It’s not my job to stroke your ego and keep you entertained

by Natalie P.

April 5, 2007 | Filed Under Lifestyles of the Heartlessly Bitchy, The Heartless Bitch Way | 6 Comments

Last weekend I went to a small party with the bf.  At some point late in the evening, a scrabble game broke out. Yeah, it was a WILD party.  (I’m convinced J was cheating – NOBODY gets over 30 points per hand while the best I can do is spell EIEIEIO….) The bf was somewhere, socializing, I expect.  Honestly, I wasn’t paying much attention to what he was doing.  He came by periodically and tried to suggest options for my lame tiles, but then disappeared again until late in the night.  As the party wound down, I was in the kitchen, deeply involved in a conversation with P regarding a few of our favorite TV  shows. (P has loaned me his DVDs for the first three seasons of Smallville). The bf hung back watching P and I animatedly compare notes.  Finally, around 2am, we rolled home.  The next morning we took full and repeated advantage of the fact that it was the weekend and we didn’t have to go to work…

That evening, and the following day reminded me once again, why I love the bf so much:  he doesn’t expect me to take care of his feelings and coddle him – not at home, nor when we are out socializing.  It doesn’t bother him if I am lost in conversation with someone else. He doesn’t automatically assume I am ignoring him.  He doesn’t expect me to drag him into the conversation in order to make him feel included. He doesn’t get all sulky and pouty because he doesn’t feel “left out” or neglected if he isn’t the center of attention. He is perfectly capable of socializing on his own and enjoying himself whether I am paying attention to him or not.  (And he also doesn’t get bent if I don’t go to bed when he does.)

Once upon a time, I had a boyfriend, D.  For the first year that we dated, he seemed like the perfect partner.  Unfortunately, over time, cracks showed in the patina, but I was so sucked in by the “good” D, that, for a time, I actually thought it might be my fault for bringing out the “jerk” in him.  Towards the end of the relationship, things got really weird and messed up.  I recovered my inner Heartless Bitch and kicked him (and all my other toxic roommates) to the curb. 

But I want to talk about one specific behavior that manifested itself during the relationship.  It’s a classic manipulator tactic that I see enacted by people of either gender – and I see their partners, family and friends getting sucked in by it.  D had to be the center of my attention, at all times.  If we went to a party, or went out to a pub, or dinner, I had to make sure I “included” him in the conversations. In essence I was expected to coddle his ego and make sure he was ok and having fun.  Once, at a big public dance/party that we attended with friends, I explained I was going to the bar for drinks. There was a long lineup. When I got back to where we had been standing, he was gone.  I spent the next 40 minutes looking for him (he didn’t have a cell phone), and finally phoned home only to find out he was there. He claimed he felt “abandoned” and left.  He claimed he went looking for me, but I don’t believe it for a second.  It was a passive-aggressive bullshit thing to do, and unfortunately, I let his behavior ruin my evening.  While he never left a party in a huff again (I made it clear I would NOT tolerate that kind of behavior), he still blamed me for neglecting him and not caring about his feelings.  Clearly I was self-centered and didn’t care about HIM enough…

One would hope that it ended there, but sadly, it did not. He still expected me to caretake his feelings and be responsible for ensuring he was enjoying himself at a function.  This behavior was especially pronounced if I was enjoying myself.  If we went out with friends, and I got deeply involved in a conversation with someone, he’d get bent if I didn’t remember to stop and ask HIM questions and “include” him. As if he didn’t possess a brain or a mouth and the ability to PARTICIPATE like everyone else.  OTHER people jumped into the conversations, but he had to be INVITED.  You see, it was all about HIM. If I was having fun and not constantly checking in with him, then I was obviously deliberately abandoning him and not caring about HIM. Then he’d start to sulk, and sometimes that sulking would last for days or weeks, often with me having NO idea what it was that I had “done” to hurt or upset him. 

He finally stopped coming out to the pub with me or to parties where my friends were present, because those people aren’t the type to coddle passive-aggressives. If you sit there quietly, they assume it’s because you don’t have anything to say. If you have something to contribute, you jump in when someone takes a breath.

It’s not like I deliberately ignored the guy or never paid attention to him. Hell, he was the most high maintenance guy I dated.  When we were alone he had my undivided attention. It’s just that he wanted that attention whenever he sensed that I was absorbed in something else – like a conversation with someone, or writing an article on the computer.  It was a power thing.

Sure, towards the end he admitted he was “jealous of my charisma” and my ability to strike up a conversation. He even admitted in a rare moment of veracity that he went to a therapist to try and change me, because my behavior was “hurting” him.  Oh, he’d claim he was accepting responsibility, but it was personal responsiblity “lite” – the kind where it LOOKS like they are acknowledging stuff, but in fact they are just shunting the blame on to you. He was a Master at it.  He’d say things like he “accepted that he was responsible for letting me hurt him” – and crap like that.   Of course, when I’d reject those blame fests, he’d accuse me of being uncaring and self-centered, which was just one of many examples of him projecting his issues onto me.   He never actually acknowledged that his demands and expectations were unreasonable and manipulative. Because, in his mind, if you really LOVE someone, you are supposed to make sure that they are happy and comfortable all the time, right? And if they aren’t, YOU are responsible for fixing it, right?  And if you refuse to play the game?  Oh, you Heartless Bitch!  (Extra Heartless points if you eventually ask him, “Does the cross hurt when it’s shoved that far up your ass?”)

In the end I always felt vaguely to extremely uncomfortable when I was out with him. I had to be constantly checking in – I could never really relax and just enjoy myself.  It was a manipulative control tactic, and for a time (until I wised up), it worked. 

The current bf is quiet. When we are out in a group or at a party, he sits there, mostly just watching the antics and listening to the conversation, and joins in on the laughter.  If he is inclined or has something to say, he’ll speak up. But here’s the kicker – he doesn’t expect ME to keep him entertained. He doesn’t expect ME to stop every few minutes and check in with him to see if he is having fun.  He doesn’t leave in a huff or start sulking if nobody is paying attention to him.  In short, he doesn’t expect the world to revolve around him.  And he has fun. He’s not being a martyr – he really just enjoys listening and watching and sometimes participating.  (But if you want to get him really animated, just tell him that Enterprise Architecture is a concept that is past its prime… *grin*)

It’s one of the many things I love about him.  Despite his penchant for garden sculptures of cows and birds, he’s an emotional adult.  Unfortunately, it took me wading through a few emotional children to locate him, but he was worth the wait.

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6 comments so far
  1. marzena April 5, 2007 4:20 pm

    This is awesome. I’m afraid though that there’s not too many men and women who get to the emotionally mature stage. There are too many misunderstandings about it and too few role models :(.

  2. Momo April 7, 2007 3:55 pm

    I had a boyfriend who would actually walk off while I was conversing with someone else, and keep track of how long it took for me to notice that he was gone. Each time, I’d find him sulking in a corner, evoking all sorts of guilt. This took place in my pre-HB days, so I would apologize for not making him my first priority, that the person whom I was talking to was a flawed individual that was nowhere as wonderful as him, and overall fall into his guilt trap. At least once a week, he’d go on self-deprecating tirades about, “Oh, I’ve accepted the fact that someday, you’re going to find someone better than me.” Translation: “I’m insecure, I love the attention and praise, I need my ego stroked, and I need to know that you need a guy like me.” I wish he had really accepted that someday I’d find a better guy than him, because he sure made a fuss when I dumped his sorry, lazy, whiny, high-school dropout ass.

    The next boyfriend was the opposite. He was a snobby narcissistic film major whose favorite words were “pretentious asshole,” although it was the pot calling the kettle black. I would attend events with him, and the conversations about Kurosawa vs. Wheadon were like Greek to me. Therefore, I’d go off and make conversations about other things with other people. I’ve always prided myself in being able to make my OWN fun. Somehow, he didn’t like that. I think that he was disgusted by the fact that I didn’t have the exact same interests as him. He would explicitly state that he didn’t care about my interests if I tried to have a conversation with him (after telling me that I needed to have a hobby or join a club, mind you), yet I was always supposed to be interested and informed in his film stuff. He also had to be the leading expert in whatever conversation was going on, and I think he begrudged me for taking the spotlight off him.

    Almost as bad as these whiners are the wallflowers who come to an event with you and DO NOTHING. My next boyfriend was one of those. They don’t quietly listen, they don’t join in on laughter, they don’t accept invitations to charades or Scrabble, NOTHING, not even if they’re your invitations. They just sit on a couch and look miserable, or too good for everyone else. If you’re just going to hermit away in a corner, why did you even bother coming? It makes everybody feel awkward, especially your date. It’s downright rude to decline that much of a host’s hospitality.

    All of these idiots are in my past. I now sometimes use social events as a litmus test for Nice Guys and Jerks. No, I don’t drag them to girly sleepovers and expect them to drool over Hello Kitty, but I do see if they pull any of the aforementioned bullshit. I don’t want to deal with the bullshit of needing a crutch.

  3. Nadia April 12, 2007 4:07 am

    Thank you for posting this. Seriously. I can think of at least a dozen women who need to read this, but I doubt very much that they’ll actually get the message. See, at the beginning of your post when you were describing how you and your bf sorta did your own thing at the party, I could just HEAR them tut-tutting and saying something along the lines of how that’s no way to keep a man, etc. Hell, I get that from my own mother when I tell her that I’d rather stay home and read a book than accompany my husband to a sports event I have no interest in. The worst thing about this sort of attitude is that it actually stunts emotional growth. These guys are taught that they must absolutely be the center of attention or they are obviously unloved and need to go elsewhere for the kind of emotional mollycoddling they need. And the women, since they’re taught that they’re worth nothing more than the man they bag, are told that they must hang on to him at all costs, so they end up encouraging the behavior and teaching it to their own children, and so on. Why more people can’t see that they need to be whole people first and halves of a relationship second is beyond me.

  4. Ethan June 8, 2007 6:47 pm

    Referer

    It is a mistake to speak of a bad choice in love, since as soon as a choice exists, it can only be bad

  5. anonymous January 15, 2014 11:44 am

    You know? You’re a real hypocrite for making this website. One way that you’re hypocrite is that you don’t want to stroke other people’s egos but sound like you want your ego stroked.

    A second way that you’re hypocritical is that you blame guys who want be worshipped like gods but sound like you want to be worshipped like a goddess. Sick-minded much.

    A third way that you’re a hypocrite is that in that you claim to want this site troll-free when you sound like a troll yourself.

    One of these days, I’d like to see karma bite your in the rear for being a big fat jerk.

  6. Adrienne Beam August 31, 2014 1:04 pm

    The whole scene sounds pretty out of balance to me, including your perspective. When you cast a stone without considering your delivery, you’re just casting stones. Never good.


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