Q: I have a very good friend with whom, until recently, I could discuss just about anything. The problem now is our disagreement concerning the girl he is dating.
They began seeing each other when he had just graduated from high school and she was a sophomore. In those days, he was lucky if he saw her once every two weeks, her reason being that she was too young to be tied down.
When my friend succeeded in securing a date with her, these appointments would often be "forgotten" or she would call him at home, often after he had been to her house, to explain that she simply couldn't break off whatever she was currently involved in.
This situation is almost in its third year. My friend will be a junior in college this fall, and his "girlfriend" will be entering the same school.
She is the first girl he has ever dated. I think he is getting a distorted picture of how a relationship should work. He is taken for granted, used for status (he is very wealthy), and worst of all, he has developed a severe case of Puppy Dog Syndrome with an Elastic Complication -- he follows her around like a loving devoted puppy, but the harder he gets kicked, the faster and more directly he returns.
When any of his friends try to approach him with the idea of maybe taking another girl on one date, he flatly refuses. Any persistence on the part of the suggester is met with a condescending "Some day you'll understand."
How would Miss Manners act in this situation?
A.:Miss Manners would first solemnly reflect that this situation is not her business, any more than it is yours. She would next remind herself that nothing is less rewarding than trying to talk sense into someone in the throes of emotion.
Then she would try to cure your friend of this degrading involvement. Knowing that it was both impertinent and close to hopeless, she would nevertheless make an effort because, like you, she hates the sight of suffering.
Her approach would, at least initially, be more successful than yours, however. That is because she would not even try to persuade the gentleman to look for happiness elsewhere. Instead, she would offer him a formula for extracting satisfaction from the only lady who interests him.
That would be to feign indifference and give the impression of being cured of his passion to the point of seeming unable to remember that he once had it. If he cheerfully neglected the lady who finds him such a nuisance, and subtly allowed her to discover that he had found happiness elsewhere, as she supposed she had wished, he would find her taking a new interest in him. If you predict this to him, and it then happens, the object of his love will stand exposed like a magician whose tricks are explained.
Miss Manners is sorry that such a cynical trick would work, but it would. Should your friend truly succeed in appearing to be free, the lady would be unreasonably annoyed by the disappearance of what she now considers an annoyance -- his attention.
Paradoxically, those who believe most in the durability of love are those who scorn it. Struggle as one might to rid oneself of a lovesick pest, success is marred by resentment. Even those who have labored to obtain divorces from clinging spouses are nevertheless disturbed if they find that those people go on to become oblivious of the past and lead happy lives, after all. It seems like the basest desertion to leave off a hopeless love.
It is not because Miss Manners doubts the power of this reversal that she warns you of the unlikelihood that your friend will be cured. She just doubts that the poor man can carry it off.
It takes strength, as well as acting ability, to pretend indifference to the object of one's love. And the power to keep up this act after it begins to work, rather than rushing in with renewed supplications at the first sign of interest, is almost beyond human abilities.