INT. FAMILY ROOM – EVENING
DESIRABLE MALE is dating EVIL HARRIDAN. They are the it-couple of their social circle. NOBLE HEROINE waits in the wings, longing.
READER quietly gags into a barf bag.
The above lines are actual stage directions from the scene that occurs every time I encounter this trope.
For me, “dating an evil harridan” immediately disqualifies a male from being desirable. I don’t care if he’s the nicest, sweetest, best-looking-est dreamboat ever to sail the seven seas. If his girlfriend is truly as awful as all get-out, he’s lost all sympathy from me. He’s choosing that sort of person to spend his time and affection upon, which brings into question his value system and his ability to judge good or bad character in others.
And you can give me a song-and-dance about “But she pretends to be nice when she’s around him, so he’s being completely deceived,” but I will call BS. There are red flags, always. A selfish person can’t pretend to be selfless 100% of the time, and the more selfish, the more likely those little cues will leak out.
Unfortunately, when people are in lurrrrrve, they often choose to brush off the red flags because lurrrrrve makes people twitter-pated and foolish.
But twitter-pated, foolish people are not desirable. So again, I have no sympathy for the guy.
This trope pits women against each other. “He would be better off with me. She’s not good enough for him.” Feelings of envy and discontent are bad enough, but when directed from one woman against another, it tears down all women collectively. I realize that’s a broad statement to make, but we have enough messages pitting us against one another already. Can we drop the competition in this one instance, please?
“But I’m better than her. I deserve that relationship more than her.”
No. No you don’t. No one is better than anyone else. Stop with the envy, stop wishing other people the misery of breaking up, stop being an all-around bitter shrew. If the relationship really is doomed, it doesn’t need your help, and there are probably a lot of lessons both parties need to learn in the process.
(Yes, this is the dialogue I have with fictional characters embroiled in Pining from a Distance. Also called Stalking in some states.)
Candid Time with Kate
I had the very unpleasant experience a few years back of having successive encounters with a woman who wanted me to date her son. She talked this guy up to me every chance she got, and every time, some new detail would surface.
He had a girlfriend. Of several years. Who lived in another country. And who was 12-15 years younger than him. And very beautiful. And belonged to a different faith. And was the one who had pursued him, not the other way around.
I tried to be discouraging. I told her point-blank, as soon as the detail of his having a girlfriend came up, that as far as I was concerned, he might as well be married. He wasn’t available and I didn’t think it was appropriate for her to be trying to set me up with him.
Would that that had been the end of it.
The next time she brought him up, I asked, “Is he still together with his girlfriend?” in a “Why are you still talking to me about this guy?” tone of voice.
“Yes,” she replied, “but I don’t think it will last for much longer.” Then, with a secretive smile of camaraderie, she added, “Keep praying.”
To channel Cher from Clueless: “As if!”
As if I would pray for the demise of a relationship. As if I would play the role of the Other Woman. As if I was even remotely interested!
The setting in which we met prevented me from saying, “Lady! I would never in a million years want to date someone who would willingly choose the type of relationship you’re describing!” Far from thinking this younger, exotic woman was an evil succubus (as the doting mama intended), I felt sorry for her. The guy was leading her on, keeping her dangling in a “relationship” for years because she was enamored of him. It was easy work on his part.
And I was supposed to be pining for this bloke?
And yet, if his mother’s repeated attempts were any indication, she was convinced I would be just that desperate. Thanks bunches.
For me, if the pattern doesn’t fly in real life, it doesn’t fly in fiction. There’s no hope I’ll sympathize with a character who pines for a man already in a relationship. And I certainly won’t be rooting for her to end up with the dreamboat, no matter how dreamboat-y he is.
If it’s literary fiction where everyone is supposed to be flawed and miserable, that’s one thing. But when this is portrayed as a normal behavioral baseline, I’m out.
Sorry, not sorry.