There’s a phenomena that is often discussed in 12-step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous and such-like), known as “better-than-worse-than”. In other words, most of us, particularly those of an addictive disposition, are constantly summarizing our value in regards to other people: am I better than that person or worse? A recovering alcoholic I know tells how, at the nadir of her addiction, she could be lying in a gutter, in a pool of her own vomit, and still look up at somebody and think “I’m SO much better than you!”
Most psychology modalities recognize some element of the need to find our place in the hierarchy. Even our birth-position within the family is seen by some as being significant. And, of course there are arenas where a certain jockeying for position is de rigueur: the bitchy corridors of high-school; the workplace. But generally, as adults, that hierarchy only exists in our own heads. And the evaluation of our place in it is often unconscious.
I think that nowhere is this more piquant than in the romantic/sexual arena. After all, when we are in the job of attracting a mate, whether a life-partner or a quick upright in the disabled toilet,we are fundamentally putting ourselves out to judge and be judged: Do you want me? Do I want you?
This human foible (if foible it be), has recently loomed large for me. I met Fred* a couple of months ago: charming, intelligent, witty, well-educated (although these days, just “educated” jumps the bar…). We had a substantial amount in common. We actually went out on proper dates like real grown-ups. And we had pretty intense, damn fine sex. Although this was all casual, and both of us were still sometimes dating other people, it had an affirming regularity to it.
Then a few weeks in, he informs me that one of his other casual lovers, is a married woman who (and I quote) “doesn’t like to share”. Cue crickets. The upshot of this bit of data was that I was to be discreet about our shenanigans, least married woman finds out. No prizes for guessing whether I was impressed with this or not. Being of a curious nature, I dug around and found out a little about married woman. Not what I would have tagged as “his sort”. Discretely spoke to a mutual friend (I live in a small city…EVERYONE is a mutual friend!) and his comment was “I can’t think of two more different women.”
Of course, I understand that we are all attracted to people who are, at least superficially, different. There are times when I fancy a bit of rough; times when I want to be wined and dined by a suit; times when I want a tradie with a big heart and a cold beer. So I could understand his finding her attractive. I just couldn’t comprehend how he could capitulate to a woman who did not share his intellect or interests. I mean, when I met him he was reading “I, Claudius”, for fuck’s sake. Was she better in bed than me? Did she feed his ego? Did she have a detachable pelvis???
And this lead me to thinking about past men in my life. The ones who had flitted through on a casual basis and then ended up firmly ensconced in relationships that left me bemused. What constantly fascinates and frustrates me, is how often these men seem to end up happily pussy-whipped. When I meet them they appear to want a woman who will be an equal. They seem to enjoy the intellectual partnership, freedom and autonomy that I offer. And then I “lose out” to a woman who is needy, possessive and (to put it bluntly), lower down the intellectual food-chain.
It is at this point that I have to stop and take stock. Once I have got through the “what’s she got that I haven’t” tantrum, and I’ve done my weeping and wailing, I come to an uncomfortable realization. For me intellect, humour, banter and shared cultural-capital are absolute essentials for a relationship of any substance. So when I meet a man with whom I can explore those elements, I’m thinking “he might be the one”. What I continually fail to remember is that, although the object of my affections may be enjoying all that stuff too, for him, it’s NOT essential. In fact, it may be positively off-putting in terms of anything long-term. Just as for some men, kink is something they only indulge in with casual flings and not with “Ms Right”. What these “other” women offer is clearly something psycho-emotional that doesn’t resonate with me. Game over.
Rejection can make us unreasonable and bitchy. I see it in myself, and I certainly don’t like it. As I get older (and possibly wiser…), that phase lasts for shorter and shorter periods, and I more quickly move into the evaluation stage. But the sting can still last. Old, childhood hurts are phenomenally raw when poked in the right place.
So I think that, for the sake of our psychological health, there is nothing wrong with a cathartic “What the hell has that stupid bitch got that I haven’t???”.
Then pick yourself up and get on with being fabulous.
*Not his real name.