Did anyone read the Modern Love column in this last Sunday’s New York Times– “Friends Without Benefits”? It’s the overwrought tale of loving an emotionally unavailable man, or what we here at Chump Lady would call a mindfuck. To wit:
He pulled me into his world only to discard me any night a pretty young thing showed up for the taking, knowing, I think, that I had fallen in love with him and that I was only waiting for him to realize I had been there all along.
Years later, he would confess to having loved me all along. But while I stood waiting for him to happen to me, he was always looking for the next best thing. I apparently made too good of a friend for him to justify anything more significant, which my young brain could interpret only as a criticism.
To me it felt like a matter of time. He would come around. I pushed hard against the girls he brought home. I slept on his couch and in the morning shouldered angrily past blond college students who did not understand my rage.
It goes on and on in this vein, until yeah they have sex, and yeah he’s “confused,” and yeah he marries someone else but still stays in touch to discuss his conflicted feelings — but really he loved her all along! — you know the type chumps — a cake eater. He’s not one bit seriously interested in this nitwit, but she spackles on, seeing intent and purpose where there is none.
I groaned as I read the entire thing, revolted at her oblivious chumpdom. It’s the recitation of a decade-long dance of “pick me” — only what makes the story particularly chumptacular is that she spackles without the facade of a commitment, she never gets more than peripheral status. It’s not a story about infidelity per se (although her mindset sounds a lot like that of OW, which you could argue she is, seeing as she’s discussing their love while he’s married to someone else), it’s a story about being dumb. It’s a story of spackle.
Although I doubt it’s intended that way. I imagine to the author, she is in fact starring in her own star-crossed romance full of pathos — “I let him go, dear reader!” I cannot hazard a guess as to what the editors of Modern Love in the New York Times were thinking, because it’s a pretty dreadful bit of writing.
Anywho, reading this story last weekend coincided with being on HuffPo again and getting the usual comments of “what did you do to make him cheat?” and “how are you accountable?” (which I’ll take over the “You must forgive, it is ESSENTIAL” sort of drivel). And finally I thought, hey, I do have something to say about my accountability — I must own my chumpiness!
Yes, I put the chump in Chump Lady, folks. There have been challengers to the title, but I don’t know if you could out chump me — four D-days, four false reconciliations before I packed it in (and I wobbled after the divorce too…cringe). I am only able to groan at that stupid Modern Love column, because every chumpy bit of spackle the author indulged in, I did too.
Here are some common chump blunders I shared with the author of “Friends Without Benefits.”
1. Failing to realize that a mixed signal actually is a signal. Actually, it is a flaming beacon that says “I am fucked up, steer clear!” Healthy people know their minds. They don’t spend a lot of time (say a decade) “confused” about their feelings or why they do the things they do. Willful “confusion” is the tactic of manipulators and cake eaters. Oh, they need time. Their feelings are very, very fragile. They’re very stressed right now and they’ll get back to you. My ex made a lot of pronouncement that saving his marriage was very important to him, but did nothing that resembled saving a marriage. He spent a lot of time in the “I don’t know” forest.
And I accepted that. Sure I pressed him and asked the questions 17 different ways to get an answer, but when the words and the actions didn’t align (mixed signal) — I failed to get a clue.
2. That people who love you ACT like it. The guy in the Modern Love story tells the protagonist that he “loves” her but spends a lot of time courting other women, and eventually marrying someone who isn’t her. But she clings to his words that he loves her. She gives that meaning, when his actions are very clear that she is not a priority in his life. Similarly, my ex told me all the time that he “loved” me, and he also was unwilling to stop cheating on me. It took me too long to come to the simple realization that he did NOT love me. He’d never loved me, because people who love you and are invested in you cannot treat you with such blatant disregard. His “love” was a con, and I was a chump because I wanted to believe it. I hung on to the vestiges of what that faux love meant — he married me, gave me a ring, introduced me to his family, etc. Surely that must signify love? No, it signified cake. I was of use to him.
The woman in the Modern Love story was of use to that man as a source of ego kibbles. Nothing more.
3. Thinking that sticking around will improve the outcome instead of prolonging the pain. Chumps are patient and long suffering. In fact, I don’t think you can really be a first class chump unless you’re willing to have faith in improbable outcomes and wait devotedly for them. He is going to get better. He is going to come out of the fog! He will wake up and value me! As the author of the story said “I felt it was a matter of time. He would come around.” I think chumps feel there is some romance in this. Penelope waiting for Odysseos to come back from the wars. I’m true! I’m here! My faithfulness will inspire you! When they wake up out of that fog/coma/concussion from the tornado — you’ll be at their bedside and they’ll awake from that dream and realize there is No Place Like Home!
It’s the stuff of storybooks. We eat it up. The author of that story spent a decade seeing herself as a heroine in a dramatic romance, instead of the more humiliating reality that she was a side dish fuck at best for a narcissist who didn’t care for her, but was happy to have her around as kibbles.
I spent over a year trying to rewrite my disaster into a happier ending — I told myself I just had to stay the course! I listened to those idiots on reconciliation boards say, oh it takes 6 months before they come out of the fog, don’t do anything rash. I failed to realize too late into the game that sticking around meant one thing — more pain. My pain. He was quite happy to keep doing the limbo rock.
The person who had to wake up out of the dream was me.