02 May 2008

But Don't Call it Love

Aranna is a fascinating woman.

She sits like a queen, straight-backed, square-shouldered, one hand toying with the coffee cup in front of her, and her listeners are spellbound.

Aranna is seeking their approval to date a junior minister at her church, whom she has seen for pastoral counseling.

She is not speaking about the situation to other members of her church, or to the ministers themselves [her church has four: the head pastor, the youth pastor, the pastoral counselor, and the pastor of music]. She has no plans to speak with them. Instead, she is speaking to several women from her book club, none of whom attend her church, none of whom have ever met this minister.

This is important.

She expresses her yearning for relationship with this man, her caring for him, her longing. She quickly explains that he is no longer counseling her, and therefore that interaction is 'over' and no longer relevant. She admits that they've had coffee twice outside the usual church setting, and that she has managed to coax him into having dinner with her once as well, but that he has 'shied away' from her since then, and she isn't sure what to do about it.

One of her listeners leans back a little, with brows drawing together, a small worried crease forming just above the bridge of her nose. "Aranna," she begins, "if pastoral counseling is like other forms of counseling, I think there might be some ethical and legal issues here..."

Aranna sighs. "But he's so lonely... and I think that's causing his drinking..."

She then shares with her audience a number of things that he told her, during their semi-dates. About the death of his mother, his father's nervous breakdowns, his sister's problems with alcohol and drugs. She shares her deep concern that he is a 'wounded healer' and needs her, needs love, needs someone to turn to before he burns out under the burden of others' grief.

Another listener smiles sharply and suggests that the poor man is simply afraid of love, must be, to even consider rejecting such a prize as Aranna. Aranna glows at her, and admits that he seems very fearful, and she was amazed at all the irrational things he was saying when he refused her offer of a fourth 'semi-date'.

She doesn't describe these irrational things...

The first listener shakes her head, leans forward, hands spread. She is virtually certain that there are specific prohibitions against dating counselees, for pastoral counselors, just as physicians are prohibited from dating their patients, just as other professionals are prohibited from dating their clients. She wonders if the man simply caught himself on the brink and realized he had to back off? That could come across as panic, if he was uncomfortable enough... and it certainly wouldn't be personal, not a rejection of Aranna as Aranna, but just a realization that some things cannot be.

Aranna sighs again, but this time her eyes flash over to this speaker, in a quick but unmistakable glare. "Well, I didn't want to... upset you all... but he was, well... actually he became, um, intoxicated during dinner. It affected his speech.. and he, umm, started telling me about his divorce... it was very, very bitter... and I was shocked at the language he used..."

A third listener, with a sweet expression, leans forward and says, "Oh, Aranna, you deserve happiness... I hope this works out for you."

A fourth sniffs and insists that Aranna is much, much too good for this pathetic, damaged man.


Two months later, same booth.

Aranna couldn't come to the next book club meeting, and everyone is curious about her situation.

He began to pursue her, she explains, after she left him a voice message at his office number to express her confusion and hurt at his 'rejection'. They have had dinner twice more, and twice gone to brunch together. At his invitation... and she went because she felt pity for him. She has not heard from him since their second dinner... and she thinks he's probably abusive, since he was such a nervous wreck, intoxicated, foul-mouthed, on their first dinner semi-date, after all.

Meanwhile, she's noticed how cute the guy is who does the church's window cleaning... so on to a fresh adventure, and no regrets about the past.

Several of her listeners again chime in that she's much, much too good for that other man. The first listener, the one who brought up the ethical concerns two months previously, waits until the others have finished speaking and then asks Aranna how long it's been since their second dinner, how long since she's actually heard from him.

Three days.

And the cute window cleaner.... when did he come on the scene?

Oh... last Sunday, they were talking after the service, he's a church member too.

The first listener leans back. Tilts her head, nods. Thinks to herself: this is Friday... Sunday was five days ago... Tuesday was three days ago. So Aranna was flirting with the new fellow two days before her last date with the first guy... in a place where the first guy must also have been... and the first guy kept their dinner date after that, but hasn't called her since. Small wonder, actually, if he saw her grooming his replacement... right under his nose...

First Listener says nothing of any of this, sips coffee, then speaks. "Well... that new guy sounds promising. I certainly hope you do find happiness, with the right person."


What on earth is going on here?

There are at least three possible scenarios regarding Aranna's dating life; and the dynamics with her book group, in each scenario, are fairly revealing.
[1] None of the things Aranna has reported are accurate. This is one possibility. Aranna might feel a need, for several different reasons, to impress her clubmates and show herself to them as an attractive, sought-after woman. Since there's no overlap between her book club and her church, she is free to invent and create, garner support, vent feelings.

This situation is relatively harmless, as long as none of the club members happens to discuss it with other friends or acquaintances who know the church and the people in question. It is not, however, terribly healthy... in this scenario, Aranna is essentially manipulating the emotions of her clubmates, and potentially damaging the reputation of someone she claims to care about.

[2] Some of the things Aranna has reported are accurate. This is the usual state of affairs in human events... we see through the filters of our own desires, our own histories, our own fears. Some of what we see is really there; it takes both detachment and experience to reach the point at which most of what we see is really there.

In this scenario, it is still interesting that Aranna isn't planning to talk with people in the setting where the romance is being pursued. It is also interesting that, while she speaks of her caring and yearning in connection with this man, her description of him is really quite hostile. While she says that she longs for his love, she is also telling her clubmates that he drinks, is panic-driven, is laden with emotional baggage from a failed marriage, has a guttermouth. This is major cognitive dissonance, but none of her clubmates comments on it, or even appears to notice it, except to go along with her in condemning the man she 'wants', before she has even held him in her arms.

This is, again, not terribly healthy... and is potentially more damaging than the first scenario, since some of the people and events are real, some are not, and it's not possible for any of Aranna's clubmates to know which is which. In the first scenario, having word 'get back' to the church might cause Aranna some serious embarrassment; in the second scenario, the same revelation might cost an innocent man his job.

[3] All of the things Aranna has reported are accurate. In this scenario, her clubmates are hearing the unedited truth... but, again, the implications of that are failing to register. The focus is kept on the defects in Romeo, and there is no awareness of the defects in Juliet.

Think for a moment. What does a woman, besotted, say of her beloved? That he swears like a sailor? Drinks like a fish? That he is a pitiful cringing ball of nerves? That he comes from damaged stock?

God help the man who thinks such things are a paean of praise... but, of course, the man will not hear these things, if they are being said. Not until later.

And God help the woman who sees such things, and says them, and continues in pursuit of intimate relationship with someone she has already so condemned... with or without a Greek chorus of enablers telling her that she's much, much too good for him.
What on earth is going on here?

It could be fantasy, driven by loneliness. It could be confusion, projection, distorted perception. It could be scathing accuracy and hostile dependency.

But there is one thing it could never be.

Don't call it love.


Blogger Katherine Gunn said...

Yes, that is the one thing it is not.

Good blog and welcome back! ;-)

02 May, 2008 18:08  
Blogger Stormchild said...

Thanks Katherine!

Men do this too... this is the female equivalent of locker-room bragging about one's conquests, I think. Female-on-male relational aggression, performed for an audience.

But it seems to me that men do it more openly; the predatory intent is part of the 'persona' for a male 'playa'. Here, everything is being spun, glossed over with a shiny surface of acceptable emotion. But it's all smoke and mirrors. The cognitive dissonance, the hostility towards this man, is - or should be - obvious.

One element common to both sexes in this situation, though, is that tendency to smear and demean the 'object of one's affections' in advance, behind their backs, to a 'gang' of same-sex companions, before any 'relationship' even begins.

No. There's nothing remotely resembling love within a ten mile radius of that.

Thanks for commenting. :-)

04 May, 2008 13:26  
Blogger CZBZ said...

"The cognitive dissonance, the hostility towards this man, is - or should be - obvious."

Forgive me if I meander off-topic somewhat...but for those of us who have recognized the problems women face in a patriarchal society, we have erred on the side of giving women the benefit-of-the-doubt. We listen because for so many years, nobody was talking. Nobody was hearing women's voices and some of us took women at their word without questioning the veracity of their claims. It's been a long journey for me as it has probably also been for many others who see the big picture and want to assist positive change in our society.

About Aranna (and great story, by the way!):

Women like Aranna depend on a compassionate audience to validate their behavior as being normal. When a group of women get together, I listen to what is NOT being said as much as I listen to what IS being said. I wish it didn't have to be this way but if women were moral icons of empathic nurturance, they wouldn't be human. So, guess I'll go for HUMAN and let my Madonna fantasies go.

There is an unconscious assumption people make that is likely what Aranna was counting on:

All a man needs is a good woman. A very good woman, as a matter of fact.

That makes Arena even more special, you see. If we aren’t aware of our assumptions, we’ll feed her narcissism with our approval. We look to Aranna to fulfill our deepest fantasies rather than questioning her arrogance setting herself higher than a man-with-issues. Everyone is focused on ‘his’ issues without seeing a woman with a wart on the end of her nose pretending it’s not there. Yup, Aranna is far too good for a man like that and her narcissism grows, feeding off the ready supply of women who are never the wiser to her tactics.

As you wrote, “Aranna is essentially manipulating the emotions of her clubmates and potentially damaging the reputation of someone she claims to care about.”

Most of us who are invested in a relationship and truly care about our partner, are highly resistant to divulging any information that is defamatory. I think this is important to pay attention to. I see this over and over. People exert all the courage they have to speak the unspeakable and then, suffer pangs of guilt over having admitted the reality of their partner’s abuse. (or self-abuse as the case may be). They do not, I repeat, do not take joy and delight in divulging another person’s struggles.


14 May, 2008 16:39  
Blogger Stormchild said...

CZ wrote:

"Most [people] who are invested in a relationship and truly care about [their] partner, are highly resistant to divulging any information that is defamatory. ... They do not, I repeat, do not take joy and delight in divulging another person’s struggles."

I'd add only this:

Especially behind that person's back, without that person's knowledge.

I think the surreptitious nature of the disclosures is very, very important here as well.

You are absolutely right, CZ, the Myth of the Man Redeemed By a Good Woman's Love is a fairytale many of us were fed in the cradle. And I agree with you, but I'm going to state it in slightly different words.

A good woman, in that scenario, isn't going to be telling all her girlfriends exactly what she's redeemed him from.


14 May, 2008 20:27  
Blogger CZBZ said...

You're so right, Stormchild. What I appreciate about this story is how 'realistic' it is to our daily experience. There have been so many times when I felt 'odd' about an exchange with someone but couldn't exactly figure out why. Maybe a lot of people are the same way until they're forced to study Abuse and Narcissism. My eyes have certainly been opened and it didn't happen willingly.

HOWEVER, I've never felt more SANE in my whole life.

Here's to Samizdat and the power of information in the hands of the people who need it.

Thank you,

14 May, 2008 23:48  

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