Friday, November 16, 2012

Differences in Leadership Styles

I know you wanted to hear about the rest of the bananarama trip, but somehow, I finally feel compelled to tell you the story about Asshole.  They're related, you know. 

Have you ever dated someone who was a total mistake for you?  Did you ever meet someone who could piss off a waitress with one snap of the fingers?  Yup, I'm telling you that Asshole was that man.

Let me start from the beginning, a whole year before the bananarama trip.  See, I met Asshole on one of my solo hikes.  That was the fall when Mike and I were not dating after dating ever so briefly.  It was when my heart was broken and I swore I'd fake my way through every day at work to prove it wasn't.  Every time I tell the story of Asshole, it begins and ends with Mike. 

There I was on this beautiful trail, feeling so broken-hearted, when along comes this guy.  He was good looking, though I was told later that I was the only one who saw good looks past his feminine and bad-tempered nature.  I'm telling you, looks can quickly fade when a person's true colors begin to shine through in an ugly way.  Sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself.

So I saw this guy approaching and rather than say hello and walk on, each of us felt compelled to stop and flirt.  Yup, I was single.  Flirting was a good plan for me, or so it seemed.  We talked for a while and without letting anything go any further, I said 'Adieu' and hiked on my merry way, just a little more cheerfully than I had before. Yes, there is a time that flirting is good for the soul.

When I was done with my hike, I signed out at the ranger station and went home. 

A couple of nights later, Asshole called. 

I hadn't remembered his name yet the hairs rose on the back of my neck as he told me who he was. 

"How did you get my phone number?" I asked him.

"The ranger gave it to me," he replied cheerfully, then he told me the story he told the ranger to get it out of him.  It was a good story.  We laughed about how it was a total lie.  Why I didn't hang up on him on the spot, I don't know.  The flirting took me over.  We talked for a while and I refused to give him any more information, thinking that would do the trick.  I refused to meet him for a date too.

"How do I know you're not an evil stalker?" I blithely asked when he asked me out.  He teased me about that before we rang off, but he promised he'd call again.  I hadn't asked him to call though I secretly hoped he would. 

He called every evening for the next week or so.  We talked, a lot.  I was getting interested in meeting him, but I kept asking him the same question - how do I know he's not an evil stalker?  It became a joke with us until one day he got mad and told me to stop.  That was when I finally agreed to meet him. 

I still wasn't totally convinced so I stuck with the usual plan my girlfriends and I had of going together and signaling each other.  They'd go with me to meet the guy in a public place and I'd use a hand signal if I wanted them to meet me in the bathroom.  I swear, more than once, I'd wished that bathrooms at restaurants and clubs had back exits so that we could leave without a trace.  Avoidance was often the safest exit strategy.

My friend signaled me after about ten minutes.  That meant she didn't like him.  Asshole had pissed off the waitress in his classic style, returning a drink that looked perfectly fine to me.  When I met her in the bathroom, I told her that I liked him and she could head out to her next venue, meeting the rest of our friends at the usual dance club.  She looked doubtful, but nodded her head.  Now, I realize that she had more to say, even at that point. 

Don't you wish your friends would really tell you what they were thinking long before you tell them that you've broken up with someone?  That would have been a good time for it.  My friends never did like this guy, but I thought I did.  In truth, I was just happy not to be so focused on Mike.  I also liked being able to say I was dating, then later, that I had a boyfriend.  I felt less of a reject that way. 

Asshole started out being nice to me.  We went to pick out a pumpkin and he helped me get the biggest pumpkin I'd ever had.  We went to a Cajun restaurant, though his true colors began to bleed through when he treated the waitress as though she were a servant rather than an equal.  I was embarrassed and tried to get him to stop.  Finger snapping was over the top, I thought.  And it wasn't her fault the steak was too raw at first and then too well done. 

"She's probably back there spitting on it right now," he said. 

I had never heard of such a thing, never imagined it.  It made it hard to eat my blackened salmon.  I kept picking at it, as if I could tell if she'd spit on my food by association.  Asshole had pissed her off from the start with his attitude.

After that, I worked to distract him at restaurants.  I had worked at a restaurant.  I knew what these people did to earn their money.  Asshole continued to bring me to nice places to eat and when the meal came, he invariably had some complaint that sent it back, sometimes more than once.  He wouldn't get distracted at those times, not even by a bit of snogging.  I really hated that part of the meal, even though he told me it was expected, that no one got any respect if they ordered a meal and simply ate it without complaint.  He even managed to get a couple of meals free after the embarrassment of asking to speak to the manager.  Seems to me, he could afford to pay for his meals.  He was an lawyer after all. 

Then, one day, we stopped by his parent's house to pick something up before we went to the movies.  Even after a couple of months together, I had never been invited to his place, so I suspected that he still lived with them.  His mother was washing dishes at her sink when we arrived.  She dried her hands and greeted me, a hand outstretched.  She quickly asked if I wanted anything to drink.

"You should know by now that we don't have time for that," he said.

"But I just thought ... " she began to say.

"Well, that's ridiculous.  Why don't you get back to those dishes.  This place is so filthy, you embarrass me."  I could see that she was mortified and tried to make eye contact, but she kept her eyes down.  She took the sponge and wiped a perfectly clean counter top.

"You missed a spot."  Asshole grabbed my hand and steered me out of the house. 

On my way out the door, I yelled through the small living room, hopefully loud enough that she'd be able to hear me in the kitchen, "It was nice to meet you."

"Don't think you're going to be invited for dinner to meet my parents or anything."  Now, that hurt.  I wasn't angling for that.  I was just trying to be polite.  I worried that this man could be so rude to his own mother.  You know, it really does make sense, when you're dating, to see how a guy treats his mom and his sisters.  It tells a lot about him. 

After that, Asshole began to tease me about meeting his parents, but most of the time, it just hurt my feelings.  It was as if he expected me to beg him for more in the relationship.  Did I give off that vibe?  I'm not sure.  I'd stopped dating other people when it became clear that he was interested in more than a couple of dates.  I'd tried dating more than one guy at a time, and I didn't like it. 

I'll tell you something.  I don't like being teased.  I've always felt that it is an altogether too easy way for people to say the cruel things they'd like to say, but can't quite get away with.  I can hear their true intent in the words. 

Asshole teased me about everything I cared about.  He thought it was funny that I was sincere.  He teased me for caring about my coworkers and their girlfriends.  He even gave me dialog to put the screws to Mike, a story I'd watered down for him quite a bit.  He teased me about my family.  That began the hardening process.  I might have something to say about my family, but no one else is entitled.  I began to see the drudgery of a night out with the man.  My friends begged off from meeting with him after the first time and he seemed glad of it.  Barely out of earshot, he nitpicked the worst flaws from each of them.  He may have been right, but I loved them.  Still, I thought it might be better not to fan the flames, so I disappeared from their outings.  I missed Saturday nights in New York City, nights during which we frequently went to listen to an Irish band play.  I missed my friends. 

Then, Asshole began to tell me I was being too clingy, that he needed some space.  The worst part of it was that he insisted that I be home so he could call on the nights when I might have gone out with my friends.  I read a lot of books those nights until I finally laid down the law.  I'd go out with him if he asked me, but if he needed his space, I was going out with my friends.  This infuriated him. 

About this time, Mike started to ask me out again.  At first I thought he was joking.  Really, Asshole's tendencies were beginning to seem normal.  Asking out a girl he had no interest in just to push her back down was right down his alley.  Finally, after Mike had asked a number of times, I said I'd think about going.  So the next time he asked, I said okay, but that, if he didn't mind, I might bring my boyfriend. The event was an Explorer Post overnight, a winter camping trip in two weeks.  I hadn't meant to be cruel.  I just thought he was asking as a friend.  Of course, Asshole said he would go, but that he'd have to arrive late because of his work, his important job.

The weekend before the winter camping, Asshole had a plan that he swore would make Mike's trip look paltry.  That's the word he used, 'paltry.'  We headed off early on Saturday morning, promptly at 6:00 am because he insisted on getting an early start.  We drove a long and winding road into the Catskills with our cross country skis and some basic gear.  I'm not sure we had a canteen between us. Maybe we had snacks, but if I was up to my usual for that trip, I probably brought a couple of candy bars and a soda.  I should tell you about the time I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back geared up that way.  Oh man. 

Before we started, I asked where we were going.  Asshole had been here before, he said, so he didn't need a map.  Boy, he was tough.  He wasn't telling me much about where or how far we were going either.  Eventually, I realized I was in a bit over my head.  I'd learned to cross country ski on golf courses.  This was a rough trail with short, steep inclines that all seemed to take a sharp turn at the bottom.  I spent a lot of it on my butt or sometimes on my face.  At least the snow was deep and soft. We never took a break, so I soldiered on, trying to keep up.  It was hard.  I was hot and sweaty, and totally soaked. 

And then I did another face plant, only this time, my pole caught on my thumb and hyper-extended it as I fell.  It began to swell immediately.  Asshole rubbed it with snow, causing me to shiver uncontrollably.  When I wasn't moving, I got cold quickly.  He told me my thumb looked good and that we needed to keep going. 

I couldn't hold my pole.

"Come on! What are you, a wimp?" he asked. "I should leave you here."

Tears sprang to my eyes, but I didn't let him see them.  I wrapped my fingers around the pole and tried to hold my thumb in a neutral position.  It was hard, but I kept going.  I had no idea where I was, after all.  We kept going for at least another hour.  At that point, Asshole said that we should probably turn around since we'd gone eight miles or so.  That would double to sixteen by the time we got back.  I kept my mouth shut.  We'd done at least three of those after I'd hurt myself.  I began to sort out my 'it's not you, it's me' speech as I quietly skied behind him.  He called me a wimp a couple more times before we made it back to his car because I couldn't keep up with him. I struggled to keep the distance between us short.

He made a big deal out of me getting the seat of his car wet.  I still didn't say anything.  I was cold and wet and miserable and I wanted to go home.

"I'm going to stop for a beer," he stated, about a mile down the road.  I was tempted to sit in the car and wait, but I was hungry and I figured I'd get a burger out of it if I went inside with him.  He talked on and on and on, never catching the drift of things, that something had slid over the edge between us.  He had the audacity to tease me for being clingy and called me a wimp one more time.  I sat quietly and tried to eat my burger with my left hand.  My right hand hurt.  Even the waitress took a look at it.  She gave me a sympathetic look but backed off when Asshole jumped all over her to mind her own business. 

It took forever for Asshole to drop me off at home.  I made myself some hot chocolate and promptly dropped the mug.  You guessed it.  My thumb was broken.  By the next weekend, I still hadn't seen him, so he didn't know.  When he finally called to get particulars about the camping trip, he told me he hadn't called to teach me a lesson about being clingy.  What lesson? I thought. I tried to get him to apologize, but he didn't, even after I told him my thumb was broken. But then, he started flirting again.  I was confused.

I really wanted to tell him to shove off, but figured I should say it in person if I was going to say it.  That week, I sat at a bar with my friends again for the first time in a couple of months.  When I told them I was thinking of breaking up, they told me how he'd made fun of me when I went to the bar to get him a drink on that one night when they'd all met.  They said they'd never liked him from the beginning and that he'd bragged about getting my phone number and address and seeing if I'd agree to go out with him.  See, this is where good friends go wrong.  It would have saved me so much angst if they'd told me what he'd said that night.  Would I have listened?  Oh, I hope so.  Who knows?  Well, maybe not so much.

When he finally called me, I just gave him directions to the winter camp and kept it simple, but then I started to feel a little sorry for him.  I figured I'd find a way to tell him sooner or later, but I wanted to do it right.


The next weekend, Mike bundled me up and brought me to the winter camp.  He loaned me a warm sleeping bag and a tent.  He wrapped my cast so it wouldn't get wet and made sure I wasn't cold.  He was very sweet.  Despite the cast on my arm, we managed to have a snowball fight that ended in us rolling around in the snow together. It was lovely.  In the middle of all that, Asshole showed up wearing his usual bravado.  He talked about how he was better at this kind of thing that they were.  He was more experienced with that.  He spent his time around the campfire talking about himself while I sat quietly, just watching. 

I wasn't watching him. I was watching Mike.  Mike was sulking. If this was a simple friendship, why would he be sulking? 

I can tell you that there are times when I'm dense, okay, lots of times. Finally, the light bulb went on.  Mike was more than just a friend. I could see it on his face, in his posture after Asshole arrived and possessively put his arm around me.  I finally made eye contact with Mike and somehow got him to understand what was happening.  I'm not sure how because suddenly Asshole didn't want to be more than three feet away from me.  A couple of times during the next twenty-four hours, I pulled away from Asshole's embrace. After making sure I didn't let any snow melt on his car seats, I broke up with him as he took me home.  He told me I'd regret it. 

I haven't, not for a minute.

Thank you for listening, jb

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