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This section was my workspace for philosophy essays between July 2006 and April 2008. I call this "Prehistoric Kilroy" because it gave me practice for more disciplined essays in Kilroy Cafe. Also see my philophical blog and Twitter feed.

Issue #51, 12/21/2006

The Grudge
— or —
The Male vs. Female Broken Heart Smackdown

By Glenn Campbell
Family Court Philosopher

In the battlefield of romance, there are two questions that are asked over and over:

A: "Why are men such assholes?" and

B: "Why are women such assholes?"

The experience seems universal: You fall in love, or at least start heading that way, and this person who looked so perfect does something dastardly that shatters your faith in the opposite sex. Six months or six years into the relationship, you discover that they were lying to you all along. They aren't the person they initially portrayed themselves as. They are a user and an abuser, and you fell for their con game.

Members of your own sex would never behave in this way. Your same-sex friends are all honorable, and they share your observations about the other gender: assholes, every one. It's enough to make you swear off those jerks and turn to members of your own sex for deep emotional fulfillment.

That's when you discover a startling truth: Members of your own sex are assholes, too!

You could generalize the question and just ask, "Why are people such assholes?" but this doesn't cut to the heart of the issue. A more meaningful question is:

C: "What is there about romance that brings out the asshole in people?"

Your same-sex friends seem honorable because you don't have the same expectations of them, and you interact with them only when it is comfortable for both of you. There is a lot about your friends that you have never had an opportunity to experience, because you have never seen them under extreme emotional pressure.

You might learn more about your same-sex friend if you accompanied them through their divorce proceedings. If you are there to see the relationship collapse, then you might start asking one or both of these questions:

D. "How did my friend become so mean?" and/or

E. "How did my friend fall for this jerk to begin with?"

When your friend is getting divorced, they no doubt have a horrifying tale to tell about their partner's abuse. You are hearing only one side of the story, of course. If you talk to their spouse, you'll hear an entirely different account: It was your friend who was abusive. No doubt, there are plenty of lies and half-truths floating around, and it can be challenging to sort them out. Only one thing is certain: You didn't know your friend as well as you thought you did.

Only in romance are the stakes so high. The expectations, in fact, are supernatural. You expect the other person to walk on water. They are supposed to solve your existential problems, like "How do I give my life meaning?" and "How do I stop being alone?" You can accept a lot of bullshit when you are desperate and your whole life seems to be on the line.

There are con artists of both sexes who set out from the beginning to woo the lovelorn, drain their bank accounts, then split. These cases are rare, however. More often, the deception is mutual and exists as much inside you as it does in them.

When you "fell in love," you chose to see in the other person what you wanted to see, and you ignored everything else. Of the thousand personality traits they exhibited, you focussed in on the few that served your needs. "We have so much in common," you said, while you closed your eyes to everything you didn't have in common. If some disturbing trait emerged in the beginning, you may have brushed it under the carpet because you don't want to be alone again and have to start over. "I can work with that," you said.

When what you ignored comes back to haunt you and the relationship collapses, you may react in the opposite direction in any new relationship, seizing on any minor difference as a reason to reject it. Over time, your frustration with the opposite sex can become a twisted and dysfunctional grudge. You despise those assholes but are still drawn to them. Of course, that's not much of a basis for a successful relationship.

But if you chose to see something that wasn't there, it is hard to blame the opposite sex. It's like looking up at the stars and seeing the constellations. The stars didn't intend to display those meaningful patterns; you made them up in your head. If you make decisions based on what you think the stars are telling you, it isn't necessarily the stars fault if you choose poorly.

Everyone has a personality, and it doesn't change very much in adulthood. The person you divorced is pretty much the same person you married; you are just seeing more of them. All of the data you needed was present before the marriage, but you didn't look for it and you chose not see it when it presented itself. Throughout all of this, the other person was just being who they were. It was you who chose to deify them.

You can say that both men and woman are assholes, but that's not very helpful. People are people, and are going to respond in certain ways to existential stress. Loneliness and meaninglessness each have their own effects on people. To try to find love, people will put on an act and will blindly accept the act of others. It's not a matter of one sex or another being defective. It's a problem of perception and how desperation can alter it.

Men's and women's brains may be structured differently, but that's not as big a gulf as the natural barriers between any two individuals. With your same-sex friends, the relationship only goes so deep. In romance, you desperately want a greater merging, to a degree that might not be possible.

And, frankly, most people may indeed be assholes, at least under stress. People, generally speaking, are pretty screwed up. Perhaps mental illness is not the exception in the human species but the overwhelming rule. When we try to dig below the friendly facade of our companions, we might find a lot of ugly things we don't want to see. Intimacy gives us a special opportunity to experience this underside.

To survive at romance, what we need is less desperation and more clarity of observation. There are no white knights. Who you see in front of you is really a little lost child dressed up like a white knight and trying to play the role. To know this person and not be deluded about him, you need to understand the child inside. He evolved in a certain way to deal with the problems of his existance, and you are probably not going to change that basic style.

He is not going to rescue you, and you can't rescue him. The most you can expect is occasional contact, where one little lost child talks to the other and shares some of their experience. It's not going to be a solution to any of your major problems, which are yours alone to solve. It might just be a little bittersweet companionship along the way.


Reader Comments

“see INTIMACY, n., from "Devil's Dictionary" by A. Bierce” — 12/21/06 (rating=2)

“One of the most depressing texts I ever read, which basically make me conclude that men are not worth any of the heartache they give. Whether the author liked it or not, men are far more game-playing than women.” — 4/12/07

“seems like unbiased truth” — 6/13/07 (rating=3)

“Excellent; insightful!” — 9/8/07 (rating=5)

“the conclusion is merciful” —struggling 11/27/09 (rating=3)

Ratings so far: 3 2 3 2 4 3 3 5 3 5 3 3 4 3 5 5 5 5 (Average=3.6)

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