Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Beyond the planet of the crazygirls
Tom Smith

I too was struck by Dr. Slater's essay in the New York Times about her overall pretty sad sexual history.  My first reaction, like Professor Rappaport's, was one of outrage. However, upon reflection, my reaction is more, well, geometrical.  Imagine the entire human universe is like the surface of a sphere.  So all its dimensions, social, economic, cultural, sexual and so on, are represented as points on the surface of this sphere.  Yes, it's a simplification.  On this sphere somewhere, perhaps where we might put Uzbekistan, is the land of the crazygirls.  It is fairly populous.  Here live the ladies who fall in love with someone else the moment they get engaged to you and have mad everything-but-actual-sex with him (because that would be wrong) and then write all about it years later in the New York Times.  Here live the young women who canoodle with you all summer long but don't have sex because they say (falsely) they were raped, but when they finally do sort of have sex with you, they hate you because you made them feel such a strong emotion.  And this, I assure you, is just the beginning.  Down the road lie the hours, the years of ultimately fruitless therapy, the crazykids fluttering like frightened bats against the windows, the absolutely, no kidding, forget about due process and just get her out of her, certifiable lunatic mother in law.  The father in law who packs the wooden sailboat his uncle left him with 20 pounds of TNT, sails out into the sound and is never heard of again, save once.  The person with whom sex is good or bad, but always deeply, deeply confusing.  Anyway, that's where they dwell.  What you want to do is draw a line from the land of the crazygirls through the center of the earth and then out to the other side of the world.  That is maximum distance from the land of the crazygirls and that's where you want to dwell.  This is nothing to fool around with, not even as a tourist.  

One could go on at some length about all the ways in which Dr. Slater and her marriage are messed up and all the ways it is wrong that she is "sharing" all of it with the readership of the Times and the world beyond.  As Tolstoy famously remarked, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way (though I think he underestimated the variety of happinesses).  I think what is clear from reading Slater's piece, which you have to admit is morbidly fascinating, is that what you have here is a person with some fairly serious mental illness going on, not least of which is some fairly serious depression.  Depression and libido famously avoid each other.  It would be a complete mistake for anybody to think she is casting light on marriage, or relationships or anything of the sort.  She is justing giving one a view inside the mind of somebody who is seriously depressed.  I feel sorry for her and  I am glad I am not married to her.  I am so glad.  Go into any English or comp lit or psychology class at any of America's elite universities and throw a stick and you will hit a half dozen of these young ladies.  Get to the other side of the globe and get there now.

But as the father of sons the main thing I feel is, God, I hope none of my boys ever marries a woman like Dr. Slater.  Heaven forefend.  It makes you think the cultures where the parents choose the kids' spouses really have something to be said for them.  You can at least give your boys some clues:  Favorite book The Bell Jar?  Out.  Ambition is to be a poet/novelist/performance artist/other vague art-thing?  Out.  Weird friends?  Out.  One could go on.  Somebody told me of a group of brothers who entered a pact that any one of them could veto the wife-choice of any other.  Someone was in fact vetoed to the later gratitude of the intended victim.  Not a bad idea.  Sometimes the kindest, best, most useful six words one man can say to another, whether brother, father, friend or wharever are, she's crazy, get rid of her.


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Tom Smith


I don't think I strongly disagree with much of this, except for the implication (not intentional, perhaps) that this is some sort of "girl" thing. There's a male version, of course, usually manifesting itself in the form of physical violence, almost always eventually against the girlfriend/spouse/etc., often too recognizable by easy-to-see signs that are usually ignored. It too should be avoided but rarely is, perhaps because it might be even more common.

Posted by: Matt | Dec 2, 2008 12:22:19 PM

Matt-- Yes, there is definitely a guy version of this. Many guys are completely unfit for anything serious. I'm just not particularly qualified to comment on this. Also, I'm under the impression there are entire literatures devoted to guys who are bad in various ways and the women who endure them when they shouldn't. So I wouldn't be adding much.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Dec 2, 2008 1:24:37 PM

I agree- she's clearly messed up, and in a pretty common way. The bad thing, though, is that this sort of person often seems exciting and interesting at first, and it's easy to get too far in before the real crazy is clear. (I think that working as a stripper or something like that is also a good sign, but in a slightly different way.)

Posted by: Matt | Dec 2, 2008 2:13:51 PM

Tom, you very obliquely touched on another important point: such people are disproportionately found amongst artists, writers, entertainers and the like. Perhaps it takes a certain level of mental instability to want to bare one's soul to the world with searing honesty, and for that bared soul to be bizarre and twisted enough to be interesting to a large audience.

Add to that, though, the general correlation between spectacular success and various unhealthy traits such as obsessiveness, ruthlessness, blind ambition and self-involvement, and one can't help concluding that the culture we live in today springs almost entirely out of the heads of really, really messed-up people. One wonders if it has always been thus, or whether modern communications technology and "winner-take-all" efficiency has exaggerated this phenomenon to a pathological--perhaps even ultimately dangerous--degree...

Posted by: Dan Simon | Dec 2, 2008 3:54:34 PM

Dan-- I couldn't agree more and I think someone should write a book about it. You identify the drivers quite well. Put it together with a media driven culture and 24/7 connectedness and you end up with something pretty sick.

Posted by: Tom Smith | Dec 2, 2008 4:57:44 PM

My advice to the younger generation is that there is little hope outside of Mt. Athos.

Posted by: Fat Man | Dec 3, 2008 8:37:51 AM

Great post. I've seen a couple of crazy girls close up (although not nearly as crazy as this woman) and a few more at a safer distance.

I wish I had known about these girls when I was 20. I might have avoided some hard experience. Tom raised a good point about warning your sons off such girls. I wonder how best to do that. I remember as a teenager not taking some of my father's excellent advice about girls.

Tom also made a good point in the comments section: there is no shortage of books telling women how to spot and avoid unsuitable guys, but there is a shortage of books telling guys how to spot unsuitable women. If you're lucky, you'll have a father, brother, or friend who'll tell you. If you're really lucky you'll listen to his advice.

It's also a great point that depression doesn't coexist well with a strong libido. My guess is that depression is the primary driver for this woman's behavior. If you're dating someone with serious depression, take a look at www.depressionfallout.com. It's a message board geared to spouses of people with serious depression. It's a real eye-opener how difficult it is for these people to have a decent relationship with a spouse who suffers from serious depression. And I've read that lots of women suffer from serious depression to one degree or another.

Posted by: larry | Dec 3, 2008 9:10:46 AM

A country of the crazygorls, it often appears to be more like one of the larger continents (the men's is big too).

Posted by: krome | Dec 3, 2008 10:25:03 AM

Depression certainly may play a role here, but it's presence is only a consequence of much deeper conflicts within this woman. She is a profoundly selfish and narcissistic person. Which, if recognized but left unaddressed may certainly lead to repeated bouts of depression.

“The problem with that,” my husband says, “is falling in love. If you have sex with someone else, you just might fall in love with them.”

“I’d kill you,” I say.

By her experience and training she knows full well what her husband is attempting to communicate. Her response, while superficially flip, is really intended to foreclose any meaningful conversation and/or prevent any uncomfortable self revelations. He has gone to the heart of the matter as best he can. She camoflages the problem as one of sex, he realizes the problem is really one of intimacy.

This woman can never be intimate because true intimacy means she would have to reveal something of her true self, and this is something she permits no one to see because it is something she loathes and she fears that if anyone else saw it they would loathe her too.

Posted by: ThomasD | Dec 4, 2008 7:50:57 AM

There is definitely a guy version of this, but I think violence is one of the least manifested symptoms. The biggest one is infidelity and inattention. (Yeah, we girls need attention. Put away the porn. Look at her!) I've seen a few violent marriages, and practically all of the violence was on both sides. I think male domestic violence is probably way, way overstated. It exists, but it's not the most common form of crazyguy-ness. The unhappiest women I know, on the other hand, are the ones whose husbands are just cold.

Posted by: Spoodles | Dec 4, 2008 7:53:57 AM

I am the father of 4 sons, all under the age of 13. I am already letting the oldest know that there is a certain percentage of people who are flat out loony. Ugly, pretty, tall, short, male, female, whatever - loonies. They might be charming, you might like them, but they must be avoided at best, closely watched at worst.

Posted by: Deep Thought | Dec 4, 2008 10:09:09 AM

I'm an over-60 guy, and I'm not proud about saying I've known dozens of girls, the youngest of whom are now coming up on 50. Many men my age were serious sex aficionados in the days before AIDS, and women were enthusiastic about joining in. In my life I have known exactly 2 women who enjoyed sex, orgasms, intimacy and all that implies. The excuses employed to euphemize their fear have evolved somewhat over time, but the truth would seem to be that American women, at least, see sex as a control mechanism and little else. An interesting example of that is Slater's inversion of the old notion that men wanted variety, while women craved intimacy. Anybody else old enough to remember that one?

Excellent comments here; particularly thoughtful are those of ThomasD. Depression is certainly at work in these women, although a more robust diagnosis might be Borderline Personality Disorder. I suspect Tom Smith has had unfortunate close acquaintance of this phenomena. I certainly have, and I can assure you that no matter how much you think you know about women, you ain't seen nothin yet til you run up on this. And I suspect its prevalence is increasing to epidemic proportions.

Finally, all American women were abetted in their narcissism during the '80s (The Therapy Decade) by such institutionalized insanity as Codependents Unanimous. I can't tell you how wonderful it is to finally see some men getting the point.

Posted by: Rob De Witt | Dec 4, 2008 12:35:17 PM

ThomasD hits the nail on the head; she is seriously narcissistic and selfish. The fact that she lied about rape yet years later doesn't judge herself amazes me.

Of course, she is also depressed. I think depression often comes from pretending, sublimating. And since she is determined to maintain her front that she is somehow a caring, nay, superior person, she has to sublimate an awful lot. This woman, this doctor, is extremely arrogant and self-centered. She is willing to sacrifice the man she "loves" rather than honestly, humbly admit that she doesn't have a clue why she does not desire sex. And to become engaged, and then proceed behind her fiancees back to have almost-sex, without the slightest bit of guilt or knowledge that she is being disloyal? She has the self-knowledge of a flea.

I am a woman. And I've been depressed before, and there have been times when sex was the furthest thing from my mind. But, I would never pretend that I was right! That somehow my husband should accept a sterile marriage, without complaint because I call it "love"

And I would never, never lie to someone intimate that I had been raped. My conclusion? There are a lot of kind, caring women available. Men, choose a woman for her heart as well as her looks and you will be happy.

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