Once upon a time there was an awesome chiquita who lived in NYC and made her way through life in a bubbly whirl of socializing, sporting events, movies, sober dance parties and romantic notions. It was at one of these dance parties she met a Strapping Young Lad who liked to groove, knew how to salsa and more specifically, liked dancing with her. And as long as they were getting down to Empire State of Mind or the occasional Marc Anthony song (really, DJs? Still? Fine.) things were cool. It was once they tried to move their interactions out of the realm of thudding bass and wailing guitars that they ran into trouble.
See, SYL, as cute and attentive and gentlemanly(ish) as he was, was of a social species known as The Eel. Our heroine would say something simple like "I enjoy cereal for breakfast," and rather than replying "Indeed? How intriguing!" The Eel responds "You should have oatmeal."
Heroine: But I don’t like oatmeal. I like cereal.
Eel: What kind?
Heroine: Cinnamon toast crunch or cheerios, whatever’s on hand.
Eel: You should eat oatmeal. Those are bad for you.
H: Whatever – they’re awesome, and I like them, and oatmeal is The Worst Thing
Eel: But do you know what’s in them? Oatmeal is better for you
H: I HOPE OATMEAL DIES IN A FIRE.
Eel: No, you don’t. Try it.
H: I have had oatmeal. I don’t want it. Stop telling me what I want or don’t want.
Eel: I’m not telling you what to do. I’m just saying you should have oatmeal.
H: If you say should again I’m going to scream
Eel: You should really calm down and just relax.
The problems with this sort of exchange are multi-fold. First off, I don’t like being contradicted when I have stated a preference. It’s pushy and annoying. Second, I don’t really like feeling as though my conversational partner is trying to get around me all the time. Or when they deny that they’re trying to do so. It puzzles me – when I’ve said "This is green" and they say "No, it’s red," and I say "But it looks green to me, not red," and they say "I never said it was red"…. I get confused and might acknowledge its possible redness before I can get my bearings. Also, mantypes need to stop telling womantypes to calm down and or relax. End of story.
There’s one added wrinkle – that I don’t actually hate oatmeal. There have been times in my life when I ate nothing else before 9 am for months at a time, but present day (er, once upon a time) didn’t happen to be during one of those phases. I probably could have diffused the escalation by saying "yeah, oatmeal’s good too," but he was just so arrogant about it I wasn’t going to back down.
There’s just something about The Eel’s conversational style that makes me really rebellious and contrarian. It happens with Gigantor too – I can’t tell you how many times we’ve paused mid-squabble to figure out exactly why we’re fighting. (Not that Gigantor is an Eel. He’s just my brother. And therefore probably wrong.)
I think in the end, The Eel and I were too similar in some ways – both passionate, both likely to be convinced we’re always right – and too strenuously different in others. I have a feminist sense of humor and take certain areas of activism in my life Very Seriously – I don’t care if you’re "kidding" when you make an offensive/insensitive joke because even if you didn’t mean it, fundamentally, it was wasn’t funny.
The worst part comes when you try to break up with an Eel. They won’t take "I’m just not that into you" as an answer, indirectly or verbatim, and keep trying to negotiate around a straightforward statement like ‘We gave it a good try but it shouldn’t be this hard in the beginning." I spent an hour on the phone trying to shut it down, due to a) his insistence that I just hadn’t thought about it enough and b) my inability to just say "No, we can’t still be friends, and yes, you should stop calling me." Because the truth was I’d seen some good qualities there, and being a nonconfrontational person, who had thought about my decision, and who wasn’t acting in anger or petulance, I wasn’t mad so I wasn’t about to give him the kind of fiery showdown he clearly needed in order to add the R to "over."
Our heroine really should have known from the moment The Eel said, on the dance floor as they started to merengue, "This is really fun, but in real life the woman has to follow the man."
Apparently I lead.