Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
I’ve been seeing Richard for about a year. We have common interests and I find him attractive. We have had a lot of good talks about our past relationships because we both had been hurt and knew we had some issues to work out. I know that the loss of his last girlfriend, Jolene, did a number on him.
Last weekend, we went to his mother’s house for dinner. I’d been there once before, but the last time we were on our way to a movie and didn’t stay long.
This time, when his mother offered us tea and dessert, we ended up in the living room looking at photo albums. In the family pictures from two years ago, I saw, for the first time, a picture of Richard with Jolene.
Ever since that night, I have struggling with unwanted feelings. It’s starting to affect our relationship because I just can’t bring myself to talk about it but Richard can tell something is up and who knows what he’s imagining.
What is causing all these conflicted feelings? I am embarrassed to say, because I don’t know what it says about me as a person but I need perspective so here goes.
All the time Richard was talking about Jolene and his emotional pain, I had been picturing her in my head. Because of the depth of his misery, I somehow envisioned her as heart breakingly lovely. But the real Jolene was overweight and rather dumpy. In the picture, Richard was also about 20 pounds heavier.
Ever since I saw the picture, I have been thinking less of Richard. I know it’s superficial and I’m awful for feeling this way, but I can’t help myself. I see him as a sort of loser now. His emotional pain, which used to make me feel sympathy, makes me feel as if there’s something pathetic about him.
Obviously, you can see why this is hard to bring up. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do. Now what?
On one hand yes, this is entirely superficial and a silly non relevant line of thinking that will ruin you if you continue. On the other hand humans are social animals and you discovered an innate thing about the female of the species. Females are preprogrammed to compete for the most genetically fit mate. Women compare themselves to other women for this reason. Women are attracted to a man that other women want. Using this line of reasoning, any man you want must have been wanted by the fittest of the species, i.e. someone you see as hot as you think yourself.
Here’s what you are not taking into account- genetic fitness can also be measured by brains, personality or strength of character. Jolene may have been your equal in these other areas. People are attracted to similar traits in most of the people they date.
Your attitude also tells you that amongst all the traits you possess you judge your self-worth by how you look and compete with other women on that level. This is not only unhealthy but it is a character weakness. I wouldn’t tell Richard all this as he might lose interest in you. He seems to be a person who values woman of strong character.
Instead I would try role playing cave man/cave woman with Richard. Have Richard beat up a couple of large stuffed bears and a large stuffed woolly mammoth in front of you. This show of aggression with rather a lot of grunting and sweat should trip your attraction genes into gear again. By the way, this is one of the reasons people get off on S&M…it trips some of the innate genetic aggression, dominance/subservience triggers we have.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: whoa there, Dr. Brilliant. You’ve made a lot of assumptions here that I think are as misplaced as you view Wilhelmina’s feelings to be.
First, we don’t know that Jolene was either intelligent or had a strong character. All we know by her photo is that she was overweight and dumpy. This does not automatically qualify her as a stunning personality or a genius. There are overweight and dumpy people who are stupid and mean as well. Over-eating can also be seen as the sign of an unhealthy personality- people who over-eat often do so to comfort and indulge themselves rather than dealing with life. This is something everyone who goes to Weight Watchers knows.
Second, you are not putting any value on a very important fact- Wilhelmina IS questioning her knee-jerk reaction. As you have said many times yourself, Dr. B, there are no right or wrong thoughts. It is how we act on them that determines their impact. Yet you are accusing Wilhelmina of character weakness because of what you admit is an instinct which every other woman on the planet shares! Do all women suffer from character weakness?
What I see as important here is that Wilhelmina values her relationship with Richard enough to question her reflexive, unwanted thoughts. She is making an effort to process past them. I applaud her for this, and see it as a sign of strength in character. Far too few people question their reflexive thoughts or feelings.
So rather than judging you, Wilhelmina, I am going to give you the advice you seek- these feelings you find yourself with only have as much weight as you give them. They feel very heavy right now because they are accumulating in your head. However, a word of caution- I don’t advise you to discuss them with Richard. They have little to do with him and everything to do with you.
Understand that these feelings are a natural instinct and that there is a valid reason for them- if one is concerned with genetic fitness, weight IS an issue. Whatever other qualities a person has, obesity is a serious health risk and affects longevity. Food can also be an addictive issue the same as over-indulgence in booze or drugs. You are not a bad person for having these thoughts.
But now ask yourself this: how you would see Jolene if you knew she was as brilliant as a rocket scientist, was a celebrated author and had five other men after her besides Richard? Would that make you feel better about Richard?
OK, now let’s get back to the reality of the day. You had a momentary lapse of knee-jerk instinct. Now that you see it for what it is, how do you really feel about Richard? How does he treat you? Do you respect the way he is living his life and the way he sees the world? He’s lost weight, which takes resolve and discipline. Can you help each other grow and do you have fun? These are more important factors in your potential relationship than his last girlfriend.
Don’t judge yourself so harshly…and I think you can process your feelings without any asinine role-playing.