In the movie 3:10 to Yuma, with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, Bale’s character loses his foot while fighting in the Civil War. As compensation, the government gives him a large sum of money, with which Bale attempts to forge a new life. At the end of the movie, though, Bale realizes that the government didn’t give him the money so he could walk away. They gave him the money so they could walk away. The government never cared about helping him. They just wanted to erase any obligation they might have had to help him.
It’s a cynical perspective. And sadly, it seems to hold some universal truth, even within the world of dating and relationships. Here’s a true story….
Steven met Joanne through a mutual friend and was immediately intrigued by her. At first, Joanne wasn’t sure if she was interested, but she decided to give him a chance. As they spent more and more time together, she realized that she was starting to develop strong feelings for him. Unfortunately, the opposite was true for Steven. He found that his intrigue was slowly fading into disinterest. Ultimately, Steven called off the relationship, badly hurting Joanne’s feelings in the process. In an effort to be the nice guy, Steven would occasionally call Joanne to “check up on her” and to see how she was doing. He wanted to show her that he still cared, and he truly believed that, as a compassionate person, he was doing the right thing.
Now, is Steven a great guy or what? Talk about being the perfect model of a compassionate citizen.
Or is he? Is Steven actually being compassionate? Or is his compassion really a guise for his selfishness? When Steven calls Joanne to check up on her, is he really trying to offer support? Or is he hoping that she’ll be fine (or at least say she is), and then he can walk away feeling less guilty about his actions?
As it turned out, Steven’s phone calls only dragged on the pain for Joanne. Every time he called, she couldn’t help but wonder if he was still interested. After all, he seemed to care about her so much. How could he not have romantic feelings for her still? Eventually, the phone calls became less frequent and ceased altogether. And eventually, Joanne’s pain subsided. In its wake remained feelings of resentment, and unanswered questions lingered in her mind. “He clearly wasn’t interested anymore. And we were never friends to begin with. Why in the world did he want to be my friend after breaking up with me? What purpose did it serve?” Reflecting on these phone calls months later, Joanne came to realize that Steven wasn’t excited about calling her, and didn’t even really want to spend time with her anymore. He was only calling out of some strange sense of obligation to make her feel better.
And maybe that’s the sad reality of many supposedly compassionate people who are out there. Maybe it’s not that they’re compassionate. Maybe they just have a lot of guilt. And compassion is how they alleviate their guilt. After all, if Steven truly wants Joanne to heal and to move on with her life, he should realize that he needs to leave her alone. He needs to be the “bad guy” and let her be angry and upset at him. Steven wasn’t being a nice guy to Joanne so that she could walk away unscathed. He was being a nice guy to her so that he could walk away unscathed.
So, if you think Steven is turning out to be a weenie after all, then I ask this of you:
If you ever break someone’s heart, don’t be a compassionate person. Don’t be a nice guy, or a nice girl. If you ever say to someone, “I just want to be friends,” don’t actually try to be their friend. Just leave them alone and let them hate you for a while. That’s what they need to do in order to heal. And if you truly are compassionate, you’ll want them to heal. Right? Even if that means you have to live with the guilt of hurting them. Right?
Thanks Charles Bradshaw, that was very profound and illuminating.
You forgot to start with “I couldn’t help but wonder…”
Get your heart broken recently Chuck?
Not really. Just observations I’ve made about others…. 🙂
Ahhhh. The cynic in me agrees — mostly.
Thanks. Can I ask what you disagree about? I really am curious because I know it’s a very VERY cynical perspective….
“And maybe that… See More’s the sad reality of the so-called compassionate people who are out there. Maybe it’s not that they’re compassionate. Maybe they just have a lot of guilt”. I agree with this in the romantic relationship context. I DO think that there are compassionate peole out there who truly care, however. Is guilt a part of compassion? Often yes, but not always. There are times where your heart just aches fora friend or acquaintance knowing what they are going through, and that there is nothing you can do to make it better for them.
Okay, yeah, I see your point. Didn’t mean to imply that was the case for *everyone*. Gonna edit that paragraph slightly….
I love it. Your article is empowering for me, especially since I always want to be the “nice girl” and do the right thing. Sometimes nice leaves mixed messages, and the right thing is to get to the point and let it go.