Thursday, December 5, 2013

Who's "That Girl?"

Therapist Rebecca Kennedy is hearing it a lot. Herself a millennial woman she has many of her peers in her practice. They talk to her about their relationship problems, that is, about their difficulties in engaging and sustaining relationships. Often they fear that they are becoming too much like “that girl.”

Kennedy hears them saying:

I don't want to be That Girl. Then he'll think I'm That Girl. I swear I'm not That Girl. 

Kennedy believes that her patients are trying to “navigate the hook-up culture.” In truth, they are trying to undo the damage that the hookup culture has wrought. They are looking for a relationship but have lost confidence in their ability to conduct one.

Also, these young women are making a mistake by asking another millennial, even a credentialed millennial, for advice and guidance. It may not be a blind-leading-the-blind situation, but they are asking for advice from the competition, never a good idea.

Who is “that girl?”

Kennedy defines her:

Who is she? She's crazy with guys. She texts them too often. She asks them to be exclusive too soon. Put simply, she can be described using the worst possible insult to a young millennial woman: needy.

Before delving any further into this problem, ask yourself this: will therapist Kennedy take what her patients are telling her at face value?

Of course, she will not.

By her lights, these women are really, really afraid of becoming the kind of needy, clingy desperate woman that they don’t want to become. The only advice Kennedy can come up with is that these women should happily embrace being “that girl.”

For all you and I know, Kennedy sees herself as “that girl.” What’s the point of all that therapy if you cannot take things personally?

Anyway, Kennedy offers a paean of praise for “that girl:”

When it comes to exploring her sexuality while maintaining her self-worth, That Girl is doing just fine. She probably isn't consenting to devaluing sexual relationships. She doesn't feel powerless or substitutable with men. She doesn't have such a wide gap between what she desires and what she feels she has to settle for.

Maybe That Girl isn't so crazy after all. When it comes to guys, she texts because she knows what she wants. She asks to be exclusive because she knows what she deserves. She also knows what she needs -- and if that is what defines neediness then, yes, she is needy. Does she overshare sometimes? Sure. Is she the most sought-after girl among young men who are looking to play the field? Unlikely. Might she struggle to find a partner who will meet her high expectations? You bet. She has determined that these are worthwhile prices to pay for establishing self-respecting patterns for sex and romance.

Kennedy wants her patients to get in touch with their inner “that girl.” To her mind that cure them:

So rather than shunning her, try to find That Girl inside yourself, give yourself a chance to like her, and let other people get to know her.

That Girl might not walk into my office, but I'm encouraging her to walk out.

In other words, one less competitor.

Clearly, the therapist does not understand what is happening here. She is facing women who are conducting their romantic relationships from a position of desperation, not desire. It has not been working for them. They careen between being too remote and too needy, too cold and too clingy, too powerful and too powerless.

A woman’s instincts are betraying her. They are sending her the wrong signals. When she follows the signals she goes wrong. When she does not follow the signals she goes wrong.

She is in despair, lost in an arena where she ought to have home field advantage.

A woman who has lost the art of engaging and conducting relationships is going to feel desperate.

How did she get to this point? Perhaps, with one too many hookups. Many young women have willingly submitted themselves to what Kennedy calls “devaluing sexual relationships.” Having been told that such relationships are a great way to explore their sexuality, they do not recognize that they have done themselves harm.

Among the clearest signs of having undergone a trauma is the sense that one can no longer trust one’s instincts. Once traumatized, a person will go into trauma avoidance mode. In this case she will reduce risk by avoiding all situations that remind her of the trauma. Or else, she will try to undo the effects of the trauma by embracing— counterphobically— situations that recall the trauma.

If a young woman has felt used and discarded by a hookup she might react by avoiding all hookups, but also by avoiding close contact with men. If she sees all men as potential abusers and all sexual relationships as threats, she might decide to keep her distance. When the time comes to signal interest she may demur for fear of being seen as needy.

But, she might also decide that she feels traumatized because she is too repressed, not in sufficiently close touch with her feelings. She might think to herself that the best way not to be used by a man is to use a man… to assert her needs, to demand that they be satisfied and to harangue any man who refuses to respond.

She might think that she is asserting her needs, but she is really advertising her desperation.

What’s that girl to do? She knows that her tactic of not being “that girl” is not working. She knows, better than her therapist, that becoming “that girl” will not work either.

If she believes that she cannot trust her instincts or impulses or inclinations, she is probably right. A therapist should respect what she is saying.

What’s she to do?

The answer is: she should seek counsel. She should ask someone who possesses wisdom and maturity to help her to read her instincts, to sort out the right from the wrong ones and to learn to act accordingly.

As a general rule, she should also know that when she is dealing with a complex human relationship she should never just rely on instinct or emotion.

Think… and think again. Analyze the situation, think over the possible responses. Above all else when you try a new tactic or a new approach think of it as trial-and-error: the sooner you know whether or not it is working the better off you will be.

Isn’t it strange that with all the feminist complaints about women not being respected for their minds, therapists are still treating women as though they are bundles of emotion andminstinct, incapable of analyzing a situation and setting a course of action.


Sam L. said...

"The answer is: she should seek counsel. She should ask someone who possesses wisdom and maturity to help her to read her instincts, to sort out the right from the wrong ones and to learn to act accordingly."

And she knows not how to find that person. Might be her mom, but that's admitting failure. Self-esteem says No Way!

RonF said...

"She asks to be exclusive because she knows what she deserves."

Who says that's what she deserves? How and on what basis was this conclusion reached?

Leo G said...

can only comment on my 2 sons girl
friends. 180* opposite of That Girl. Actually, it amazes me sometimes how these 2 couples can be so independent of each other. maybe not seeing the other for a few days.

So happy for the 2 of them that they are mature beyond their years.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Ha, I thought "That Girl" was the independent feminist, Marlo Thomas's TV character?

It might be worth putting into perspective that women put more effort into intimate relationships through out their lives, and its the unmarried or divorced men who's health and social outreach fail them, because they're too proud to be needy.

Ignoring the bizarre hookup culture I know nothing about, the main pattern I've noticed is that early in a relationship, men are the pursuers, and women show their receptivity by accepting gifts and favors, and special treatment, and so in that wonderland, what otherwise looks like "neediness" is hidden by the fact she has the power to say no, to "train" men to see what she "needs", and provide it, so its an unusual time where a man is studying what she likes, what she doesn't like, and wants to please her.

So in degrees there's an act of spoiling involved in this pursuit that disappears once a man has "won" her, and its also something she can't get from other sorts of relations. So I think this dynamic is what's behind the old "The Rules" book about women needing to ignore their instinct, and continue to play hard to get even after marriage, to make sure her husband is on his toes, and if she's good at that game, she can allow her "neediness" to be provided for, without ever seeing it as such, but instead as "deservedness" which someone of her value must be treated.

Anyway, seems like there's good and bad. I'm glad women in general are not afraid of neediness. I'm glad my sister's not afraid to say I love you, and share with me her concerns. Trust is a tricky think, and vulnerability is real and its easy to sidestep it with rationalizations that protect us from rejection.

And ultimately without women's neediness to pull men out of their solitude, the world would be a diminished place.