Chris and Helen were that perfect “met at uni” couple. He was studying law; she was a major in fine art and philosophy. After hooking up in their first year they stayed together for the rest of uni, after graduation and beyond. Until this year.
Having just come back from London to Scotland I headed over to Dundee to comfort my friend Chris in the midst of his post 7-year breakup. At this point he was more than happy to get out, and to be frank I didn’t blame him. Helen was one of those women who was smart, beautiful, sophisticated…and icy as the Snow Queen.
“I just couldn’t make her happy and more,” said Chris.
Privately, I wondered if Helen had ever been happy. How he had made it work for so long still baffled me. But it really does come back to the question as to why straight men seem to love women who are bitches? We’ve all seen our wonderfully alpha male friend become the whipped play thing of one of life’s BDSM queens.
And the thing I find? It happens to the most unexpected of men. We all know these adorable alpha male types; they love their friends, their hobbies, their sports. They have jobs and they lead good social lives. Some of them may even be players. And yet put the right kind of bitch in their way, and our big, adorable alpha turns into a timid ready-to-please puppy.
How do they do it?
In a strange way, although we never really gelled, I had a strange respect for Helen. She always seemed to strong and so brittle. She seemed to be on her way to the fabled land of “having it all”; the job, the man and the apartment. Fair enough, it was in Dundee and not in London, but contrary to popular belief, happiness does in fact exist outside of the M25.
Yet as I helped Chris pick up the pieces of his last relationship, which had lasted longer than most marriages, I wondered just how much had really gone on behind the scenes that I’d not seen. I’m often curious about what goes on behind the scenes to make something like that work, having never experienced anything like it myself. And to wonder what goes on when it’s working means considering what happens when the relationship of 7 years comes to an end. Do we just give up and move on? Do we accept it as a beautiful and loving part of our lives and wish the other person well? Or do we descend into behaviour all too human and give way to our own pettiness?
Chris used the exchanging of gifts this year as a metaphor for the whole relationship. His gift to Helen was something he had pondered and agonised over for days, which had taken a great deal of time and effort to obtain. Hers was a bottle she had bought that day.
“I was still happy to receive it,” he emphasised to me as we sat on the sofa, lubricating our feelings with wine. “But it summed up everything that had been wrong. I was making this giant effort and it was like she just couldn’t be bothered. She said my working late was part of it, but she was always at evening events and night classes.”
The classic relationship Ice Queen move. You must obey her, yet she stays the free spirit she’s always been. Should we applaud these strange creatures as a hardened embodiment of new age feminism? Or should be see them as pathetic beings trapped in a cold prison of their own making, capable only of registering their own ice and ambition? Does the alpha male mindset need an equally strong counterpart who he can never understand, like some sort of relationship scratching post – the riddle that he’ll never be able to untangle? Does he, in fact, have so much feeling inside him that he needs someone as un-feeling to balance him out and lavish himself upon? And anyway, just because someone never seems to register regular human thought upon their face, does that mean they’re truly strong? When the icy shards melt I somehow doubt it.
I’ve always admired and been inspired by strong women and powerful female characters. But as I watched Chris emerge from the melancholy of leaving Helen behind and look forward to moving away to start his own new chapter, I thought how sorry for her I felt.
Sometimes men love women who are bitches; but eventually some men also get very tired of being talked down to and move on.