One of my children just recently started middle school. That’s the same age where my troubles really started, so I was already somewhat on edge watching what would happen.
What watching it brought back frankly surprised me.
Deep down, I’ve always believed that my real problems stem from the things that happened to me in school. And I also believe that there was no reason for any of it to happen. That if someone, anyone in a position of responsibility had bothered to do anything, if anyone had cared the slightest bit, that all of the torture I endured could have been stopped before it ever really started.
And watching my kid, that appears to be true.
The first week of school, one nasty kid started abusing mine. We contacted a guidance counselor at school. His reaction was to immediately say “That kind of behavior not tolerated at our school”, and to start taking action in multiple ways. The offending kid was disciplined; a group of children including (but not limited to) the kids who were passive participants were contacted gently and spoken to; my kid was brought in to talk to the counselor, who’s working with her on how to respond when someone acts like that.
The school’s new principal also gave a short introductory talk at the back-to-school night where we went to meet the teachers. In it, he said something like “As I see it, my job is to ensure that this school is a place where you children can come to learn. That means that when they come here, it’s my job to ensure that they’re safe – both from threats that come from outside the school and threats that come from inside the school.”
It impressive just how little effort it takes. This kind of trouble needs to be taken seriously – but if you really are serious about it, if you actually care, it doesn’t take much effort.
Watching this makes me really, really angry. Not that my kid is getting taken good care of. But because it proves that I was right all along. That if someone had cared, if someone had been willing to spend just a little bit of time doing their job, that I could have been spared so much pain, so many years of disfunction.
Why couldn’t any of the schools that I went to have thought about something like that? Why didn’t anyone ever stand up and say “We can’t let children in our school be beaten and abused”? Why didn’t anyone in authority ever both to try to protect me?
Here it is, 25 years after I graduated from high school – and I still have flashbacks of what was done to me. And it all could have been stopped right where it started, if only anyone had cared. But no one did. And the only one who was actually hurt by their lack of concern was me.
When I went to college, for the first time, I actually had friends. In fact, for my last two years, I had one group of friends who were the first, and frankly only group of people where I’ve ever really felt like I fit in. Of course I still had my awkward moments – but they accepted me. I can’t say how much that meant to me. I’d never had that before, and I’ve never really had it since.
And then, a new girl joined the group. And I thought that I’d fallen for her. This began something that I’m now terribly ashamed of. But I think it’s worth talking about.
See, I was a “nice guy”. And I did all of the “nice guy” things. And let me tell you – “nice guys” are not nice guys. Knowing what I know about what was going through my head, and what I said about it at the time, I now look at people who claim to be “nice guys” but who can’t get dates, and I despise them. Because I know what’s going through their heads. I’ve been there. I thought those things, and I said those things, and Ibelieved those things. But the problem is, what you think, what you say, and what you believe don’t matter if they don’t match what you do.
I became absolutely obsessed with her. I was convinced that we were meant for each other. I did all sorts of crazy stuff for her. Multiple all-nighters helping her finish her assignments – even though I’d never done an all-nighter for myself. Buying her things she needed, driving her ridiculous places, just because I wanted to do things for her. Cooking meals for her. Writing really bad poetry. And so on.
We were absolutely inseperable. Except that she refused to date me. And I was so upset. Damn it, I was doing all of this stuff for her! I was spending money I didn’t have to do things for her! I was letting my own schoolwork slide to help her!
So I got angry, and we had a huge fight, and she didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore. But I couldn’t accept that. I kept trying to see her, sending her letters, calling her, talking to her friends, etc.
Here’s the problem with all of that. I wasn’t doing things for her because I really cared about her and wanted to help her. I was doing things for her because deep down, my view of her was as a thing that I was buying with my efforts, not as a person who I was helping. I didn’t know what was going on in her head, and I didn’t really care. I believed that I cared. But… belief isn’t reality. I didn’t really care. I was upset because I thought that she owed me something. She was like a candy machine: I’d put in my money, and now, damn it, I wanted my candy bar. I didn’t think of it that way, of course. In my mind, I was a nice guy who was crazy about her, and who’d done so much for her, and it just wasn’t fair that she was interested in other guys, but not in me.
That’s the truth behind the facade of the “nice guy”. A “nice guy” is a man who believes that deserves something from women, regardless of what they think or feel. Women owe him because he’s been so nice to them.
So she cut me off. Completely. And I was almost hysterical for a while. How could she do that? To me, who’d done so much for her?
Some mutual friends sat me down and gave me a good talking to. I was being crazy, I was practically stalking her, I needed to pull back, get my shit together, and move on with my life. This talk accomplished absolutely nothing at the time, except that it planted a seed in the back of my mind.
The school year ended, I graduated, and left for grad school. A year passed, and I gradually gave up on getting her to talk to me again. The next year, my next door neighbor in my grad-school apartment was dating a guy that I got to be friends with. He was a really nice guy. But I couldn’t quite figure out his relationship with my neighbor. They were together a lot, but… he’d say things about her when she wasn’t around that just didn’t make sense. I mean, I’m this pathetically shy guy who barely talks to anyone… but I knew things about his girlfriend that he didn’t! He didn’t know much of anything about her! How could that make any sense?
She eventually dumped him, and he did start stalking her. And the things he was saying as he was stalking her? They were exactly the same things that I’d said a year or two earlier. (Except, thank goodness, I’d never reached quite his level of insanity.)
Seeing that, frankly, scared the crap out of me. And the seed that had been planted by my old friends started to sprout. I realized how awful I’d been. I realized how much I’d objectified her. I realized how much I’d tormented her.
I wanted to apologize. But how could I? She’d made it absolutely clear that she never wanted to hear from me again. And if I forced a contact – by whatever means – I’d be doing to her exactly what I was trying to apologize for doing. So I made a decision to respect her choice, and I didn’t get back in touch.
Another year later, she died, of aplastic anemia.
She’d been sick when I knew her. I knew she had anemia, but I didn’t know what kind, or how bad it was. She’d never volunteered it, and I’d never asked. Our mutual friends got in touch with me to ask if I wanted to go to her funeral. And they’d all known what she had. Even back when I was following her around, they’d known, and they’d assumed that I’d known. But I’d never actually listened to her enough to actually understand what was wrong, or how serious it was.
That’s how badly I’d treated her. She was deathly sick. She didn’t know if she’d live to finish college. And I didn’t know! I’d believed that I was head-over-heels in love with her, and I’d never actually paid enough attention to her to realize just how scared she was. And now that I knew that, so many things about the way she acted, the way she carried herself, the way she talked – they all started to make sense. And so it really hit me what I’d done. How I’d turned her into nothing more than an object, instead of a person.
For a long time, I argued that she’d used me. And when we first fought, she’d admitted that she’d used me. I held that memory like a shield up until she’d died: whatever I’d done wrong, she’d used me. She’d admitted it. She owed me!
But what I came to realize was that in a situation like that, someone can’t use you without your permission. She wasn’t asking for things; I was volunteering them. She accepted, knowing at least partially what it was costing me. In that sense, she used me. But I did volunteer for it. I made the offer, claiming that it was being made out of nothing but affection and friendship, when in reality, I was doing it with the expectation of getting paid back. Yeah, she used me… but I was trying to get her to use me, so that she’d owe me something in return.
I didn’t go to the funeral. I really wanted to. But… she’d made it absolutely clear when she was alive that she never wanted to see or hear from me, ever again. Going to her funeral, being there with her mourners – it would have been a violation of her wishes. It would have been a purely selfish gesture – going to the funeral to say goodbye, in a way that she wouldn’t have tolerated when she was alive.
So what brought this whole thing on?
The other day, I was google-chatting with one of my online friends. She mentioned that an old ex of hers, one who’d followed her around moping obsessively for years, had just tried to get back in touch with her. I had two reactions: I got really angry, and I got really depressed. Angry, because I know what’s behind that kind of behavior, and it really upset me. Here’s someone who’s kind enough to actually be friends with a monster like me, and look what’s happening to her! Look what’s being done by someone just like I used to be. And depressed because… my friend is being hurt, and it’s being done by someone who’s just like I used to be. I know how acting like that can hurt the target of your “affections”. I know, because I’ve done it. I’ve seen the pain in can inflict on its target; i’m responsible for doing that to someone.
I didn’t mean to. But that’s no excuse.
So… any “nice guys” out there who see this? If you’re obsessing over a woman, you need to take a look deep inside yourself, and think about the target of your obsession. How well do you really know her? Are you really, truly doing things because you care about her, or are you doing them because you want something in return? If your really care about someone, and they don’t want to see you anymore – if you really care, you should care enough to respect their wishes. Grow the fuck up, and don’t be an asshole like me.