Friday, August 25, 2017

What Kind of Woman Is She?

A woman who dubs herself Stuck writes to Ask Polly. She has a problem that seems mostly to involve reputation. She hooked up with a guy at work and he did not merely walk away from her. He told their colleagues about it. This makes him somewhat less than human and far less than a gentleman.

It’s about reputation, about how other people see her. And it’s also about an important question women ask themselves: What kind of woman am I? Because if she is hooking up with a guy just for fun she is probably not being the kind of woman she wants to be. If other people see her or visualize her in a demeaning light, as a woman who does not respect herself, she has a problem.

Here are some excerpts from Stuck’s letter:

I’m one year out of college and recently got out of an emotionally abusive three-year relationship. Through therapy, I’ve realized that I was never in love with my ex-boyfriend: He came into my life at a point where I was very lonely, depressed, and aimless, and we quickly became co-dependent. 

You know that Polly is going to tell Stuck to find another therapist, but, seeing what therapy gave her on the first go round, you have to wonder. She spent three years in an abusive relationship. She was stuck in it. She did not know how to get out of it… and her dimwitted therapist told her that she was not really in love. In truth, she had no judgment, could not understand what was happening and probably failed to take the advice of friends and family. She stuck with it because she thought he would change, because she thought he would make her, as the saying goes, an honest woman. It did not happen and she wisely walked away. Whatever you think, it’s not about love. Far too many women are in love and stick with bad relationships because they think that their love will cure their boyfriends.

Anyway, short time after she broke up with her abusive lover, she hooked up with a guy friend at work. Here is what happened:

About a month after the breakup, I drunkenly hooked up with my guy friend from work. He had been flirting with me for months, to the point where others in our group of work friends had commented on it. He texted me the next day saying he wanted to hang out, that we had a nice thing going and that we should “figure out what we are” before telling anyone at work. I thought he was being a little intense, but thought I liked him and it was all positive, so went with it. I then left for a weeklong work trip, and when we met up when I got back, he came all the way to my house to tell me that he thought we were a bad idea, that he was just going to mess it up, that he didn’t want to be a rebound but that I was a “boyfriend” girl and he couldn’t be that either, and that things had “gotten weird” (never mind that I wasn’t even in the country that week!).

We have no idea about what happened in the interval between their hookup and her return from vacation. In a strange way, this man was telling her that she was not a tramp and that he felt badly about treating her like some drunken hookup. I suspect that this is the easiest way of letting a woman down-- especially if she is someone you see every day.. It is somewhat flattering, if you like to be flattered while being dumped. Obviously, he is not painting himself in a very gentlemanly light.

In order to help her to get over him, he hooks up with someone else and announces it to the world. He apparently also announces to his co-workers that he had already hooked up with Stuck.

He slept with someone else five days later and came into lunch covered in bite marks and recounted the tale (I was in a meeting), which a nosy co-worker was delighted to relay to me while “checking to see if I was okay,” since this guy had “taken advantage of someone so vulnerable.” This upset me way more than I thought it would, mostly because I realized I was being discussed by my co-workers in a way that made me feel that they thought I was pathetic.

Covered in bit marks. Was he hooking up with a sand fly? Either he has his own special kinks or his hookup loved him so much that she wanted to brand him.

Anyway, it’s all about reputation. And about a man who could not keep his mouth shut and who has subjected Stuck to embarrassment and perhaps even humiliation. Doubtless, the young man spoke ill of Stuck, the better to explain why he had dumped her.

Stuck is not too happy about it all. Her work friend hookup tells her to stop being dramatic.

I’ve done nothing dramatic, unless you count being upset with his presence and telling the nosy co-worker I was mad that he had clearly been talking about the situation to other colleagues and had probably relayed false information.

Why does she care about him? Because she had sex with him. Perhaps it’s the oxytocin talking. Perhaps she believes that if she has a relationship with him it will redeem her reputation. But, she has learned, probably from therapy, how to punish herself by chastising herself:

It’s been about a month since all this happened. Honestly, it’s sent me into a bit of a spiral. I can’t stop wondering how this happened, and why I still care about an objectively shitty, selfish, patronizing person who’s rejected me despite barely knowing me. It’s made my inner dialogue intensely self-critical (about my body, abilities, social skills, everything). I’m feeling unhinged. 

As for what Stuck should do, Polly has a good approach. If only she did not lard it all over by whining about feeling her feelings and finding a therapist.

Faced with the task of offering concrete advice and counsel for Stuck, Polly does well:

But from this moment forward, you have to make exactly zero sounds about him to anyone at work. That means don’t acknowledge him. Do not engage. Do not speak his name. If anyone asks you about him, you literally chuckle. You say NOTHING.

As I said, it’s good advice. It’s good because, as we have pointed out in relation to other cases, it offers this woman something that she can do to deal with the situation. Polly is telling Stuck to shun the man, to ignore his presence, to refuse to pronounce his name, to refuse to even discuss him.

Clearly, the man treated her badly. He compounded his bad treatment by telling everyone else about it, and by trying to humiliate her in front of her co-workers. In return, and to right her floundering ship, she needs but to return the favor, to shun him, to pretend that he does not exist. Because, for intents and purposes, he doesn't.


art.the.nerd said...

Stuart, I completely fail to see what the nameless male in this story has done wrong.

Stuck "hooked up with [her] guy friend from work." He has second thoughts and dumps her. (Is she bad in bed? Is there a work policy forbidding this? We have no way to know.)

> In order to help her to get over him, he hooks up with someone else and announces it to the world. He apparently also announces to his co-workers that he had already hooked up with Stuck.

Okay. So what? Was a non-disclosure agreement breached? Or is there some post-Miss Manners rule of etiquette that I am not aware of?

> This makes him somewhat less than human and far less than a gentleman.

Egads! That cad! I shall give him a good thrashing with my walking stick!

Stuck is a slut and Nameless took advantage of the situation. They used each other for sex. Now one wants the "relationship" kept secret and the other one wants to make it public. They have a disagreement. Why do you take Stuck's side?

At worst, the office staff now knows

* Stuck is sexually promiscuous.
* So is Nameless.
* Nameless doesn't care who knows it.

This is probably useful information to the rest of the staff.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Sorry you missed the unethical behavior... but gentlemen practice discretion, especially in a work situation where reputation matters and where the ability to command respect matters. Besides, as a rule, for a woman sex is never just sex. It was not a relationship so those rules do not apply. Feminism notwithstanding the rules about male and female sexual behavior are not the same. While Stuck did something that appears to be slutty, she certainly does not make a habit of it. Why demean her for a mistake. Why not be a gentleman?

James said...

Neither one should be screwing around at work in the first place.

whitney said...

Based on that story I'm ninety-nine percent sure they work in a restaurant. I worked a lot of restaurants in my youth and that sounds very familiar