I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if I ever got knuckle tattoos, which is less likely than winning the lottery I don’t play, they would read C-A-P-S L-O-C-K.
My winner of all things irksome right now: POMPOUS INDIGNATION AND HORRIFIED MORAL AFFRONT.
This one is special to me because three of my exes specialized in it. But overexposure to it permanently altered my immune system and lowered my tolerance for it. In the ex-husband, it manifested as I AM SHOCKED AND APPALLED THAT YOU WOULD EVEN THINK SUCH A THING. Picture him drawing himself up to his full 74 inches in height, eyes widening, chin receding into his neck as he recoiled in horror, no different from a proper matron in a Victorian drawing room. In the long-term boyfriend it took the tone of YOU HAVE ASSAULTED MY UPRIGHT MORALS AND OFFENDED ME DEEPLY, MADAME! This ass was a 66 inch tall pile of jutting jaw and flared nostrils, ready to challenge someone to a duel on the spot. In the deeply manipulative sometime girlfriend it was closer to WELL! I NEVER!, and while she always tuned it to the audience, the root was deeply self-entitled narcissism of the DAR / Scarlett O’Hara variety.
Folks who display this attitude are prone to calling out others but rarely check their own bullshit.
There’s another kind I know too well but would never date: the inane ingenue. With them I try to be compassionate, because the sincere ones have a rigid standard for their own behavior and either grew up without compassion or never learned that human frailty is not the end of the world. But it’s hard, since after a lengthy high-toned rant about the moral failures of others, the sincere ones tend to boo-hoo about how everyone is so cruel and hypocritical. No, honey, you have that exactly backward: you are expecting generosity from people who have received only judgment from you. You’ll be fine once you learn to cut yourself some slack and extend the same courtesy to others. But the one who dishes out harshness and expects worshipful respect if not candy coated adoration (HOW DID WE NOT SEE THAT YOU WERE RIGHT ALL ALONG? PLEASE FORGIVE US FOR NOT RECOGNIZING YOUR MORAL SUPERIORITY EARLIER! PROMISE YOU’LL BE MY MORAL GUIDE FOREVER) is the sort of ass who gets abandoned by even close friends until the next step in growing up occurs.
Of course, not everyone is earnest and naive. For most I think it’s just an idealized self-image, an exalted and tender amour propre. I would say my ex-husband’s case was most self-damaging. Even though he was the nicest guy of the three, his view of the world was skewed by his protective cloud of huffing and puffing, maladaptive defenses against his shame at failure. Don’t torture yourself, amigo — just try harder. You’ll need to protect yourself less when you are confident that you have done everything you could do, and have not conned yourself into thinking it was your best work when you simply quit after getting tired, chickening out, or losing your nerve. You never got support and encouragement growing up and your batteries get drained fast. Sometimes the critics are right, and listening to them can help you — especially if the topic is too painful for you to consider. Wherever you are, I hope you are being honest with yourself and doing better in life.
The long-term boyfriend was very different. He had two layers: the first was conscious cover for his chronic cheating (“your suspicion hurts me and implies that YOU are the one who is cheating since you are trying to deflect the focus from yourself; I will now proceed to make this all about you.”) The second layer was his core self, which had lofty, deeply felt values at odds with his own actions, but a perception of himself based on the values rather than the deeds. Being publicly called on those actions was deeply upsetting to his core self, and he avoided that pain by blaming his girlfriends or distracting himself with a new side piece — anything to feel good about himself. He was completely toxic to females as a young man but he got his act together through work with a professional friend. I’m glad for him and relieved for women at large and generally hopeful for us all. If he can improve himself, miracles are possible. Good on ‘im.
As for the sometime girlfriend, who knows? Any display of emotion on her part might have been to manipulate others or as normal-person camouflage (see The Mask of Sanity by Cleckley) or something else, but it was always purposeful. Her affront was sometimes the only thing about her that seemed honest, but again — who knows? You can’t trust a liar. She was mercurial and calculating and damaging to anyone close to her — but she was also always witty, funny, passionate, and game for the ballroom or the pool room. I miss her company and our extemporaneous sister act. But she is (by self admission) the person least likely to change herself or accept the criticism of others. In her terms, “who listens to the lowing of cattle?”
The problems begin when you despise the cattle for being what they are, but expect their adoration anyway. It wouldn’t hurt to see yourself as others see you, *especially* even when the image is unflattering. It’s the only way you find out that your dress is tucked into the back of your pantyhose. If you don’t accept criticism from your friends, your adversaries are the only ones you can trust.