Monday, June 9, 2014

Love and Bullies

I've mentioned here before the semi-well-known Catholic journalist whom I briefly dated after returning to the sacraments of the Catholic Church. I declined his offer of marriage, but we remained friends in a distant sort of way until he wrote me a vicious email a few years ago, apparently after misunderstanding something I'd written here. Like most of the journalist's work, this email was meticulously crafted, and also like most of his work, it was a demonstration of his bravura literary skills in the service of a cause he believed in. As in most of his work, too, that cause was the exposure and denunciation of a perceived enemy. In this case, the enemy was a woman he seemingly once had loved, and his tactical methods included attacking me as a wife (though not his), a mother, and an artist; insulting my family of origin; and -- the tour de force -- reminding me (in case I might have forgotten) that long before he knew me I had committed an "unspeakable crime" against my unborn child. He finished, in a sort of dénouement, by mentioning that I was "bad for" his spiritual well-being, and so he wanted nothing more to do with me.

Not surprisingly, I don't intentionally read this journalist's work anymore, though sometimes I will click on a link to an article a friend has posted and find something written by him at the end of it. While I spent months crying about his email at the time, by now I have other things to cry about. I was thinking about him the other day, though, and I wondered how I had had the presence of mind to turn down his marriage proposal, especially since I had always been prone to impulsivity, and was at the time a divorced woman in my mid-thirties facing statistically-declining odds of ever getting married again. The truth, however, was that, although the journalist was brilliant, witty, and charming, he had a certain quality that truly scared me. I couldn't describe at the time what it was, but after reading his email, I understood it a bit better. There is something corrupt and cruel -- something unmanly -- about deliberately attacking the weak, and I think that most women are instinctively repelled by it.

I should note here that I am by no means the sole target of this journalist's vituperation. He, along with others of his cohort, in his professional work routinely disparages various people and groups with whom he disagrees, including liberals, immigrants, and Catholics who don't practice their faith the way he thinks they should. And I should note, too, that while most women may be repelled by attacks on the weak, not all are. Many women, in fact, are drawn to bullies -- to men who bolster their sense of self by making a show of strength against individuals or groups who are not their equals, against those who are lesser than they in strength, wits, and power. But, though it would be easy to do so, I can't in good conscience condemn these men, nor the women who love them, because we are all grievously wounded in our capacity to love.

And surely it's what we all want most: to be loved not in spite of our woundedness and our egregious faults, but, somehow, because of them.  Everyone wants to feel as though there is someone who sees him as he is, and who loves him anyway. Even the journalist -- who makes a show of deprecating those who have none of his intellect or understanding, including those Catholics who were not fortunate, as he was, to receive a sound teaching of the faith -- would occasionally reveal to me, in private conversation, his innermost fears and doubts. The vulnerability we show to one another can be endearing, certainly; but, as demonstrated by the journalist's gratuitous and deliberately hurtful reference to my long-ago abortion, it can also be used against us by those in whom we've put our trust.

I would like to be able to call a man who deliberately hurts a woman a sadist or a misogynist, but perhaps that's unfair. Nevertheless, to paraphrase Nietzsche, when you gaze into the abyss, it gazes into you. When we make it our life's work, even our identity, to upbraid and revile, how do we keep ourselves from becoming something worthy of revilement?

I suppose that women who are attracted to bullies see their vulnerability and want to protect it, to heal it. Some women no doubt nobly and self-sacrificially live out Longfellow's aphorism: "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." I know that this is true -- that both the journalist and the targets of his writerly contempt have suffered enough misery that we are constrained to love them without exception. Nonetheless, in the absence of severe neurosis, it seems to me that it is not unrealistic for women to expect men to protect them, rather than the other way around, and for men to want to protect women, rather than to harm them.

I pray that we may all learn to forgive one another for the wrongs we so blithely and carelessly commit against each other, and, also, that we may truly learn what it is to love. God knows I pray this for myself every day.


lissla lissar said...

I frequently feel these days that it would simplify human interaction a lot if we could all wear little signs detailing our struggles. I know it's a terrible idea in practice, but it feels like knowing each other's woundednesss would help all of us to be more gentle, and less impatient. Because most of us are so wounded.

I am so sorry about that attack. It is wrong, and so much worse for someone who considers himself beyond reproach as a Catholic, to exercise that sort of viciousness. What possible good could he have imagined from something like that?

Pentimento said...

I wouldn't think that he considers himself beyond reproach as a Catholic, but it's the abyss-thing. If you make your living as a professional scold, I suppose you feel like you have the right.

elena maria vidal said...

Excellent article. I think too many use their holy Catholic faith as a with which club to beat others.

Pentimento said...

That's surely true, Elena Maria. I think in this case, the Catholic faith obscures this person's neurosis and tendency toward bullying, or perhaps has become an excuse for it. I haven't kept up with him, obviously, so I don't know if he ever got married, but it's a troubling scenario.

Pentimento said...

I saw this today, which had a certain resonance. I think it's the abyss again. When we spend our time gazing into it, so to speak, we become changed, and not in a good way.

Anne Kennedy said...

The tragedy, for me, is my own capacity to bully, to quickly decide that the person I'm talking to isn't as human as I am and then mush them into the ground with a pastoral smile. Or at least feel like doing it. I don't think I really do it, but it's so easy to blame everyone else for the sorrow in yourself. Add gender in and what a mess.

MrsDarwin said...

I recall you telling me of this several years ago, and I've never willingly read a word of his writing since. But I didn't read it often before either, because a spirit of snark often poisons more than it leavens. I am troubled by the professional smackdown artists who practice under the guise of defending religion, and even more troubled by those who apparently do so sincerely.

Anonymous said...


Give the new song by Sinead O'Conner a listen. "Take me to Church." It blasts out so many themes you are discussing - rage, pain, sin & the seeking of forgiveness, healing and self-acceptance. She's tapped a powerful vein. She is an artist of the raw.