Saturday, 30 January 2016

Which the Victim?

Something I read today caused me to think about the issue of unrequited affection. I’ve been on both sides of the phenomenon, and I found that while being the subject undoubtedly hurt, being the object could be almost as bad. You can, to some extent at least, take responsibility for your own feelings and maybe ameliorate them, but you’re on difficult or impossible ground if you try to take responsibility for somebody else’s.

But it’s still a pressure because having someone possessed of feelings which you can’t reciprocate means that you know they’re hurting, and if you have even an ounce of sensitivity in you, it isn’t a nice thing to be saddled with. So what do you do?

If you ignore them the situation is likely to continue unabated for some unknown length of time. If you react harshly and tell them to go away, it’s likely they will feel worse. If you’re attentive and pleasant they will be happier for a while, but their hopes will probably rise and then they’ll be heading for an even bigger fall. For somebody like me who doesn’t abdicate responsibility easily – even when it’s self-imposed and demonstrably irrational – that’s a problem.

And of course, there’s always the possibility that the object of this horribly unbalanced situation might become a stalker. One of mine did – in a relatively minor sort of way – so I know how awful that can be.


Madeline said...

"If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me."

When I was younger and read this verse I didn't understand how anyone could feel that way, but now I definitely do. Having also been on both sides of the phenomenon, I'd rather be the one whose affections are unrequited.

The conundrum of how to treat the other person has an added layer of difficulty if you're a woman. We're raised to be accommodating and kind towards others, so the act of rejecting someone feels alien, wrong, and to varying degrees dangerous. Part of us says "Maybe you should just go along with it so that he doesn't feel hurt ... or kill you." That may sound a bit extreme, and of course the vast majority of men would not react that way, but unfortunately the small percentage of dangerous men have ruined it for everyone. Of course this is speculation but I'd suppose that most women who have rejected a man have thought to themselves "I hope he doesn't kill me." I'd also speculate that men typically don't have that fear about the women they reject.

On the other hand I feel like rejection can be harder for men than it is for women because they are raised to feel that they should take initiative in romantic relationships, and if their advances are spurned it's because they are losers. Men are pressured to take more risks and thus are placed in a more emotionally vulnerable position than women.

Sorry for injecting gender dynamics and patriarchy into a post that had none, but I can't help if I just read a book about the historical archaeology of gender.

JJ Beazley said...

On top of the game as ever, Mad. You even manage a freakily apposite quotation (although without being cynical - which I'm not, I'm not - those lines could be indicative of a martyr complex.)

But for a bout of characteristic laziness, I could have added a gender aspect. It did occur to me when I was suffering the discomfort of receiving anonymous phone calls, some with unintelligible whispered messages, and being constantly offered lifts I didn't need, and facing clear disappointment and disapproval if I declined, and being remonstrated with for getting out of the car as soon as arrived at my house, and so on and so forth, that it must be so much worse for a woman in that situation. At least I felt in no physical danger. I should think the Glen Close model is rare.

Like your insights.

Madeline said...

God, I would have feared for your safety in that situation. You're right that the Glen Close model is rare, but once Glen Close-like tendencies have surfaced I'd sound the alarm bells.

Not to downplay the seriousness of physical danger, but I think men go through a lot of emotional suffering that can easily go unnoticed because it's more subtle and because they are taught that only women are allowed to have feelings.

I'm glad you made it through what must have been a very trying experience.

JJ Beazley said...

I was lucky. I decided to gently confront the situation face-to-face, but as I approached her she put her hand up and said 'It's OK. I've decided to take counseling.' And that was the end of the matter.

You know, I've long believed that while women generally give vent to their feelings more easily than men, they're actually emotionally tougher. And I suspect the two might be connected.