The Age of “Reason”

Posted on July 9, 2012

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Uh Oh

This story is from Kate, a 24-year-old merchandising assistant in NYC, as told to Raz:

As a generalization, I’m really awkward with guys. This, however, was not a case of awkwardness or misunderstanding—this guy was just a little bit crazy.

In college, Jonah worked at the dining hall. We’d been introduced at a party, but I didn’t think much of our meeting. However, it was apparently magical for him.

From that day on, whenever he spotted me getting a meal, he would run from the kitchen to wrap his arms around me—and leave them there just a little too long. I guess it was naive to think he just thought of us as friends, but I honestly didn’t think there was any chemistry. We’d barely even spoken!

After about a month of long and tender hugs, my friend Jillian ended up hanging out at Jonah’s place. Jonah wasn’t there, but she was close with his roommate Jake. Jake’s computer was dead, so he handed Jillian Jonah’s laptop to look something up. What was the first screen that popped up? My Facebook page. Jillian asked Jake why it would be left up.

“Oh, that girl?” he said. “My roommate jerks off to pictures of her.”

That was all the information I needed to start avoiding Jonah like herpes.

When he noticed that I was evading his dining room hugs, he was upset. Like,  really upset. I found this out about a week later. At a party, I was suddenly yanked hard by the wrist to face an angry Jonah screaming, “Were you ever going to fuck me?!” I was terrified, and literally ran away.

The next day, I opened up my Facebook to a message from Jonah. This is what it said (only edited for basic “grammar”):

These are some notes I took on Sartre’s book “Being & Nothingness.” Understand that I am only referencing myself here. I’m not trying to explain your reasoning for being in any friendship or relationship with me. I expect you to hate me, but please stick with me just until the end of the message. Then you can never think about me again if you want.

— Sartre states that many relationships are created by how one person makes another person feel about themselves when they look at them. There is a state of total alienation when a person avoids experiencing their own reality because they don’t identify with “the look” or judgements of another. This leads to conflict.

(In the beginning, I liked your attention. But I soon realized that you judged me as a friend instead of a potential boyfriend or whatever, and that was hard for me to deal with. That feeling is the alienation Sartre is talking about.)

–At its worst, the alienation can become so intense that—due to being so radically enslaved by “the look”—the participants enter into “masochistic” (there’s no better word) attitudes. This happens when at least one participant causes “emotional” pain for another to try to prove their control over the other’s “look” that they feel enslaved by.

(Essentially, I felt so much “pain” from your judgments that I was mean. I tried to cause pain for you as a way of establishing some sort of emotional control over myself. Instead of coming to grips, I ended the relationship.)

I realize this is a weird, convoluted and overwhelming message, but I wanted to explain myself fully (while sober) at least once. Hopefully you understand that I’m not inherently an asshole. I just don’t know to deal with some of my feelings.

Keep in mind, I barely knew him. I was shocked by several things: that he was sober when he constructed this profound reflection on his own emotions and that he considered hugs in the dining hall as a “relationship.” We had literally never had a conversation.

I didn’t write back, but I did learn through the grapevine that I was officially banned from his fraternity parties for being such a “slut.” Funny how refusing to sleep with someone could earn me such a reputation. While I may have graduated without ever attending a party at Sigma Nu, at least I can say that, in college, without ever taking a Philosophy class, I learned a whole lot about Jean-Paul Sartre.

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