Saturday, June 17, 2017

Letting Go of a Bad Romance

There she goes again. Lori Gottlieb, New York Magazine’s resident therapist has managed, yet again, to miss the point completely.

Faced with an interesting question she intones interminably about some psycho theory about how difficult it is for therapy patients to change. She does not mention that most bad habits are very difficult to break, even under normal circumstances. And she does not say that if therapy is really about caring for your soul and providing you with blinding insights into why you have your problems, it is not trying to help you to change anyway.

Gottlieb insists that it is bad to tell said patients to change, because it never works. Perhaps it never works when Gottlieb tries to do it, but it is certainly not true that it never works.

When faced with someone who has an alcohol abuse problem, would you, a sensible and intelligent reader, foreswear telling the person that it might be a good idea to stop doing what he is doing? You cannot force him to do so. You are not going to be boorish and tactless about it. You know that he is going to hit rock bottom, but you would rather he didn't But if you have reasonable way of communicating the message, you ought certainly to do so. You are not going to be neutral while someone is drinking himself to death. And you are not going to excuse yourself by saying that warnings never work.

As it happens, AA does tell people not to drink. It tells them never ever to take another drink. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It is hardly perfect. Many people who try it fail to keep with the program. But it is certainly more effective than the touchy-feeling tripe that therapists have been offering.

So, in a spirit of generosity—to you-- I will spare you Gottlieb’s commentary and go straight to this week’s letter, written by: Time to Let Go.

For the last six and a half years, I was involved with my guy best friend. It started off as a friendship and eventually developed into a “best friend with benefits” relationship. We spent hours, days, and nights together, and sometimes it was almost like we were boyfriend and girlfriend, even more. About two years into our “friendship,” we decided that it was time to stop. I wanted more, he couldn’t give it to me, and it was time to move on.

We lived about a seven-minute walk from each other, and I avoided “his” area at all costs. But I still missed him, and through our mutual friends I heard he missed me too. About a year passed, and one drunken night I decided to contact him. It was like old times, and before long, we were right back to where we left off. But it was not always a walk in the park. Every so often we would have a “talk,” which almost always came from him: We had to stop. This would last about a week or so, and then we would end up seeing each other again.

About ten months ago, I decided that it was time to make a change and move away to New York. Within four months, my guy best friend came to visit me. We had a blast, and a couple of months later he moved to Europe. Since he has moved, he has become more distant. We had the chance to meet in Europe last month, briefly, and we had a great time, but in his true fashion, right before I was about to fly back, he said that we can’t go on like this, and that we won’t be together. I had heard this more than a hundred times, but recently I feel like he really means it.

I know that he is the healthy one here and that he is right, but in the last week it has been hard for me to let him go as much as I want to move on. The more I feel his distance the harder it is for me to let go. Logically I know that he is not for me and that he does not see me in his future — but my question to you is: Why is it so hard to let go? Why is it hard to break patterns?

Gottlieb does make one salient point, one that I have made when writing about other therapy advice columns. We know nothing about this woman beyond her sometime hookups. We are watching a romantic heroine living out a bad love story, one that is not going to have a happy ending. But we do not know about her family, her work, her friends… anything. And, we will see, all of that matters.

Better yet, we do not know why these two have not gotten together and turned their sometime fling into a committed relationship. Is there a reason? What is the reason? Why not try to make sense of the behavior?

Clearly, TLG wants a relationship. Clearly, he refuses. But, let’s assume, for the sake of argument that he keeps coming back for the sex, which must be of a very high quality. We wish them both many happy orgasms, but that is the only happy returns they seem to be having.

But, we also know that she, as a normal female, has an oxytocin rush after these casual encounters and wants more than being his sometime squeeze. Fair enough. Apparently, she imagines that good sex must be a sign of true love… which is an absurd belief. And she seems also to believe that men and women function the same way when it comes to these casual encounters. Now, where might she have learned that?

As for why she can’t let go, I will take the question seriously. Gottlieb does not, so someone has to. Given human biology, a man can walk away from a sexual experience, from the risks and the consequences, far more easily than woman can. It’s human nature, stupid. For that reason, normal women tend to require a prior commitment before they engage in erotic romps.

All women have always seemed to know this. Nowadays they do not. They have been convinced that they are the same as men and that the way to demonstrate their equality is to engage in a similar number of meaningless anonymous sexual encounters.

The feminist rage for equality has produced reasoning that wants abortion to be readily and easily available. They have reasoned that a woman must be able to walk away from the consequences of coitus as easily as a man can. For today’s feminists, the new “curse” is pregnancy.

If you ask why it’s so easy for TLG’s hookup to walk away from her after sex, the reason is, he’s a man. If you ask why it’s so difficult for her to walk away from great sex, the reason is, she’s a woman.

You don’t need any advanced degrees to know that. You might or might not want to tell her, but the scientific facts are staring us all in the face.

Thus, TLG is a victim of the ambient discourse that has convinced far too many women that they should exercise the same sexual freedom as men. To put a finer point on it, she has allowed herself to be pimped out for the cause. It’s a great deal for her man. It’s a bad deal for her. Neither she nor Gottlieb seems to get it.  Thus, I feel obliged, yet again, to emphasize the point.

Why else can she not let go? The moral basis is simple to understand: if her serial hookups turn into a relationship or a marriage, she will find redemption. If they do not, she will find… perdition. Or better, if she has spent six and a half years pining away and giving herself to a man who insists that they will never be a couple, in any sense of the word, what does that make her? It’s not as though he lied to her. He told her the truth. He has kept his word. She chose to ignore it. Apparently, the sex was too good.

By perdition we mean that a woman who has dedicated herself—for over six years-- to a man who is using her for sex is… fill in the blank with a derogatory epithets, the kinds that I would never share on this family blog.

If TLG is going to make her way out of the relationship, she will have to accept that she acted as though she did not respect herself. This cannot happen without her feeling some measure of pain. Therapists can help to attenuate that pain, but they cannot, short of numbing her, eliminate the pain.

Most therapists, of course, prefer to help patients like TLG keep hope alive. Because that means not facing the dire truth. That truth would be what she looks like to those who are near and dear to her, who have watched her degrade herself and who have been telling her to regain some measure of self-respect.

We do not know what her entourage knows or does not know, but surely, they know something of what is going on. They might have told her to get over it. They probably have. But, she is going with her feelings, because the therapy world, besides telling her to have sex like a man, has told her to feel her feelings. And she knows that she loves him, or better, she has persuaded herself that the oxytocin rush plus the moral hazard spells true love.


David Foster said...

"If you ask why it’s so easy for TLG’s hookup to walk away from her after sex, the reason is, he’s a man. If you ask why it’s so difficult for her to walk away from great sex, the reason is, she’s a woman."

More complicated than that, I do fall in love after all, and in some cases spend months or years chasing a woman who is not interested in them.

The reason why it's so easy for him to walk away after sex must be either (a) he's not in love with her, and.or (b) he has decided he absolutely doesn't want to be permanent, at least at his current stage of life, with anyone at all.

And while it does seem like there's evidence that women have an oxytocin-based bonding effect after sex, and a stronger one than men do (though I'd like to see a definitive study on this), it is too reductionist to think that this is the *only* factor tying her emotionally to him...I"m pretty sure that virgins have been know to fall in love and have a very difficult time getting over the breakup.

trigger warning said...

She seems to be a pretty reliable lay, probably the proverbial "cheap date". Why should he give up a good thing? An oasis during a dry spell.

And he can't be faulted for deceiving her, eh?

It's always important to be honest with clingy, persistent women. Fortunately for men, it rarely makes a difference, although they can be darned inconvenient at times. I hang up on drunk dialers.

Ares Olympus said...

I agree David Foster, men can get caught on specific women for many years, with or without sex, and the common factor actually IS her ambivalence towards him.

So its the "commitment conflict" does cause confusion I've seen. That is, when you want someone, you offer words and deeds to get them to want you back, but they actually have more power to just accept your free words and deeds, while having concern about moving forward. Meanwhile your focus on the other person's resistance means you can't allow yourself your own questions about moving forward. So its only when the other person is "won" that all the hidden doubts come out, and the perspective completely changes.

So whether man or woman who "gives too easily", the trap is set, and you can't allow yourself your own doubts that would be easily apparent if the situation was reversed.

We can consider the generalization that "Women have all the power before sex and men have all the power after sex", and there might be some solid truth there. But if power isn't the issue, but actually determining relationship compatibility, both genders would seem to have to get creative so they can be aware both of their desires and their concerns, and find a way to work through them without making the other person holding half the problem.

Anonymous said...

About a year ago, I read a long article in the Times (magazine?) about women on college campuses who say they're far too involved with their studies and their potential career tracks to want a " relationship" with its demands on them and that all they want are emotion-free hookups and one night stands. So: are womens natures "evolving" or are they suppressing them do you explain that apparently new but widespread phenomenon?

David Foster said...

anon..."women on college campuses who say they're far too involved with their studies and their potential career tracks to want a " relationship" with its demands on them and that all they want are emotion-free hookups and one night stands."

Not sure how frequent this phenomenon is...there are enough people in the country that you can find several examples of anything, and count on the media to emphasize anything that sounds several standard deviations out...but to the extent it is happening, I'd guess it is connected to the 'snowflake' phenomenon. People who can't stand to have their opinions disagreed with without losing it...can't get less than an A+ grade or an 'outstanding' performance appraisal without having their self-esteem shattered...are probably the same ones who cannot risk a broken heart.