Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Dark Side of Empathy

In this week’s episode of the Perils of Polly, New York Magazine’s highly challenged advice columnist goes off on a letter writer. Judgmentalism at its best, I would say. No sympathy, no empathy, none of the sentimental whining that makes her columns so insufferable. Not at all. Polly is outraged to hear that the letter writer has made a habit of poaching her girlfriends’ boyfriends. That is, of getting drunk and then making a move on the men, even making out with them. One thing we can see for certain is that Polly, like most women, seriously dislike other women who try to seduce their men.

Without further ado, here are some parts of the letter, by a woman who dubs herself “Fool for (Unrequited) Love. We will warn you off the top that her behavior has nothing to do with unrequited love:

When I was in high school, I drunkenly made out with my friend’s prom date. Around that same time, I was the subject of constant scrutiny from one of my other best friends, who thought I was interested in her boyfriend and/or perceived me as a threat to her relationship. I would have denied it at the time, but her instincts were right; nothing ever happened between us, but it came close, and after that incident, I was careful not to see him one-on-one, especially if I had been drinking.

In college, I drunkenly made out with a guy friend whom my best friend at the time was interested in. They weren’t dating, but our hookup violated a “girl code” that cost me my best friendship and seriously damaged my standing in the larger group of friends we were a part of. The situation was complicated, and the guy and I ended up dating for over a year, but the consequences of that decision changed the direction of my life, at least for the remainder of my college years.

Now, I’m 25, and I find myself in a familiar spot: I’ve made a new friend, and I’m starting to feel some type of way about her boyfriend. It’s pretty benign, and my social life doesn’t revolve around seeing either of them on a regular basis, which does make me feel better about my ability to keep it at bay. But the little thoughts and feelings I’m having are things I would have ignored in the past, written off or brushed under the rug, until I inevitably drank too much, my inhibitions would fly out the window, and everything would come shooting to the surface like the motherf***ing Yellowstone geyser.

As FFUL continues, she informs us that she has undergone some therapy and that naturally it has been useless. This will make it slightly more difficult for Polly to recommend that she do therapy:

I’ve definitely become more aware of this as a problematic pattern in my life, and yet just being aware and conscious of it isn’t making it magically disappear.

That I have this problem is no surprise to me, given my family dynamic. I’m certain the cause is rooted in my unbearably cliché “daddy issues” that stem from my dad’s overall physical and emotional absence for much of my life. I’ve talked about this and related issues in therapy, and I’m pretty introspective, but despite all that I can’t seem to stop myself from staging repeated mental reenactments of Les Miz, where I’m Eponine and my whole life is one long performance of “On My Own,” and I’m simultaneously the one person in the audience, pathetically holding a sign that says “#Justice4Eponine” and weeping softly.

Please share your wisdom!

Fool for (Unrequited) Love

Anyone who thinks that Polly has wisdom to share is in bigger trouble that she thinks.

Polly is correct to see that this has nothing to do with unrequited love. But she is incorrect to call this woman an emotional terrorist. However, given her general level of incoherence, she adds that the woman is a thief… which is not the same as being an emotional terrorist.

Polly writes:

But you’re not a fool for unrequited love. You’re an emotional terrorist on a single-minded quest.

You actively punish every woman who dares to get close to you. You’re merciless toward yourself, so you’re merciless toward others. Instead of mostly ignoring your new friend’s boyfriend (because your focus is on your new friend – getting to know her, enjoying her company, connecting with her genuinely and honestly), you’re scoping out what she owns like a thief casing a house for valuables. You don’t go shopping for your own valuables because you only value what other people own. You want what they have because you don’t value your own experiences or your own feelings. Other people hold all of the power. Taking what they have is your way of feeling less inferior and invisible.

Polly thinks that it has something to do with expressing feelings of fear, loneliness and abandonment. These are obviously psycho cliches, and should be taken as such:

I’m not sure what happened in your past, but you definitely didn’t have any space to express your feelings of fear and loneliness and abandonment. In your telling, painful emotions are either “unbearably cliché” or they transform you into a cartoon of self-pitying melodrama. You don’t treat your emotions as valuable and worthwhile; they’re a sign of weakness, a joke, a sickness.

I seriously doubt that this is all part of a family dynamic, but Polly trots out another psycho cliche by suggesting that the girl is on a crusade, taking revenge on her mother for having her father… or some such thing:

No wonder you’re so angry, at yourself and everyone else. You don’t just want your dad’s love. You want to teach your mom a lesson. You want to teach your friends a lesson. You’re on a vengeful crusade, and you don’t even know it.

As I said, Polly has no sympathy or empathy for the woman. She is harshly judgmental:

Drinking gives you permission to bring your true, angry, reckless self out in the open for a change….

You can’t simply find strategies and skills for avoiding sleeping with and stealing your friends’ crushes and boyfriends and lovers and husbands. You have to look deep into your own soul and see how much rage lives there. You have to examine your beliefs about women, about friendship, about who matters, about who can be trusted, about who deserves to be punished. You have to notice how your language reflects your lack of accountability for your own actions. You have to notice your blasé language about your deepest feelings. You have to notice your distanced, passive language about your life in general. Your language isn’t just a SIDE EFFECT of something twisted and broken in you, IT’S PART OF WHAT’S BROKEN. When your language is broken, your perception is broken and your presentation of yourself is broken. When your language is broken, the way that you speak to yourself is broken….

Ask for more from this therapist or find a new one. Because the truth is, you’re far more savage than you know. But you’re also devastatingly sad and far more sensitive than you know. You care much more than you’re willing to admit. Your savagery is misdirected passion for the world, fumbling for a good path, struggling to truly connect instead of robbing your closest friends blind. Your terrorist acts are power grabs that don’t work. But there’s strength and power waiting for you, in your sorrows and in your pain. You need to admit how much you’re hurting. You need to admit that you’re not just experiencing a “problematic pattern.” You’re the anti-hero, seizing control from imagined foes. You’re a criminal. Look at yourself honestly.

But then, Polly remarks, correctly that this woman has no moral sense whatever. I suspect that therapy has numbed her moral sense:

Notice that when you describe the fallout from these scenarios, you’re not talking about missing your girlfriends — the heartbreak of that, the isolation. You don’t say that you regret causing them pain, or that you feel an enormous amount of guilt over how you made them feel. Instead, you talk about how, due to these recurring traps (“More emotional quicksand! Why me?”), the course of your life has been changed.

Sorry to have to say it, but Polly misses an obvious point, one that seems to have escaped FFUL. Let’s forget the Mommy and Daddy issues. Let’s imagine a scenario that could have set FFUL off on her crusade. Imagine that she fell in love with a boy. Imagine that he was her first love. Imagine that it happened in high school or college. Imagine that a friend had lured this boy away from her… thus betraying a friendship and shattering her hopes and dreams. Imagine finally that no one really cared about her feelings… not the boyfriend, not the girlfriend, not her family… no one.

Let’s assume that she has set out to find justice by retaliating… against any women who dares to become her friend. What is the value of retaliating? Why, it teaches other women empathy. FFUL seems to want other women to feel what she felt, perhaps because she believes that it will make them more sensitive.

It’s the dark side of empathy. If other people do not feel her feelings voluntarily she will force them to feel them involuntarily. It's rough justice, but justice it is.


whitney said...

It's so hard for women to acknowledge negative female traits that they just go on the attack when confronted by them. Any guy will tell you he becomes more attractive to women the minute he gets in a relationship, puts on a wedding ring or in any way indicates that he is already taken. I'm not sure why this happens. Maybe it's because women feel like the man is already vetted but it's undeniable that it does happen. I think Polly's attack on a single woman is so she doesn't have to examine what's in herself and what seems to be female proclivity. Though I do agree that the letter writers language was disturbingly flip

Sam L. said...

FFUL has a drinking problem, too.

Christopher B said...

whitney - The utility of social proof is well known in the Red Pill community. Even photos with random women taken on the street enhance a man's attractiveness.