“…soooo, True Blood is NOT a dating video?”
This is a running joke between me and my friends, which would be somewhat more amusing if it wasn’t true. I have a fondness for Bad Boys (note: this is NOT an advertisement. Bad Boys need not apply. Seriously.). In pretty much any setting, I tend to be drawn towards the people who are most likely to bring me strife & tribulations: those deeply emotionally conflicted; those who have seen more than it’s healthy; those trying (and often failing) to overcome terrible backgrounds; those guaranteed to bring excitement(TM) into your life… with an unfortunate side dish of death and destruction. They are not necessarily evil or ill-intentioned. They don’t mean to fuck up; they just do. All the time. So maybe they are not “bad people” as such, but they are definitely bad news. So I watch True Blood, or True Detective, or Sons of Anarchy, or Dexter, or the just-say-no programme of your choice, and I am reliably drawn towards the absolutely worst choice available if one is seeking the traditional happy ending.
Anyone with the least understanding of psychology can take a look at my family of origin and work the whys and wherefores. They could then wax lyrical about early trauma, lack of suitable role models, Freud’s repetition compulsion, etc. And that might make for a really cool conversation over drinks, but it would be ultimately pointless. Because it doesn’t matter a fig what I’m drawn towards. What matters is what I pick.
Forget about boys for a moment, and consider chocolate. If you put a bowl of salad and a bowl of Belgian truffles in front of me and ask me to pick one, I’ll be drawn towards the truffles. That, however, doesn’t mean that I will pick them. I know that I scoff a pound of truffles I’ll feel physically sick; over time, they will damage my body, which will make me feel emotionally sick, too. So, regardless of the fact that they are ever-so-yummy, I’m most likely to pick the salad, because I know that salad is better for me. The same would apply to bacon, or Lucky Charms, or the endless variety of deeply unhealthy food I’d happily gorge on if only I didn’t know better.
Every time I choose bacon over broccoli, I don’t see that as a failure of whatever selection mechanism drives me towards crispy, fatty goodness rather than rabbit food (Is it nature? Is it nurture? Do I need food therapy??). I see that first and foremost as a failure of my willpower. If I know what a good choice looks like but I make a bad one instead, it’s my willpower that has failed me.
So yeah, me and mine have received bad conditioning. We’ve seen bad stuff. We’ve got TRAUMAS, man! And we’re drawn towards damaging stuff as a result!
We’re not zombies or golems, following a compulsion with no free will. We’re not stupid. We’re still whole people. We can learn how to make good choices and then make them, regardless of any urges or habits to do otherwise. Yes, it might be harder for us than for other people, but so what? Either we do it or we don’t. It’s in and on us.*
I shall leave you with a quote from Marilyn Hacker’s poem, “She Bitches About Boys“:
Girls love a sick child or a healthy animal.
A man who’s both itches them like an incubus.
Because, yannow, all we need to learn to do is not scratch that itch.
(*much like the Bad Boys, if you’re not careful).