Dear Chump Lady,
First I’d like to say that I’ve found reading your website to be very helpful. I’m not actually a chump. I’m a woman, almost 23 years old and I’ve never even been in a serious relationship, or any relationship. But I think that I am in real danger of becoming a future chump.
I notice myself doing things that seem common to chumps; I have an extremely strong sense of empathy, which in turn makes me a pro at spackling. I’m also a people-pleaser and put my needs and emotions second. Maybe you’re wondering why I’m doing these things if I’m not even in a relationship… well let me explain.
I have this friend that I’ve known for most of my life. We went through school together. We started becoming good friends in 8th grade and continued to be friends all through high school. But then after high school we didn’t talk much, just the occasional text (texting still being our primary method of talking).
But then about a year and a half ago, out of the blue, he started texting me all the time, daily. I didn’t find this odd at the time because I was just glad to talk to him again. He was pretty much my only friend by the end of high school… the other few friends I had had abandoned me, and in the years after graduation I hadn’t made a single new friend. But anyways, as we talked he confided that he was in the same boat, his friends from high school had more or less stopped talking to him and he hadn’t made any notable new ones.
He is pretty much the only man I have ever been close to, and over time I have developed romantic feelings for him, but I’m wondering now if some of those feelings were born out of pity. He is a lonely person, his mom has been emotionally abusive to him all his life, and like me he’s never been in a serious relationship. He can go on and on about how alone he is, about how he’ll never “find someone.” I always argue back that he will, that we’re still young and that there’s plenty of time to meet someone, all the while never letting on that I have feelings for him. Since he brings this topic of loneliness up on a regular basis, and always argues against my encouragements, I realize I must be nothing more than a kibble dispenser to him. But it’s like I can’t help it, I know how much it hurts to be alone, and since I’m his friend I don’t want that for him.
There are all the other little things too that I’ve attempted to bury with spackle. For example, he objectifies women quite a bit. He’ll randomly describe some woman to me, what physical features of hers he does or doesn’t like. It could be anyone – someone in his class, a clerk at a store, it doesn’t seem to matter. I can’t figure out why he does this. Another example, he’ll all but ignore me if he finds someone else to talk to or hang out with… a lot of the time I feel like I’m just a convenience for when he’s bored.
I know I’ve made him sound like a bad person, but the chump part of me wants to defend him and say that he’s not. We truly do have engaging conversations a lot of the time, and we know each other well. But lately it feels like it just isn’t worth it, that I’ve cried too much over how insensitive he can be, not just towards my romantic feelings, but towards our friendship. Again, the chump in me wants to say, “It’s not his fault, he was never socialized well. His parents were rarely there and he never had many good friends, etc.”
So, finally getting to the part where I ask your advice, I guess it’s a two-part question: since I can recognize myself doing a lot of classic chump things, how can I stop myself? My empathy and compassion compel me to want to help and be there for this person, but it’s obvious that I’m having to sacrifice my own emotional well-being for that.
And not just for this guy, but what about the future? I’m so scared of becoming a chump someday. Second part of my question: what should I do about this person? Could I continue to talk to him and be friends if I can control my chump impulses, or would it be better to cut him out of my life entirely? To do the latter would take every ounce of strength I have as I am someone who is absolutely terrified of confrontation. But at the same time I am sick of feeling like this person doesn’t respect me at all. I am sick of my mood being determined by what he says to me. I am sick of feeling depressed for days about him, all the while wondering if he even cares.
I really look forward to hearing your and your chump brigade’s objective thoughts on my predicament.
Chump in the Making
I think you’ve earned your chump star with this guy, even if you aren’t in a physical relationship with him.
Let me ask — do you WANT a relationship with a guy who objectifies other women and tells you about it? A guy who blows you off when someone else comes along? A guy whose art of kibble procurement is self pity? I’m so lonely. I’ll never find anyone. Woe!
That, my friend, is a mindfuck. He knows perfectly well he has a willing chump with you. The Friend Who Is Always There For Him. This schtick reminds me of that scene in Monty Python’s Spamalot where King Arthur sings “I’m All Alone” even though he’s got his faithful servant by his side (and is later joined by an entire chorus). It’s a send up of narcissism. Here have a laugh:
Just like King Arthur, your friend is communicating with his alone complaints that you aren’t in his class. He’s perfectly aware of your interest — you’re always available for him. But he enjoys the sense of superiority. Who YOU? That’s so preposterous so he describes himself as All Alone. But hey, you’re welcome to chase him. That’s kibbles. Or compare yourself to the sorts of women he does enjoy, which you know about because he tells you about it. As long as you’re willing to feel inferior, he’ll have a “relationship” with you. But hide behind that house plant when someone more worthy of his attention comes along, okay?
This guy is NOT your friend. That’s your first lesson in how not to be a chump. Figure out what friends look like. When you’ve mastered friendship, then you can move on to intimate relationships. But let’s beef up our friend skills first, okay?
You say your high school friends abandoned you, and you didn’t make any more. That’s on you, kid. Ditch the low self esteem and go BE a friend. Find a new tribe. Take that RISK. It’s so much better than dealing from the bargain bin of humanity and waiting for a text from some loser.
What interests you? What makes you happy? If you’re a people pleaser, why not volunteer somewhere, help out some folks in need who could use it? Find a deserving audience for your people pleasing tendencies. Make some new friends, be of use to a good cause.
And chuck the codependence. Chumps think they can only have relationships if they prove themselves to be of Value. And we secretly want pay back for all we give. I’ll do X, Y, and Z for you — but then you’ll be my friend, right?
Wrong approach. Invest in yourself and find the things that make you happy. Be good at some things. And ATTRACT people honestly. And be attracted to others honestly — I love the way you write, the way you handled that jerk at work, the way you do back flips off the diving board. Learn to compliment people sincerely and value other people’s gifts. Not out of a sense of pleasing them, but out of a sense of true admiration and appreciation of their talents.
Surround yourself with people who do the same for you. You don’t have any special talents? Then develop some. Throw yourself into THAT for a year or so. Forget dating. Get lost in your own awesomeness for awhile.
All good relationships are based in reciprocity, not suffocating need. You can’t just GIVE (although we chumps are most comfortable in that power seat), you have to take. You need to accept graciously. Chumps have a hard time taking when their self esteem is in the shitter. But good people want to give, and you don’t want to shoo them away with your flinty independence. In a weird way, as much as chumps crave intimacy, we do things to make sure we don’t get it. We sign up for lop-sided relationships, because narcissists (who love lop-sidedness) make us feel so essential. Chumps are awesome kibble dispensers. You’ll spend so much time lobbing kibbles, you forget yourself.
You matter too. Hold out for reciprocity. Surround yourself with people who share your values, who get you.
Where do you find these people? Best place to look is those places where you like to be. Art classes, theatre troupes, political campaigns, college classes, hiking clubs, fitness centers. Wherever your best self is, your friends are there.
And CITM, consider some therapy too. Work out why friendship and intimacy has been hard. You’re young — now’s the time to go experiment in life. Fuck up and learn from it. Don’t sit on the sidelines, don’t miss out. You won’t be 23 forever.
Best news is, you’re so aware and on top of things. Most of us here learned our chump lessons in middle age. You’re way ahead of the curve. So take heart, chumpdom is not a permanent condition. Go gain that life.
Oh, and you can start by dumping that guy. You don’t owe him any explanation. He’s a jerk. Quit answering his texts. Shoe’s on the other foot now — you’ve got better things to do.