The Boston Phoenix October 26 - November 2, 2000

[Out There]

The vicious circle

You love him, he loves her, she loves . . . etc.

by Kris Frieswick

My friends and I, who form an elite, nationwide Emotional Disaster Recovery Team (EDRT), have been at DefCon Three readiness status for the past three months. We are standing by to rescue our friend Paula, who has gotten trapped in the Vicious Circle.

We've all been in the Vicious Circle. You meet someone and fall madly in love. But your love interest isn't ready for a commitment, or he just doesn't find you nearly as interesting as you find him, so he dumps you -- or worse, he doesn't dump you, but keeps you hanging on. And you, sap that you are, stick with it because you are convinced that he's everything you ever wanted in a mate and if he could just get to know you better, he would see how perfect you two are for each other.

But the desired one won't ever see this perfection, because he is himself freshly sprung from a relationship, one in which his heart was crushed to smithereens by someone else who just couldn't make a commitment. And as you pine for your beloved, mooning and fawning and trotting around after him, waiting for whatever table scraps of affection he may toss down to you, some fabulous guy crosses your path and falls madly in love with you, but you are too blinded by your love for Mr. Emotionally Unavailable (Mr. EU) to see that you have just met your potential perfect match. So you treat Mr. Potential Perfect Match (Mr. PPM) like dog doo-doo, and you resent it when he looks at you with those big eyes and tells you that you're the best thing that ever happened to him. You return his calls, maybe, and cancel dates at the last minute, but you don't dump him. In fact, you keep him hanging on because you're bound and determined to get on with our life, even if it's with someone you don't want to kiss, and before you know it, you are treating Mr. PPM exactly the way Mr. EU is treating you. Voilà -- the Vicious Circle, or VC as we call it in the emotional-disaster-recovery biz.

Paula has been stuck for three months in a particularly nasty VC, the likes of which I haven't seen in all my days in the recovery racket. Her love for Mr. EU is so strong, so all-consuming, that the sight of deliriously happy couples makes her sick to her stomach. (Okay, it makes a lot of people sick to their stomachs, but that's not the point.) For Paula, everything good and beautiful and happy in the world reminds her of what she does not have, and she sees the entire world as one big yellow Post-it note that says, "He doesn't want you, and you'll never fully understand why."

Meanwhile, faithfully by her side, driving her slowly out of her mind with his unquestioning love and attention, is Mr. PPM, a sweet guy who wants only to spend time with Paula and make her happy and build her a house and sire her children. It's maddening to see, because it's all so damned predictable. As the weeks pass, you can almost see Paula's Mr. PPM warming up to start dating some poor girl who has been worshipping him from afar for months, and whom he will treat like dirt while waiting for Paula to come around, which will never happen, and thus the circle will remain unbroken.

As a member of the recovery team, it is my job to talk Paula down from the ledge. We've instituted the daily sanity-check calls to make sure she's not preparing to do anything stupid, like call Mr. EU. We ask for details about Mr. PPM, each time asking her to enumerate the specific things that make him an undesirable date and, when she can't think of anything, gently suggesting the possibility that he might be a good guy worthy of consideration. We walk her down Memory Lane, recounting all the reasons why Mr. EU was a cad and not at all appropriate for her. None of it really helps, but it keeps us busy and feeling useful. Eventually, we will wear Paula down to the point where she will finally get over Mr. EU, or stop taking our calls.

The good news about the Vicious Circle is that every single one of us has played both roles in it, so technically we all have the insight to stop this particularly ugly brand of nastiness that we visit upon one another with alarming regularity. We know how it feels to pine and ache for someone, and we've all cringed inside when a person we're dating in order to get over Mr. EU looks at us with that teary, lovelorn gleam in his eyes. It is simultaneously heartbreaking and horrifying. Once we recognize that we're in a VC, it makes it a little easier to understand why we turn into a slobbering puppy in the presence of Guy A and a cold, heartless bitch with Guy B, often in the same day. But it doesn't make it easier to stop it. Because like the sun and the moon and the dust that collects in the corner of your bedroom, the Vicious Circle just is.

I've been trying to figure out what enables the Vicious Circle to continue, relatively unbroken, passing unrequited love along like a rock-hard fruitcake from one unwilling recipient to the next. I think it comes down to two basic factors: 1) we want most what we know we cannot have; and 2) we take for granted those things that are handed to us on a silver platter.

If we were smart, we would heed the wise advice of our mothers and fathers, who tell us that a one-sided relationship is not a relationship. As hard as it is to walk away from someone we love but who doesn't love us, it must be done. It'll hurt, oh yes, it'll sting real bad. But don't worry. The Emotional Disaster Recovery Team is on call 24/7. And on the day when you find true love, as opposed to that terribly unpleasant unrequited variety, you'll look at your Perfect Match and wonder what could have possessed you to give your love to someone who couldn't distinguish you from the doormat. At that moment, you and your Perfect Match will be spun right out of the Vicious Circle, and then you two, you lucky kids, can go on to make others sick to their stomachs.

Kris Frieswick can be reached at

The Out There archive