Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Folie a Deux

A relationship between a Nice Gal and a Not So Nice is a sort of mutual insanity that causes pain to the participants and befuddlement to their friends and family. Good times! Let's take a look.

Nice Gals generally grew up in households where much is expected of them, relatively speaking. My own parents' philosophy in childrearing was "We're always going to love you; we're raising you so that other people can love you, too." To that end, I was trained to look first to my loved ones' comfort and then attend to my own. I was taught to earn love. This may be unhealthy, but you must understand that in my household all family members behaved in this way, and so it worked. (Sidenote: it also produces some absurd moments. Over the Christmas holiday I watched a 30 second interplay between my parents--married 43 years--where each insisted that the other have the last soda. Adorable. Maybe nauseating?)

Not-so-Nice's consistently report a different sort of upbringing. Their childhood can be characterized as "survival of the fittest." They fight to gain access to a finite amount of love that must be divvied and re-apportioned from day to day, a/k/a maternal ambivalence. Fistfights and screaming matches occur over access to resources (toys, cars, attention), and the father is either absent or if present, engages in posturing bravado and other typical alpha-male behaviors. Family stories include "that time brother sassed dad, then dad chased him around the neighborhood and beat him with his belt."

So you take the Nice Gal who has been reared to subjugate her desires in order to earn favor, and put her in a relationship with a male who was essentially raised by wolves. This is a recipe for disaster. Well, it's a disaster for our Nice Gal, but it's fan-fucking-tastic for the wolf, for awhile anyway.

In the courting phase, the male is attentive and nurturing. His sporadic encounters with affection within his family of origin involved over-affection: his mother repairing him after bouts with other males of the family and/or groveling to his weary mother for some attention. And so in his pursuit of the Nice Gal he is accomodating in the extreme, even pampering his target. However, if she pays close attention, the astute Nice Gal (a contradiction in terms?) will notice that there is a bit of mania to the wolf's attention. There is a furtivenes to his solicitude that indicates his kindness will not last long. Our wolf is nice to get something, as opposed to being a nice guy.

Soon enough, the wolf makes a gesture to upset the balance in the relationship. Here are some helpful tips to recognize this dynamic: he performs an act of kindness or generosity, something to which he devotes inappropriate amounts of time and often money. During the act or shortly thereafter he has a temper tantrum. Often the Nice Gal is the object of his frustration (she was not appreciative enough, laughed at the wrong time which he interprets as "mocking" him) but it might erupt as a general frustration, such as getting angry that he burned dinner (because her stove is inferior). One thing is consistent: the tantrum will be out of all proportion to the annoyance. This moment is the critical turning point.

Here's what the wolf pup perceives: he has made an offering to the Nice Gal. In his world, this entitles him to something, usually affection, but also amplitude within the pack hierarchy (because ambivalent momma wolf favors him temporarily...incidentally this fluctuation of status is what causes these guys to be insanely jealous). Nice Gal receives the gift with gratitude and warmth, but no more, because offerings are common as the rain in her family. Wolf sees that his sacrifice has not "bought" him anything, and becomes enraged. Nice Gal sees the wolf is in distress, and moves to relieve him, as is her habit. Now wolf believes he has moved up the pack hierarchy, and that he is entitled/obliged to dole out corrective punishment to our Nice Gal, who enthusiastically participates in her punishment in an effort to live up to her very different moral code of selflessness.

In a wolfpack, the dog who is "responsible" gets punished, both through the withdrawal of affection, lowering of status and through the assignment of additional chores and duties. Being "responsible" in the pack does not mean "taking responsibility"; rather, it means taking the blame and punishment.  Once the punishment has been doled out, the whimpering pup is welcomed back into the fold. (Aside: This also explains why some wolves will self-flagellate. By prostrating themselves they appeal to the most basic instincts of pity in their pack members, thus procuring a perversion of affection.) Our Nice Gal is having a different experience.

Here's what the Nice Gal perceives: "La di da di da. We're walking through life in love and everything is fine..." WHAM! A 2x4 wallops her in the face.

Ok, that's not very helpful (but it is accurate). Let me explain further. Inexplicably a loved one is hurting and calling for her help. Confused and off-balance, the Nice Gal falls back on her training/experience and attempts to fix the situation and comfort the wolf. And once our Nice Gal assumes responsibility for his discomfort, she is fucked. Remember when I wrote that she generally has not requested the act? Here's where that changes. By soothing him at this point, she takes responsibility for his sacrifice. How can that be? you ask. It's subtle. He will ask her to assume responsibility for his frustration, i.e., if she had not gotten sick/taken up meditating, then he would not have made her dinner/attempted to build her a shrine, or he will convince her that she was inadequately gracious. Remember also - everything was just fine until this point in the relationship. Because our Nice Gal has been raised to take responsibility first, and to ask why later, and because she has excellent manners and a good heart, his accusations will trigger in her a need to rectify the situation through accepting responsibility and through service to him.

Here's where it gets crazy.

Our Nice Gal grows to believe that she is the wolf/bitch, unlovable because easing the pain of her beloved is the very definition of her lovableness, and she cannot ease his pain. The wolf, similarly, blames his Nice Gal for his pain (remember what we learned about taking responsibility in wolf packs versus nice families?), and believes himself to be the beleaguered Nice Guy. Folie a deux...each of the partners participates in the delusion that the Nice Gal is a wolf and that the wolf is a Nice Guy.

This dynamic can continue indefnitely, with our Nice Gal trying ever harder and harder to heal the wolf's hurts. But she cannot. The wolf-male is not having a relationship with our Nice Gal; he is, in fact, playing and re-playing the dynamics of his childhood over and over, in indefatiguable attempts to rise up in the hierarchy, to take over as the father/alpha male and at the same time prostrate himself to his mother to finally, finally earn her unending support and love. Those two things acannot happen and that is the wall against which he is banging his head (and hers, occasionally)! it should be noted that she, too, is replaying her family dynamic as opposed to seeing the situation for what it is: hopeless.

Some Nice Gals stay and burn themselves out, turning into shells of women in their attempts to please their beloved. Some wolfs leave, seeking a more enthusiastic participant in their delusion (Nice Gal is tuckered). Sometimes the Nice Gal pulls a Thelma and drives off (cliff optional). Other times she pulls a Louise and shoots the motherfucker (term thoughfully selected). Look, it's just bad, any of the ways. Spending years in the relationship warps both parties: she into believeing she is not worthy and that love is a lie, he into believing that the rest of the world will treat him with the care of his Nice Gal, and being dissappointed at every subsequent turn.

So, Nice Gals, stay alert to the overgenerous gesture paired with the temper tantrum. Return to sender. Oh, he will whine and growl plenty about what he has done for you and all you have cost him, but don't listen. He is allocating responsibility in an attempt to avoid it. Remember that you did not ask for the expensive vacation/piece of was sent as a Trojan Horse to gain entry to the walls of your good character. You are correct and proper for throwing it and him out. Post haste.

And because we're always up for a fecal reference around here...


  1. Spot-on analysis. You have so meticulously dissected a very tricky, complex dynamic here. Reading this gave me that wonderful "I'm not the only one" feeling.

  2. wild applause from this corner. standing O.

    i'm sorry you've been through so much shit, but my gosh if you can work through it like're in the wrong profession.