Hugo Schwyzer has an insightful very long post about male self-loathing, popular music, and passive-aggressively defusing women’s anger.

There’s another aspect to all of this “Self-Hating, Passive-Aggressive Male Pop.” As many women find out, lots of men use self-loathing as an effective tool for deflecting female anger. Women very often express profound exasperation with their boyfriend or husband, only to have him hang his head and say “You’re right. I’m a worthless piece of shit. I’ve always been shit. I can’t believe you stay with me.” If he fought back (not physically, mind you), a constructive discussion might take place. But if the fella says worse things about himself than his wife or girlfriend would ever say about him, then he cleverly tries to steal her thunder. She’s forced to either agree with him or to bite back her own anger and begin to comfort him. Many women find out sooner or later that male expressions of self-loathing are usually a passive-aggressive technique designed to avoid conflict. It’s a technique that invariably undermines and eventually destroys the relationship. It leaves both partners depressed and exhausted. And it has no place in a healthy relationship.

The only issue I take with the post is that this is not a distinctly male phenomenon (and by extension disagree that this has much to do with feminism and the increasing confidence of women. In fact, the James Blunt song is more expressive of the female manifestation that I’ve witnessed than male behavior. A sense of not impotent anger but pitiable helplessness. I’ve actually run in to more females that do this then males, but then considering that I am a straight male it would be the female manifestations that capture my attention.

The basic idea is this: He/she is a broken person. They have a cafeteria of weaknesses to choose from. You are good for them because (when they’re doing well) you bring out the best in them and (when they’re not) you help them through like no one else can. By this point they usually have you sufficiently ensnared that they do not have to explain why they are good for you.

Young ladies are susceptable to this logic because their self-esteem is often tied up in service. It’s the whole “you complete me” line from Jerry Maguire. For that line to work, he has to be incomplete. An incomplete male provides a romantic job opportunity. A use.

Young men are susceptable to this logic because their self-esteem is often tied up in protection. If the damzel isn’t in distress, a knight has no reason to suit up. There are very few wicked godmothers and evil kings have better things to be doing, so we take opportunities where we can find them.

Ultimately, though, these confessions are little more than a pre-emptive strike. On The Wire, a character by the name of Wee-Bay copped a deal assuring that he would get life in prison but not the death penalty. He was told to confess to every murder he’s done because if he leaves one out, he could get the death penalty. So he confesses to anything and everything he can think of so that he doesn’t get burned.

Which is sort of how the relationship confessions work. Like Weebay, they think (consciously or usually subconsciously) that they can’t be punished for anything that they admit to up-front. And if they find something else and leave you, even then they are not accountable for all of the time, money, energy, and love of yours that they wasted because you were warned.

If you’ve never heard that line at the end of a timultuous relationship that you carried most of the weight for, I wouldn’t recommend it. You’re angry because you now realize it as the cop-out it always was… and you’re angrier still because they were right and you were warned.

And of course if you are the one that leaves, everything changes. If you’ve ever tested someone’s theory that they don’t deserve you and that you’d be better off leaving, you know how quickly the tune changes once you actually do try to leave. Nothing they’ve said is untrue, mind you, and they are usually aware of that on some level. But though the evidence doesn’t change, the second you seriously contemplate leaving, the verdict changes almost immediately.

My best friend Clint has a tendency to do this (the James Blunt, feminine manifestation). His current girlfriend was the first that I recall that actually called him on it. She apparently said “I don’t want to hear it” when Clint would open up about his varied weaknesses. She believed, as I do, that the first several months of a relationship are about setting expectations (of your own behavior) high so that you have the goal of living up to them later.

So whether your male or female, beware of anything that is enthusiastic about telling you all that is wrong with them.

Category: Coffeehouse

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3 Responses to The Pre-emptive Strike

  1. Becky says:

    I like your line of “if a damsel isn’t in distress, the knight has not reason to suit up.” I have so many thoughts running through my head from this post, that I’m having a hard time pinning them down into a coherent comment.

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