Friday, 16 November 2012

Auntie Seraphic & Toxic Glue 2

On second thought, there is only so much I can do on a Friday when half Britain seems to be having a long weekend. So I have done what I can do to resolve business woes and go back to the problems that beset Single life.

From a reader, I had this question:

It seems this toxic glue gets its power from emotional attachment which comes, for girls, when a guy either has problems or opens his heart up to her. A reader in a comments box a long time ago said she wished guys would realize that opening their hearts up to girls is as powerful for girls as erotic images of girls are for guys. I really believe this is true, especially if there's already some attraction or chemistry there. A man's vulnerability can be so incredibly attractive.

I'm wondering if it's ever okay to let a guy know you don't want him to open his heart up to you. On the one hand, he'll have a better understanding of you and be able to respect you. On the other, if he's trying to, as you put it, emotionally seduce a girl, this will give him the exact information he needs to accomplish his goal.

Just something I've been wondering. When do you know if you're handing over emotional power?

Oh dear. Power. It's like an old-fashioned children's party game: "Power, power, who's got the power?" How I hate that word. Thank heavens it's been years since I worried about "who has the power" in a personal relationship. (You have to worry about it in ministry because a ministry job gives you a ton of power whether you want it or not, and generally you don't want it.)

Anyway, I agree that in an attractive man vulnerability is really powerful (although I would add that in an unattractive man it can make a girl wish immediately to flee). And I imagine that some crafty guys have figured this out. You may remember Wayne of Wayne's World trying to get out of trouble with his girlfriend by wailing "And I can't READ!"

The number one guardian of your heart is you. And the knowledge that you are a softhearted girl whose heart is easily won by sob stories (be they real or fake) should warn you to be a lot tougher about who gets access to it. It is always okay to tell a man who is neither your boyfriend, your husband or your blood relation that you don't want him to open his heart to you. It is always okay to say "I don't feel comfortable talking about this." It is always okay to say, "You know, that's really personal stuff, and I'm not sure I'm the person you should be speaking to. Have you thought of talking to Father Such-and-such/a guidance counsellor/your mother/my mother?"

You don't add, "Because I might fall in love with you if you tell me your problems." That would be crazy. You don't owe any man an explanation of why you don't want to hear his personal business. It's not about him "having a better understanding of you" other than, "Oh, I guess she doesn't want to hear my problems." Which, hopefully, you don't. (If you do, you can say, "It's not that I don't WANT to hear your problems, it's just that I don't think I can cope with hearing them. But I think you should talk to Father Such-and-Such..." By suggesting an appropriate person, you have sincerely helped.)

It is tempting to "be there" for an attractive man, even if he has serious problems. Such serious problems include his marital difficulties, his addictions, his brush with the law, his violent behaviour and his mental illness. The problem is that you are not qualified to listen and talk to him about such serious things. And if you were qualified, you would know immediately that he should either be your client, not your friend, or, if you want to keep him as your friend, someone else's client. Qualified people know how to detach from other people's serious problems; unqualified people, not so much.

Meanwhile, most of the above problems are clear red lights. Stay well away from attractive men who have marital difficulties, addictions, brushes with the law and violent behaviour. Mental illness is in a slightly different category; you can decide if you mind being stuck on someone with depression, OCD, etc.

The sort of non-qualified women who might be good for men to spill their guts to are older women. OLD-ER. Older nuns. Older married ladies with kids. Mom-aged ladies. Older women can be caring, and they are less likely to get attached in the way a young woman, especially a young single woman, would. If his own mum is overly cold or overly sensitive, it makes perfect sense for a troubled young man to ask the advice of his friend's mum.

Sure, it can be flattering that a man wants to talk to you all about his problems. And it can hurt to see his look of disappointment when you draw a firm and clear boundary around yourself. But I think all this comes down under the heading of emotional chastity, both for him and for you. Don't let a guy your age or older open his heart to you unless he's given it to you first.


Jessica said...

Yup! Good advice. I agreed to write letters (like actual ones that go in the mail) with a guy during his post-uni volunteer year. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I regret the time/effort put into those letters, but I did realize that his replies slowed waaaay down once he was feeling happy and fulfilled in final month or two of his experience, and I think I was much more emotionally affected by the letter-writing than he was. Luckily, distance and the uncertainty of knowing where I'd be post-uni had kept me from giving our potential relationship too much importance, but it still hurt when he "dropped" me.

Looking back...I think in my last year at college I had been reading an anthology of spiritual correspondence between male and female saints and truly thought this boy and I were just going to help each other grow in holiness -- and maybe grow TOGETHER in holiness, if you know what I mean. hahahaha, I was so young. Mutual angst-y communication, without being rooted in reality, does not a relationship make.

Seraphic said...

Ah so much to say...

Hindsight is 20/20.

Deep spiritual relationships between unmarried men and women probably more the exception than the rule, and sometimes they get people in a heap of trouble.

Before the Internet Revolution, men didn't seem to write as as much as women did...

Growing together in holiness is for married people or religious, and is generally achieved through the suffering of growing in patience and not giving into homicidal thoughts. (Single people might grow in holiness in other ways.)

Marriage, now that I'm mentioned it, is a good way for cranky, impatient people to learn not to be cranky and impatient. It really is for sinners. Which suggests to me a really good comeback to the rude question to women, "Why aren't you married?" The good comeback is "Because I am sufficiently advanced in holiness not to be" and then float away suppressing a giggle at the look of shock.

MichelleMarie said...

"Because I am sufficiently advanced in holiness not to be"

Oh, Seraphic. Thank you for my first laugh of the day :)

Maria said...

YES! This is a topic that's already tormented me before: how come I get attracted to men who show themselves as vulnerable or have some problem, but men seem completely turned off by a girl exhibiting any emotional problems whatsoever??? When I meet a man I like, I want him to help me heal from all the crap and damage I've gotten from other men. I'm longing for him to tell me I'm beautiful and worth loving and waiting for and and being faithful to, and that all those other guys were complete morons! But in part from the advice I've gotten from here, I don't. Because men are terrified of women's problems apparently. It's so unfair.

Seraphic said...

Well, Maria, I would say that this is because you are a WOMAN and they are MEN, and men and women are seriously different.

"When I meet a man I like, I want him to help me heal from all the crap and damage I've gotten from other men. I'm longing for him to tell me I'm beautiful and worth loving and waiting for and and being faithful to, and that all those other guys were complete morons!"

Thank heavens you do not say all those things to men you meet socially. However, it would be great if you said them to a professional therapist or a spiritual director. And God. Definitely to God.

Just as you aren't qualified to help a guy heal from all the crap and damage he's gotten from other women (and probably some men, e.g. the Old Man), he isn't qualified to help you.

In fact, you're not ready for real, honest-to-goodness romantic relationship with a man until you've done a good chunk of healing on your own, with female friends or with professionals.

You don't have to be in perfect shape, but you had better be working on it, and not expecting random attractive guys to be helping you. Goodness me. The IDEA.

Urszula said...

I love your response to the "why aren't you married question", and the advice you give as to letting men open their hearts.

However, I tend to have the opposite problem, that is being turned off when men start emotionally dumping on me. I wonder if some of your other readers also fell that way? Maybe because for some reason I tend to attract confidences, often inappropriate ones (ie about marital/life problems) from often much older men. I try not to encourage these, but not because I feel myself being attracted to these men, but rather because it's really information they should not be sharing with me (a much younger woman and often - their employee).

It may be because men often tell me about their previous relationships/other sundry problems and end it with "But now I've met you and everything will be ok." Um, no. No, no, and no. If I wanted to be a therapist or psychiatrist, I would be, and I would be charging money for these men to confide in me.

It may come with age though - I remember being thrilled when I was a bit younger that 'oh and this 20 years older guy obviously thinks I'm wise beyond my years if he is confiding in me.' I'm so glad I grew out of that - life is so much easier when you are not burdened by strange men's strange problems that most often you can't solve anyway.

Domestic Diva said...

"Because I am sufficiently advanced in holiness not to be."

This was much-needed balm today...thank you! I've been getting some rudeness about my singleness from a certain quarter lately, so it's good to have that in my mental arsenal...even if I never actually say it.

Seraphic said...

Urszula, being turned off by guys dumping their baggage on you is not the problem. Them dumping their baggage on you is the problem. When they are employers, you have to put up with it, I think, unless it can be defined as sexual harrassment, but in social life, you might stop the flow by smiling and saying, "Whoa! Too much information! Let's just enjoy this excellent cafe you've brought me to. Great choice!"

Domestic Diva, I will try to think of some other great lines. Alisha likes the Mae West classic answer to "Why are you Single?"

"Well, I was born this way."

MaryJane said...

Urszula, I sometimes feel the same way about men sharing... TMI! I usually just smile and nod and then do my best to never be in the situation again where they *can* confide - i.e., alone-ish in a comfortable environment, like a cafe or a church (ugh). Thankfully it only happens rarely.

Stick with women or big groups if at all possible, when those kind of men are around, that's my m.o.!

Urszula said...

I agree the problem is men dumping baggage on women (maybe the way I initially expressed myself was unclear). It's often hard to stop, though, especially when you have to be in some sort of relationship with the person confiding in you (ie in the workplace).

Most often I simply smile and do not say anything in return, as I don't wish to encourage anything of the sort.

Mainly I was just wondering if any other readers found men unburdening their hearts slightly disturbing rather than attractive.

Alisha said...

While I think prudence is important in these situations, I think it's very sad to think that men and women can never confide in each other and help each other out simply as friends. Aren't we supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ and bear one another's burdens? I feel like the whole meaning of genuine Christian friendship is not understood in today's society - we operate on the basis of self preservation. I certainly don't think anyone should put themselves in a position to be walked on but I think we should simply use our judgment from moment to moment about these situations and do so in the context of community - talk to others about the situation so they can give you advice and pray with you.
Also, there is not always the opportunity to check in with others - some things happen so fast, so I think we have to see what the Holy Spirit is asking of us in the moment. I have on numerous occasions engaged in very personal conversations with total strangers and I am absolutely confident that I was meant to meet them on that train or bus or "wrong phone number" for a reason - I was able to talk to them about my faith and I know that in me they encountered Christ and that in "welcoming the stranger", I also encountered Him. If I had simply said "Whoa, boundaries, go talk to a therapist." it would have been a missed opportunity. You should never put yourself in danger or allow yourself to be abused, but not all such confidences are dangerous...and everyone has different personal limits.
There is definitely a difference between using someone as an emotional dumping ground and simply going to a genuine friend with your problems. If I hadn't had the male friends I have in my life that I have cried in front of, I don't know where I would be, whether that was appropriate or not. And moreover, I don't want friends that I can only present a cheerful face to - there is a quote that is attributed to Marilyn Monroe that says "If you can't handle me at my worst, you certainly don't deserve me at my best."
And sometimes, really, a person doesn't have access to the type of person they need. I have not always had access to a good spiritual director or been able to afford a psychologist or been dealing with issues that my parents could understand. And sometimes people probably don't even realize what they need. Sometimes it's helpful to simply point out to them what is going on so they have a greater awareness of what they are doing. Once a man significantly younger than me was relating some personal struggles of his from the past. I wasn't scandalized or the least bothered but I took the opportunity to tell him that while I was fine to listen to what he had to say, he should be really cautious about saying this sort of thing to women for the sake of his own heart (he could be hurt if she dismissed him) and theirs (they could take it as emotional intimacy in the wrong way) and he understood that. I guess, bottom line, you have to discern what's going on in the moment, spiritually but I really think if we are more educated about how to be in relationship with one another in a Christlike way this might be less of a problem.

The girl who was toxically glued said...


I think there is a time and place for that kind of friendship, for sure. I've had some wonderful guy friends, but neither of us was carrying a lot of baggage and there was a great amount of mutual respect and trust in those friendships. And, come to think of it, there were healthy boundaries as well. We talked about God and our spiritual lives and our common interests, but not so much our love lives. One friendship in particular was inspired by a mutual love of God and a genuine desire to help each other be better human beings. I will always cherish that friendship. I strongly believe God brought him into my life to change me for the better.

However, I am the letter writer from the original post, and the friendship that inspired my e-mail was quite a bit different from that life-giving, trusting, respectful friendship. I agree that there is certainly a time and place for friendships between guys and girls as long as you can keep from developing crushes. I definitely know which friendship I'll treasure more when I look back over my life! One of them was a true friend who helped me be a better person and love God more and wanted me to be happy (and vice versa) and the other was someone who needed a (specifically female) shoulder to cry on.

I guess it comes down to using your common sense. You'll know when it's not a good friendship.