Gossip can be a worthwhile endeavor so long as no one involved is invested in any positive outcomes. I do not normally partake in gossip as I find it to be, more often than not, a rather trivial ordeal. Gossip is a subject that we broach when we have nothing substantive to do with our time. It is something that I often find myself fleeing rather than being consumed by. Today however I was told a story that, had I not known both parties involved and taken great pains to see to the authenticity of the tale, I would not otherwise involve myself with. It is a commonplace occurrence however and my hope is that readers will see the hurt that can be caused when one tries to be something they’re not or tell stories that are designed to elicit sympathy when they have no basis in fact.
I know a man who is in his early twenties – we will call him Percy – as I was just reading Virginia Woolf today anyways. Percy was telling me about a girl he knew. He didn’t know how to classify her when it came to their relationship. There had never been anything explicitly romantic about their time together, but it would be wrong to say that the two did not have feelings for one another. They simply never acted on these feelings or demurred their sentiments until such a time as the feeling had passed through their bodies and their minds had been restored to their regular state. It was not unusual for him to feel love or compassion for another, but he rarely felt pure passion and seeing as he was a young man whose experiences when it came to women were minimal he did not know how to manifest his desires.
I was quite receptive to these feelings as they mirrored my own experiences with love however limited they may be. There was a girl – we’ll call her Emily – who was flighty. She could talk to him for hours and the two would wonder where the time had gone, but her attention was limited as she had a habit of checking her phone whenever she got even the slightest bit bored. This bothered Percy to some degree as he was always very mindful of manners – a quality his father had instilled on him at a very early age. He had always tried to live up to his fathers’ ideals when it came to appearances, but no matter how hard he tried he could never live up to them. They were raised in different worlds with different rewards and incentive structures growing up. His father grew up in a home with many siblings and was taught from a very early age that there was a simple right way and wrong way to live his life. Percy grew up with the shared experiences of both his father and his mother melding him in to the man he was to become.
Emily sat at a table across from Percy in a small café. They went out three maybe four times depending on what counted as “going out.” Their relationship was strictly platonic, but Percy felt ravished by the passion he felt for her. He could not act on his passion as it offended his mild mannered sensibilities. He never understood where the line between civility and romance was. Emily was the type who just wanted adventure in her life. She was the sort of person who lived a highly regimented life, but hated the structure more than anything and longed for an existence free of commitments where she would be able to follow her romantic spirit wherever it led her. It was this feeling that made her feel close with Percy. He too shared this romantic feeling. They were both lovers of books; in fact they had met at a book store and gone through the classics recounting their favorite moments from their long literary canon of books and short stories.
Emily was a sort of Holly Golightly figure, who like to go with the flow of life, but only when it suited her suppressed desires and longings for a better life. There were things; she made sure to remind Percy, that haunted her every day. There were reasons that she wouldn’t go places with him and people that frightened her. Percy was the sort of trusting fellow who believed what he heard and respected it as truth. Although some of her tales seemed far-fetched she would counter with a question: why would I lie? It was a question to which Percy did not have an answer. As their relationship dragged on Emily took a trip out west. She wasn’t sure how long she’d be gone. He was bothered by the fact that she took the time off work to go on vacation when the two saw so little of one another. She brushed this aside as a matter of perspective, but it really got to Percy and stuck under his skin.
Once she had been gone for a little over a month he realized how much he missed her and he didn’t miss her as one might miss an aunt or an uncle, but the way one misses a parent or sibling. He was smitten with her to the point of being in love and when he finally told her how he felt she reciprocated his feelings. He had never known a greater joy in all his life. They texted each other back and forth continuously, but her mood seemed to change and all of a sudden she got reluctant to return his feelings. Percy began to inquire about this and was met with the harshest reply that could befall his heart. She loved him “as a friend.” He did not even know what that meant. Was love not unequivocal? Love was supposed to be unconditional not subject to the definition of the relationship. Had he not been clear in his expression? But, alas he had been and she understood at as so. She began to tell him of a deep, dark secret she had that would make him love her less. Though he was certain that whatever it was they could fight through it together she had no desire to continue on.
The secret she told him late one night was that she had been raped. He had sensed from early on in their courtship that something was off with her sexually. She did not seem open to his physical manifestations of love despite the fact she was quite receptive to his emotional feelings on the subject. Percy was a cynical man and eventually after fleshing out her story he began to have his doubts as to whether she was being honest with him. He didn’t know why she had this change of heart. He didn’t know why she professed her love for him one minute and then denied it the next and he certainly didn’t know why she would make up something so heinous as a rape to cover her own foolish missteps in the game of love. Their breakup was brutal. She never spoke to him again. He was crushed and bewildered. It was as though he didn’t know how to proceed with an existence that had – just over a year earlier – been completely devoid of her.
When Percy finished telling me his story I realized that I knew Emily although I did not tell him this. Hadn’t he been through enough? I needed to know why someone would do this however. I didn’t understand why someone would make up such a heinous lie just to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. What’s worse is that she only compounded the problem by telling the lie. Not only did Percy feel bad about the breakup, but he felt bad for Emily. That was likely what she wanted all along though. She liked the attention and though she could be unassuming in her outward demeanor, her inward spirit needed room to fly. When I discussed this with Emily she simply sighed and told me that everything she had done she did for him. All the lies and deception were done for his benefit. Not wanting to engage in a large, overblown argument about the matter I simply accepted her reasoning and tried to move on, but like Percy I was haunted by the idea that there was a woman out there who was so haunted by her fear of love that she did everything in her power to deceive those she most cared about in an attempt to make them not love her. It was the most brazen act of shame I have ever heard of and it is not a story I am likely to forget anytime soon.