Humiliation

Caroline Hax (who I think is very astute) responded in today’s column (Washington Post, Sunday, November 4, 2007, p. M2, col. 3) to a reader’s question with an observation that gave me one of those “oh, yeah” moments. The question, like most of the ones she answers, dealt with relationships. She says, “There is a general power structure to dating. Even when the ultimate goal is commitment, the person who asks someone out [and here she admits she is talking generally about men] has, roughly speaking, two intermediate goals: getting sex and avoiding humiliation.” She then says, “Once a woman commits to a man . . . the power shifts. Now it’s her turn to fear humiliation.” [Pause] . . . Of course. That’s exactly what’s so terrifying about relationships.

Humiliation. You feel it if you think you’re in love and he only wants benefits. You feel it when your middle-aged spouse runs off with a 20-something bleached blond. You feel it when you get all flustered if someone of the opposite sex even talks to you, it’s been so long. It’s a feeling to be avoided at all cost.

But, avoiding something at all cost means there is a cost and how do you tell if the cost is too high? How do you balance the almost certain humiliation that will occur at some time or another in a relationship with the benefits that the relationship might afford? How do you let the humiliation and the fear slide off your back and not turn you into a hermit? Can you get over it?

I have answers to most things (right or wrong), but not this one. Still, it seems like some sort of breakthrough to have a concept to mull over. Maybe understanding what is so terrifying is a good start for a change.

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