day while supposedly looking for someone else. The NCB, who knew that she liked him "more than a friend", insisted that this wouldn't hurt their friendship. For her part, she insisted that she wasn't hurt by his lack of romantic interest, although she was.

She stopped flirting with him but, strangely, he contined to flirt. In fact, he flirted more than he had before she told him she liked him. And although she knew he had meant what he had said, her feelings for him became stronger.

Finally, for the sake of the friendship, she told him to cut out the flirting. She suggested that he used flirtation as a way to keep her hooked. And then, to her shock, he first told her that he didn't consider her a close friend, and then admitted that he had enjoyed her crush, saying "I enjoyed having the attention of a girl who liked me, and having someone to talk so much to. It was almost like having a girlfriend, but not having to give you anything back, or make any sort of commitment."

Heartbroken, she left and told him to never talk to her again. She blamed his exploitative flirting on the "Male Ego". She blamed herself for giving too much for nothing in return. Most of all, she grieved for the friendship that she had valued so much and thought he had, too.

And so it goes. Day after day, generation after generation, campus after campus. A courts B. B says "nothing doing but we can be friends." A tries to be a good friend. B continues to flirt with A. A is confused. (This stage can go on for years.) A finally asks B to quit treating A like a yo-yo. B drops the H-Bomb on A. A is heartbroken. A either breaks free or opts to continue his/her emotional slavery to B.

Sometimes B is a man. Sometimes B is a woman. This is not about the "Male Ego." It is about Ego, pure and simple. It is about concupiscence, the desire to have more than one's fair share, and almost all of us have it to a certain extent. We want more than our assigned piece of the cake. And so the temptation to get something as thrilling as someone else's admiration "for free" can be overpowering. It's addictive. It's heartbreaking.

The Nice Catholic Boy in this story is not an out-and-out bastard. He told the Nice Catholic Girl straight up that he wasn't interested. Yes, later he encouraged her crush on him, but he did not tempt her sexually, as a lot of men in the same situation might try, later justifying their egregious behaviour with "But I told you I didn't care for you that way. I was just having fun, and I thought you were, too." The NCB didn't do that. He also had an astonishing amount of self-knowledge; I like to think his next stop was the Confessional. He was not wicked, but he was weak and he did wrong.

The Nice Catholic Girl in this story is not an out-and-out victim. She actively courted the Nice Catholic Boy, and she ignored what he said about spark. Yes, he messed with her head, but she let him do it. However, she also had the guts to finally call him on it and to walk away. Her worried girlfriends must have inwardly cheered. It hurts to see your friend allowing herself--or himself--to be treated like a yo-yo.

I have a few general comments on this all too common psycho-drama. The first is that if a man really likes you, he will try to get a relationship started. The second is that when an unmarried man says No, he means No. An unhappily married man might say No reluctantly through fear and then later succumb to temptation, but if an eligible man says he isn't interested in you, he isn't, and it is extremely unlikely he ever really will be--although he will enjoy flattery "for free". Women are slightly more complicated.

The third is that I believe in spark, and so should you. Sexual attraction is like a match: if you don't have it, you can't get the fire of married love going. Of course, for married love to last you need more than a the match of sexual attraction. You need the tinder of shared values and the logs of good character.

The fourth is that people do like getting nice things without any effort on their part. It is very hard to give a nice person, a nice person who makes you feel special and gives you treats, The Speech. It is easier just to bask in their attention. It is also thrilling, sometimes, to play with fire, to wonder "How far can I go?" But sometimes, as the song goes, you gotta be cruel to be kind, the sooner the better, and don't change your mind because you miss the attention.

The fifth is that a male friend simply cannot be your best female friend. Men are just not women. Sometimes (my guess is rarely) a man can be your best platonic friend, but he will still act like a man and not like a woman. Men are who they are and not who you want them to be. Whenever you are totally cheesed off at a generally good-hearted man, repeat this mantra.

Finally, and this is directed to friends of people caught in the string of the yo-yo, the dynamic can develop bands of steel, with both people hopelessly addicted to the anti-relationship, and you can do nothing about it. Back home, and many years ago, I had the misfortune of getting between an A and a B. I was used myself--by A to make B panic that A was slipping away from her grasp. Or was A in the B position at that point? At any rate, it hurt very much to discover that I was not the heroine of that story, but merely a bit player in the great drama of A and B. As far as I know, they are still kind of together, still kind of apart, and still drinking heavily.

Be careful, my little Singles.


Sheila said...

I've been in part of a yo-yo. My best advice for that is, if you love him, let him go. If you show you respect yourself and walk away, there is a slight chance that this person will wake up, see what you're worth, and pursue you. But if you stick around and provide free ego stroking, there is no chance. "Why buy the whole cow when you can get the milk for free" doesn't just refer to sex. Anytime you're giving relationship-ish stuff for free, you send a message that you don't require any commitment, you'll just always be there.

Of course you have to be open to the possibility that this person will never be into you. In fact, it's fairly likely. But you're still better off alone than with someone who doesn't really want you around. And you really can't be "just friends" if one of the parties has feelings for the other. It simply doesn't work and will never work.

Thanks for the post -- I think a lot of people need to hear this!

theobromophile said...

Great advice.

Girls are too often told that they can't be demanding, can't push men into relationships, can't ask for commitment, etc. This advice applies to a small subset of women who treat men (and others) like slaves or objects, but, for most women, is the exact opposite of the advice they need.

Now, you can't force a man to commit to you, like you, or date you, you can force the issue. Passively being nice and hoping that he'll understand what a great thing he has often has the opposite effect. Men are straightforward, and we should use this to our advantage: let them know that if they want X, they have to do (totally reasonable) Y first. Want to flirt? Date us and take us out to dinner. Want sex or to live together? Marry us. Not sure about exclusivity? Let us date other men.

Anonymous said...

Seraphic, I wish I had had a wise soul like you around when I was younger. Singles, take note! Every word is true. At least I was one of the ones to walk away, sadder but wiser.

Elizabeth said...

I too have been a part of a yo-yo, although in my case, it was not a nice Catholic boy but a rather-less-than-nice non-Catholic boy. Unlike this man, he told me that he was madly in love with me, intended to marry me, etc. It took me quite a lot of bad behaviour on his part before I realized that he was just blatantly lying, although when I did, I quickly gave him the heave-ho. Later, once I had been going out with my now boyfriend (a nice although sadly non-Catholic oby), he popped back up again, wanting to meet up but I completely ignored him. Nevertheless, I wish I had had a Seraphic to advise me before I got myself stuck in the horrible grip of the disastrous yo-yo.

Seraphic said...

I'll let the anonymous comment stay because it is 100% non-creepy (and agrees with me).

I wish I had a Seraphic to advise me, too, although my mother occasionally did but I didn't listen, possibly because she didn't have my communication skillz. (Skillz, as in what Napoleon Dynamite thinks you need.)

Walking away is harrrrrd! But "life is pain, Princess, and anyone who says differently is selling something." Actually, I am selling something (my book), but I am happy to point out the obvious fact that life is hard.

Oh, and we are also going to suffer. It is freaking guaranteed. I was talking to a girl this weekend, and she was telling me that she was afraid of suffering, and I said it was guaranteed she was going to suffer, so live large.

But there is suffering we can and should avoid, and the suffering we make for ourselves by allowing ourselves to be played with like a yo-yo is totally gratuitous, unnecessary and pointless.

dark but fair said...

Wow...this is a great post!