Emotional seduction

My boyfriend let a needy girl crash in his hotel room, and it bothers me. Am I being unreasonable?

Published October 30, 2003 6:20PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have a question about jealousy. My boyfriend and I have a pretty good relationship. We each have many friends of the opposite sex, and jealousy has never seriously come up in the three years we've been dating.

Just this month, he went on an important trip to another city halfway across the country (he was invited to an arts festival to perform). No problem there, we've each gone on similar types of trips.

But a female friend of his -- and as far as I know, they're not real close friends -- took a bus 10 hours just to visit him and hang out, and he invited her to stay with him in his hotel room. Why? I think he felt bad she came all that way, or he was flattered or something, but I don't think it was arranged beforehand.

He told me about it (not before it happened though), and he also told me he was hiding it from fellow performers on the trip because he thought it looked bad.

I told him it bothered me, and we had a great talk about it, but I think he's having trouble understanding why I'm troubled by this -- and so am I, actually.

While I have no doubt that he was faithful -- I'm sure it had nothing to do with infidelity or anything on his part -- I find the idea that he would do this disturbing. Part of my distress is that this girl is 23 and he is 44 (I'm 33). The whole thing just feels dangerous to me.

This person, from what he's told me, seems to get herself into these types of situations with men. She either has abusive relationships with men her own age, or fatherly relationships with older men. And my boyfriend is critical of one friend of his who is quite protective of this girl, and yet he seems to be doing the same thing.

When we talked (and when he told me), she had one more night there before leaving. She'd already been there two days. At first I told him I had to process the idea and that it bothered me somewhat, but I said nothing about what he should do. I didn't tell him to ask her to leave or anything. But he did, and now he still feels guilty. He was worried she would "disappear" as she sometimes does -- or go out and do something dangerous. He's being as protective of this girl as his friend he criticizes for doing the same thing.

I feel guilty for telling him that I find the idea of inviting a 23-year-old -- one who came 10 hours by bus -- back to his hotel room disturbing. But this is how I feel. The way I perceive it is: He's opening the door to a potentially sticky situation.

I know we're both very different socially. He doesn't see how this is different from letting someone crash at your place overnight. I think it's absolutely different. I'm feeling jealous and territorial, something I'm really not used to. Any advice?

Jealous and Threatened

Dear Jealous and Threatened,

Of course you feel jealous and territorial. Good for you. That's how you should feel. I don't think you have to understand your feelings in order to trust them and act on them. Nonetheless, here are some thoughts.

Women who act helpless and vulnerable and place themselves at the mercy of men can be emotionally seductive and powerful in their craziness. They can draw men into a world of codependent manipulation where they gain power by appearing weak. They can appeal to a man's fantasy of being the rescuer and protector. Even the lack of sex can form part of a quasi-erotic fantasy: His heroic chastity is in itself a kind of intimacy: He becomes a hero in her eyes and gets off on it. Maybe that's what bothers you. Maybe you sense that he is playing the role of chaste hero, when that's a role he should play for you alone.

Maybe you sense that this woman is using a powerful form of archetypal female behavior to gain intimacy with your boyfriend and to gain some kind of power over him. What you identify as jealousy may be more of a protective impulse -- because you intuitively understand what she is doing and how dangerous she can be. Also, you may fear for his dignity because what he's doing makes him look a little foolish; he's falling for a kind of emotional fraud.

His fear that she may harm herself if he doesn't let her stay in his hotel room is evidence of her blatant emotional blackmail.

You say that you sense she is dangerous, and I do agree that this situation at least exposes a danger -- the danger of the lost woman, the shrieking, vulnerable, "Play Misty for Me" shrew, or the psychotic, or the calculatedly helpless, or the cunning seductress. Or just the danger of your boyfriend appearing to have a blind spot, or to be kind of flaky. Or obtuse.

Because you seem to rely on a lot of talking and analysis in your relationship, I hope this makes you aware of certain emotional depths that lie beyond discussion, the hidden pitfalls of symbolic behavior, of the limits of talking through things: how beyond the gleaming surface of your relationship lies an ongoing flirtation with hero and devil, which will from time to time force you beyond your own understanding.

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