Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A double bind episode

Double bind : “a psychological predicament in which a person receives from a single source conflicting messages that allow no appropriate response to be made”.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Because she hates the Internet and she avoids writing and receiving emails, she will never know what I have to say about our failed friendship. I could write her a letter but, unfortunately, I do not even know where she lives. If I could talk to her before she leaves to Australia next week I would try to explain the unconfortable situation she has put me in. Maybe she would be able to laugh of herself and of me in the end. I have no illusions however about finding a solution for a situation that seems, thanks to her, without remedy. Here is what happened. I do not like long narratives, so I will make it short. 

We first met at a concert. A renowned pianist came to play at our city (the 32nd Beethoven sonata in C minor Op. 111, the 14th Schubert sonata in A minor, and two Nocturnes by Chopin) and her seat was next to mine. She told me her name: Anna. I told her mine: Joseph. We talked about music and literature before and after the concert and before we separated at the end of the concert she wrote her email address in my copy of the program. I have asked her if she wanted to see me again and she had very kindly said yes.  Her smile and her eyes seemed to confirm that she was sincere. And she were so sweet.

We met one week later at Starbucks downtown one afternoon and we walked to a restaurant nearby for a glass of wine. I was happy and considered myself very lucky to have made the acquaintance of such a wonderful woman. The more we talked the more my surprise kept growing. She was indeed a marvelous person and I could not dream of having met anyone better than her. She was intelligent, she was warm, and she paid a sincere, genuine attention to me. Sometimes she even seemed charmed by what I said. Her smile revealed a simple, natural joy. She had a pleasant sense of humor. She was beautiful and not arrogant. Her exceedingly sophisticated manners impressed me deeply. It was something that given the vulgarity and superficiality that is common in so many girls nowadays could not fail to touch me. When we finally departed – in this country you cannot expect having dinner with a woman before some weeks have passed after you met her - I was amazingly happy with the way things had worked out between us. When I got home I was still excited and surprised for having made her acquaintance and I immediately sent her a message to express my joy and my gratitude. I wrote:

Thank you for existing and for having accepted my invitation! You are such a wonderful woman! I like you very much. I would never imagine that I could meet someone like you in this boring place. You truly are a treasure. I will forever think of you when listening to the Beethoven sonata. 

Half an hour later, I received an astonishingly coarse message from her. She was upset and very mad at me and said that if I could write what I have written without knowing her and after I have spent only some hours talking to her she was very sorry but she could not trust me anymore. In other words: I was not reliable. In an almost rude manner she declared that she was unable to accept my affection and told me that if I were in need of a woman I would better go somewhere else search for her because she was not that woman. She also said that most probably I was just seeking for an opportunity to take advantage of her.

I had purchased Dostoevsky’s Notes of the Underground in a new translation before I went to meet her at Starbucks and when I offered her the book she seemed very happy that I had done so. Now however she was not so happy anymore and told me that if I expected to get something from her with my gifts  - and why would I give her anything except with the hope of getting something from her in return - I should know that I were totally mistaken.

I spent some days thinking about her, trying to understand what had happened.  I hesitated in feeling guilty however. With her surprisingly angry message and her bizarre accusations, she had put me in a very awkward situation. Was she aware of that? Maybe not. Her harsh reaction to my words and to my behavior had certainly more to do with some bad experience she might have gone through with other people than with me.

Now, despite what I just told you, it happened that after I received her so bizarre message I met her occasionally several times downtown and every time she had shown herself as polite, as friendly, as welcoming and seemingly happy to see me as before. I was afraid, when I first saw her after her burst of anger, that she would not talk to me or would keep showing some hostility. I was wrong. Nothing of that happened and she behaved nicely, as if her outburst of irritation had never occurred.

I have to confess that the fact that she did not put me completely aside and kept treating me as kindly as before left me confused. Clearly, the situation where she had put me needed some analysis and clarification. If she was expecting me to retrieve my peace of mind and to find my way out of all that fuss easily she was wrong. How would I make a synthesis of the two contradictory messages? What was I supposed to understand about her and about her feelings regarding a relationship that in fact never really became one? She had drowned what could have been a sincere and truthful friendship, born of intellectual complicity and common interests, in the ocean of common conventionality. I didn’t feel that I had much interest in wasting my time dwelling in trivialities. She was refusing to share with me the most truthful and interesting part of her personality and was treating me as if I were just some simpleminded inferior idiot. I didn’t want that at all.

I think I can understand her however. She is very young. She is learning how to deal with reality and with people. I am the old man in this story and I should know that not everybody has lived as long as I did and learned as much about the world and about the truth of life as I did. It takes time, you know. I should try to correct my error and be more careful and more tolerant when I deal with young people. Is it not true that she barely knew me? She was just protecting herself from being taken for what she is not. All the bad stories we read in the newspapers and hear about everyday in television surely force us all to be on guard.

Besides, I remember now, she also made me feel that more than anything else she feared being loved. She said that she is always concerned by the emotions she may provoke in others. And that she does not feel that she is strong enough at this point in her life to deal with complicated feelings or dramas. She wants to be left in peace. She wants to enjoy life and other people’s friendship and love without having to face all the inconveniences of a deep, intimate and always disturbing relationship. 
As long as I was unable to understand what I just mentioned, knowing that I was innocent of her accusations and suspicions did not help me much. In fact it did not help me at all. At her eyes I had suddenly become some sort of opportunist who enjoys exploiting women’s good faith in order to achieve his vicious instincts, his thirst for love or his wild lust. Whatever. Because of that, everything I could still do, or say, or write to her would inevitably end by being interpreted as a suspicious intent or trick from my side to take advantage of her. Take advantage of what exactly? She silenced me. 

If I cannot talk or write to someone who is accusing me of acting wrongly, I cannot defend myself. And all the sympathy that I may still feel for her has no chance of being uttered. My offended dignity and my inability to go beyond the barriers that her accusations placed between her and me keep me quiet. She deprived me of speech. In some way she castrated me. Not being allowed any action to correct what I consider a big and regrettable misunderstanding made me for a while very unhappy. Who does she think she is to think and say all the things she thought and said about me? The people we love and admire and who love us make life better and the world a better place for us. I really enjoyed her company. She made me feel good, intelligent and not ashamed of being myself for a brief moment. Then all that hope of a true affectionate relationship faded. I really and sincerely liked her, I swear to God, and I never intended to take advantage of anybody or of anything (her body was at that moment, as such, the less important part of my interest in her). I truly think, despite her harsh reaction to my kind words, that she is a lovely person, one of the most pure and interesting girls I ever had the chance of meeting in this stupid country. A great person, indeed. But in writing all these words I am afraid that I am putting an end myself to something that never existed except in my imagination. I will try to be more careful next time so I will not be disappointed. Just one question before I leave: is there any relationship which is not based on giving and receiving, is it possible for a relationship not to rely on good faith and acceptance? Take the risk and you will have time to see later what’s really going on.

J. E. Soice

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