I couple of weeks ago, my mom rang up and pretended she’d had a stroke. She didn’t say it out right (that’d be gauche); she just mush-mouthed and feigned aphasia. It was a very convincing performance and I would have been extremely alarmed, if it wasn’t for three things:
- It seemed unlikely that someone with that level of sudden brain damage would be dialling an international phone number, code and all. (No, she wouldn’t have me on speed dial. Technology = witchcraft.)
- I’m pretty sure that those problems don’t generally evaporate when the people affected start talking about something they are interested in.
- Most importantly, she’s pulled this sort of stunt before.
She has been doing this sort of thing for as long as I can remember, to the point that I can’t remember. I remember some her most ridiculous alleged illnesses, or the ones that had the greatest impact on my life. The bulk of them, though, have been thrown into my memory soup under “crap my mom pulls when she feels lonely.” And I know she feels lonely, and there is nothing odd about that: she is alone. Alas, one of the causes of her aloneness is that she’s the sort of person who is cool with scaring the crap out of people in order to get their attention.
Most people don’t put up with that kind of behaviour; not only they respond badly to the tactic in the moment, but they actively shun people who believe it’s an ok thing to do. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have any other arrows in her quiver. So when she’s lonely she resorts to the only strategy she has, which pushes people away, so she’s lonely, and round and round it goes. Yet none of this seems to register with her. She is blind to the part she’s playing in the process.
Each thread is unique, like a car crash, but there is a recurring pattern:
- Person A makes a real or imagined faux pas, often minor.
- Person B responds by saying some kind of no – changing the parameters of a date, cancelling dates, or rejecting Person A altogether.
- Person A responds by running through every tactic listed under “how to lose friends and alienate people.” Emotional blackmail, accusations, insults, threats, boasts, pleads, ignoring nos, loansharking, typecasting, something‘s gotta work! And if nothing’s working, do it harder!
- Person B runs for the hills, never to be seen again.
This kind of interaction is far from uncommon, and seems to be on the increase. It’s also not unique to online dating. I’ve had perfect strangers who wanted to be my bestest ever friends go completely untogether because I didn’t feel the same.
When something like this happens to me, I am genuinely thankful: I’m relieved that I’ve learnt how the person in question responds to minor disappointments before getting close to them. I sure as hell don’t want to see how they respond to major disappointments. Familiarity and intimacy only tend to exacerbate these kinds of behaviours. For these reasons, Richard Grannon recommends testing new people with small”nos” before getting involved; if they go bananas, that’s a red flag.
From the point of view of the people who rely on those awful tactics, though, it must suck. It must suck to give everything you got and constantly fail. It must suck when the only solutions you can muster are worse than useless; when they are, in fact, creating the problems you’re struggling with. And it must really, really suck to be unable to see that; to be constantly battling what must seem like inexplicable, uncalled-for rejections and never be able to overcome them, because you’re carrying the seeds of rejection inside you.