Moxie posted Sunday about a guy whose girlfriend got a second tattoo.
“She has never expressed any kind of interest in getting another tattoo…[snip]…Yesterday, her friend got a tattoo. She told me she thought it was a bad idea. That the friend had only put 3 months into thinking about it, and that she didn’t think it was enough time to put into a permanent decision like that.
Then last night she gets drunk with her two best friends (one of them being the one who got the tattoo). The best friend convinces the other two friends to both get an impulsive tattoo. Before it happened, she texted me “I’m getting a tattoo.” I wrote back “Don’t do that, you’re drunk.” She never responded. Now she has a tattoo of a bird on the back of her neck.
I’m really upset about it. I’m upset that she wouldn’t even discuss it with me before doing it. Especially when she knows how much I hate them. I’m upset that I have to look at this tattoo for the unforeseeable future.
I understand that it’s her body, and she can do what she wants with it. But I feel like if she truly cared about me, then that would have factored in for her; and she would have at least discussed the issue with me before going through with it.”
I’m really not a tattoo fan myself. However I’ve found that lots of women around my age and demographic cohort have them, most of them along the lines of hip, butt, ankle or foot. They seem to view it as some small but unsubtle way to be “unique,” to give the bad-girl finger to the staid middle-upper class upbringing that they otherwise embrace wholeheartedly.
Another group has the class of tattoo referred to as the “tramp stamp.” Just speculating here but I think they see it as one they can wear conspicuously at the beach or club, but hide with clothes when at work or with family. They tend to correspond to the promiscuous and attention-seeking stereotype.
My informal survey suggests that a significant portion of these two groups got their tattoos under the influence of girls-night/beach-trip peer pressure and copious consumption of alcohol.
Another small group of women are true body art enthusiasts with highly visible sleeves or neck tats, and almost without exception work in coffee shops, indie shops and likewise non-white-collar professions.
Anyway, onto the case at hand.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU, AND THAT’S THE PROBLEM
The first thing that came to mind is that the guy should de-personalize this situation. He’s very focused on personal hurt, and the idea that she either positively disregarded his concerns or never listened to them in the first place. I surmise that this is a way to validate his emotional response, to frame his feelings as the outcome of a transgression on her part and an outcome she should have considered.
There’s a certain style of projection that can take place in the context of a relationship: “you KNOW I don’t like that and you did it anyway so you MUST have done it to piss me off!” a way of assigning blame for your emotions to somebody else. A variant is, “if you’d stopped to consider MY feelings, you would have known I wouldn’t like it and you wouldn’t have done it.” which is a long-winded version of “if you loved me you wouldn’t do X/Y/Z.”
Both men and women can do this (I personally have noticed a lot more of it from women). It’s a way of keeping yourself relevant – if you assume relational aggression, that means you are front and center in their mind even if only as the target of their sociopathic schemes, as opposed to them simply not considering you at all. (This was summarized to me by a young woman who said “I don’t know how we girls work, I guess even negative attention fits the bill as attention.”)
I’m reminded of a scene in the second season of Grey’s Anatomy, when Derek Shepherd and his estranged wife Addison were fighting over the evident dissolution of their marriage following her affair with his best friend, his budding relationship with his resident Meredith Grey and a failed attempt for the couple to reconcile (this example is almost too complicated of a setup to make its point).
Derek plaintively asks “what do you want?” and Addison shouts back “I WANT YOU TO GIVE A DAMN!”
Now there are cases (plenty) where one partner IS actively trying to hurt the other. But here’s the deal – people do stuff all the time without considering the consequences, for themselves, let alone for other people. Very few people live such examined lives that every decision is rationally crosschecked.
The “revealed personality” is the next thing I thought of. Those automatic choices people make reveal their preferences, their instinctual yearnings, and their character.
What is revealed by her behavior is that she is impulsive, prone to peer pressure and the influence of alcohol, and doesn’t stop to think about consequences when someone close to her tells her she isn’t in a position to make good decisions.
In light of this, I think it’s best for the guy’s psyche and sound decision-making to frame this incident as “she is the type of person who would make life-changing decisions under impulse without consulting the person who is supposed to be her monogamous partner, with whom she’s ostensibly building a life for the future.”
By contrast, it’s ineffective and obfuscatory to view this activity as a case of relational aggression, of intentionally or neglectfully hurting him – he’s not going to make a good decision about the relationship if he’s thinking that way because he’s already set himself up as a victim.
And it’s a far less personal judgment on her – instead of accusing her of not loving him enough, he simply examines her as she is and whether he wants to be in a relationship with that kind of person. It’s actually rather empowering, instead of being a victim he makes an assertive decision based on observed data.
A corollary of this is to consider that maybe she’s not as serious about the relationship as he expects. Which brings us to…
Early in dating/a relationship, there’s the paradox that you are on your best behavior but at the same time operating from the assumption that you don’t have to be accountable to the other person – there’s not enough investment or commitment for that, and in fact many people get creeped out if their new partner starts making coordinated plans too far in advance.
Now personally, anywhere from 6-9 months is a psychological “line of demarcation” in my mind when it comes to relationships. Around that time, a monogamous setup becomes “monogamous and committed,” where there is an unspoken expectation that the couple’s planning timeline is going to get longer than “a week or two from now,” you’re expected to plan for family holidays, and the relationship annuity starts bearing longer-term fruit. One example of this is consulting your partner on big life decisions.
Thing is, if you view behavior like getting an impromptu tattoo as somebody’s natural predilection rather than something that she did without your approval, then you don’t need any of this “how committed are we” consideration, because you’re not framing it as “something they shouldn’t do because I don’t like it.”
Which brings me to the action plan.
If you have serious behavioral dealbreakers like bodily mutilation, drug use or dangerous hobbies, it’s not a very good strategy to hope that you can make your partner love you enough to dissuade them from partaking in those behaviors.
It’s a much better strategy to find somebody who is not inclined to those dealbreakers in the first place, and then the bonds of the relationship serve as the final guardrail, a rational check on their instinctive behaviors.
Now to be sure, you can’t get everything you want in a partner, and hassling out likes and dislikes and boundaries is part of the “relationship negotiation” that should be an unglamorous but non-acrimonious part of any couplehood.
I would advise him to focus more on the actions themselves than whether she checked with him or not, acts of impulsive attention-seeking that are major red flags rather than her being insufficiently loving of and committed to him.