Therapist, Yes, Movie Critic, No: Why A Good Woman Can End Up With An A**hole

One of the drawbacks of being a therapist is that it makes me hyper-aware of the negative and hurtful aspects of much of life, even when watching a light comedy. Parts of Bridesmaids, for instance, were hard for me to bear. I have many clients who have problems that are so similar to Kristen Wiig’s character, Annie, that it was painful to watch.

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Annie has a relationship with a jerk named Ted, played by Jon Hamm, that consists of little more than sex and only when it’s convenient for Ted. This type of relationship is all that Ted wants, but, though Annie puts up with it, it isn’t satisfying for her. Take a look at this exchange between the two the morning after one of their nights together:

Ted: You slept over.
Annie: I did.
Ted: I thought that we had a rule against that.
Ted: Just kidding.
Annie: Oh, that’s funny. You’re funny in the morning.
Ted: I like hanging out with you.
Annie: I love hanging out with you. I think we get along really well. And you’re so sexy…
Ted: I know. Look, I just have a lot coming up at work. And I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.
Annie: We’re on the same page. I’m not looking for a relationship right now either, let’s just say that. Whatever you want, I can do. I like simple, I’m not like the other girls who would be like, “Be my boyfriend!” Unless you were like, “Yeah!” Then I’d be like, “Maybe.”
[They hug tightly and he kisses her deeply. The he lets her go. Stares at her…]
Ted: Wow, this awkward. I really want you to leave but I don’t know how to say it without sounding like a dick.

There’s no hiding that Annie and Ted aren’t “on the same page.” He doesn’t even want to see her in the morning, and she wants him to be her boyfriend (“maybe”). So why does Annie pretend that they are on the same page? As a therapist, I found Annie’s understated desperation and humiliation excruciating. Also, as a therapist, I found this scene too true. This post will address the age-old question that Annie’s plight raises—why do bright and attractive women put up with such “dicks”?

woman gazing out a windowThis question can be answered, at least in part, by looking at the interaction between a woman in Annie’s state of mind and a man with Ted’s personality. Annie is desperate to be in a relationship, and Ted is totally self-centered. This combination places the woman at high risk of being taken advantage of in the relationship. The more desperate a woman is, the more likely she is to be attracted to a jerky narcissist. This is analogous to the problem of going to the grocery store when hungry: the hungrier you are, the more prone you will be to buy junk food that will be a quick fix for your cravings.

It is easy for all of us to recognize why a Big Mac is appealing when we are starving, but it is less obvious to see why a woman who is longing for a loving and kind man would fall for a selfish, inconsiderate guy. I can begin to make some sense of this by looking at the relationship my old neighbor Cosmo had with his car.

Every night I would come home to find Cosmo making love to his car. At least that is the best way to describe what he was doing. He would wash it, and wax it, and then work his way under the hood in a way that was nothing short of an act of love. Then one night, I came home and he was doing what he always did, but it was a different car. He asked me what I thought. I told him, “It’s beautiful, but where’s your car?” He said, “I got rid of it, and this is my new car.” I felt terrible for his old car and exclaimed, “But I thought you loved that car!” He looked at me like I was a touchy-feely weirdo and said, “I did love that car, but it was getting old, so this is my new one.”

If you think about it, he did love his old car, but it’s a selfish type of love. That is, he loved it for what it did for him. He had no interest in its thoughts, feelings, or wishes. If he wanted to drive to a ball game and the car wanted to drive to a movie theater, he wouldn’t stand for it. I’m getting silly, but you get the point. This kind of selfish love is appropriate for an object but does not work well with people.

When something (or someone) is the target of this selfish love, that love is very intense. Cosmo was really into his cars. Remember, every night he would make love to it. When I get a new golf club, I want to show it off to all of my friends and take great care of it. However, when it is not the target of desire, it is out of sight and out of mind. At the end of the golf season, my wonderful new club goes in the basement and I don’t think about it until spring.

So, if you’re that woman who badly wants to be in a relationship and a jerk-in-good-guy’s-clothing is intensely being attentive to you, it is easy to mistake his attention as a genuine interest in you and not a self-centered attempt to satisfy his desires. For a woman who is “hungry” to be with a guy, a self-centered man is the Big Mac of relationships. Annie’s response to Ted in Bridesmaids is a great case in point. Presumably, the night before the scene described above, Ted was acting loving and attentive to her. Annie’s desperation set her up to think “maybe he really is into me” and overlook the red flag that signified “booty call.”

The way to avoid falling into this trap is to pay close attention to the little voice in the back of your head that is whispering “something is wrong with this picture.” This is not always easy to do. When you badly want to be in a relationship and the guy is professing his love, or at least his interest in you, it is hard to remain objective and exercise the self-control necessary not to fall into the same trap as Annie.

Furthermore, the situation is even more difficult when the guy’s desire to be in a relationship is as great as the woman’s, causing him to believe the declarations of love that he is making. That is, despite what many women believe, all men are not as self-centered as Ted. Of course, predatory men do exist, but I believe they are the exception. My male clients long for satisfying long-term relationships as much as my female clients do. Unfortunately, while a woman’s insecurities put her at risk of being taken advantage of, the combination of a man’s longing to be in a relationship and the effects of testosterone can make a good guy act more self-centered than his normal disposition. In the dance of life, whether you lead or follow, both men and women are equal participants.

In the short run, it’s a lot more fun to give in to temptation and ignore the part of you that is being a buzzkill and telling you that you should exercise restraint—I’m sure that Annie enjoyed her night of being the center of Ted’s world. But in the long run, the price that you pay is feeling bad about yourself and feeling used and taken advantage of. If you’re trying to determine if the guy is a keeper or a jerk, you get a lot more good intel when you set limits out of respect for what you think is right than when you go along with his advances despite your reservations. It’s a good sign if you can say, “I had a great time last night.” It’s a better sign if you can say, “I still feel great” the next day. If you haven’t seen Bridesmaids I don’t want to spoil the ending, but suffice it to say that the movie ended with Annie feeling great, and the angst that I experienced in the beginning was gone.