Tag Archives: break-ups

Sometimes, people are just jerks

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

The above is a line from The Great Gatsby, one of my favourite novels. (Don’t knock it til you read it, the Baz Luhrmann version will probably have F. Scott Fitzgerald, that tortured, amazing genius, squirming in his grave til the Day of Judgment.) Even at the age of twelve, when I first read the book, the above line struck me as particularly insightful, because it cuts to the very heart of what often inhibits human relations: complete, utter carelessness.

In my limited, twenty three year long exposure to the human race, as well as my equally limited knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re really not that bad a bunch. In each of us is the potential for great good, as well as the potential for great evil, but in reality many of us are trapped somewhere in between. We can be very kind when we care to be, but when we don’t care, we can wreak devastation upon those around us. This is compounded by the existence of what philosopher Claudia Card terms ‘the gray zone’: the uncertain place in which the tortured becomes the torturer, the victim the oppressor.

Many of us live in a type of permanent gray zone, though not of the precise nature that Card theorised. We get hurt, we hurt someone else. We get rejected, we reject someone. Someone friendzones us, we friendzone someone else, and so we all snowball into a big pile of hurt feelings and broken (emotional) bones from which none of us escape unscathed. To appropriate some of my legal reasoning, many of us are continually committing manslaughter. There’s not enough evidence to prove murder beyond reasonable doubt; the wilful intent to destroy just isn’t there in most cases. But there is a great deal of recklessness in the way we operate, a lack of consideration of the reasonably foreseeable consequences of our actions.

This isn’t to excuse any of it, of course, and this is where I will drop the academic lingo: being careless makes us jerks. Saying things we don’t mean makes us jerks. It doesn’t matter if we meant them ‘in the moment’ (what a silly turn of phrase), because if we didn’t mean them in the next they aren’t worth the spit we used to produce them. Giving someone false hope makes us a jerk, and giving someone mixed signals makes us even bigger jerks. Not recognising that an offer of affection from another human being is a great honour makes us jerks, and backing out at the very first sign of trouble makes us jerks.

Many of us have been jerks for a day, maybe even for a week or a month. We’ve been careless because of an existential crisis we’ve been going through, we get reckless and drive too fast to escape the metaphorical car we feel is tailgating us. These are not excuses.Thankfully, many of us wake up to our senses and remember to default to our more natural state of empathy and kindness. We feel guilty, we apologise and we swear never to do it again. We may slip up and do it once or twice, but by and large we learn our lesson: that other people have an inner world as acute and deep as our own, an inner world which deserves our respect and compassion regardless of the absence or presence of romantic feelings towards them.

But then there are those who are serial offenders. These people appear to be perennially, insistently careless. Some of them may just be hardwired with a low sense of empathy and sensitivity; theorists have posited that evil can be described as much as an ’empty centre’ as a positive force. Others may actually relish the power they derive from gaining the trust of others, symptomatic of far deeper issues. Others may be just so self-absorbed that the feelings of others barely register on their radar. Or maybe, in a quote from my dad’s favourite Simpsons episode, this can be said: “Animals are a lot like people, Mrs. Simpson: some of them act badly because they’ve had a hard life or have been mistreated. But, like people, some of them are just jerks.”

When we encounter pathological jerks, there is very little to do except to run for cover when they reveal themselves, which they inevitably will. It’s not easy. These people are often charming, sociable and entirely free of body odour. They may even be well-versed in Ghazzali’s works! But peel back the surface slightly, and what lies beneath? A core lack of reactivity. This isn’t the sign of a well-trained nafs or a heart fortified by love of Allah swt; it’s simply that they don’t care. Run hard, run fast, and don’t look back except to warn others of when they’re coming. (There’s a reason why backbiting is permissible under some circumstances-for the protection of those who may be harmed.)

Unless we’re some kind of pathological jerk of the above varieties, there’s always hope. It comes in the little things, in how we watch our words and clarify, then clarify again, if something comes out wrong. It’s in our liberal use of smiley faces in online communication and equally liberal use of real ones in face-to-face communication. It’s in how we withdraw from a conversation with someone we have no feelings for, despite the fact that we’re bored and would really like to just talk to someone, anyone. It’s in how we soften a careless word with ten gentle, careful ones. It’s in how we say, you’re really lovely and I’m really flattered but I’m just looking for something different, which is entirely to do with me at this point in my life and nothing to do with you, and it’s in how we forgive people for being jerks for a second or a week because we’ve been there too.

Have you encountered a jerk? Have you been a jerk to someone?







Happily Never After

When it comes to relationships, I’ve got a serious case of Jekyll and Hyde going on. On the one hand, I’m irrepressibly soppy and have a penchant for love songs and love stories and love anything, really. But like any Social Inquiry student worth their money, I’m also cynical, over-analytical and hyper-critical (hey, that rhymed!). I’ve just heard too many bad stories. I’ve seen too many lovely people crushed under the weight of their relationship issues, too frightened and apathetic to leave. I’ve seen too many bad people recklessly and willfully hurt good people, and too many good people unknowingly hurt other good people. A friend of mine once said that no one is really happy in their relationships and that we all just pretend to be so to get by, which struck me as a horribly depressing yet perhaps not entirely inaccurate proposition.

Whether you’re Muslim or non-Muslim, leaving a relationship is never ever easy. But Muslims commit so early on that leaving even the shortest of relationships becomes an emotionally exhausting task. When we get to know someone, it’s on from the get-go. We often start to envision our entire life with that person, planning everything from our wedding to the number of children we’d like to have together. This isn’t crazy, clingy behaviour; we’re encouraged from an Islamic perspective to tackle the big issues head-on. Heck, there are even detailed questionnaires designed for this very purpose. (And before you ask, yes, I do know couples who get to know each other by going through them.)

Often the families of the guy and girl meet from the outset, so when you turn someone down, you’re in effect rejecting their entire family, which can get pretty darn awkward. But even when families are not involved, breaking up with someone is completely and utterly heart-wrenching. You’re not just turning the person down, you are closing the door on the life you had imagined leading together, a life that you now have to furiously erase from your mental whiteboard. Goodbye plans of going to study Arabic in Jordan together, hello impending cat lady/man status. Goodbye to the anticipated thrill of a Facebook relationship status update, hello to attending yet another wedding and having to field people’s endless questions about when you’re going to be next.

Another reason Muslims find ending a relationship particularly hard is because we know that opportunities to meet a person don’t come around every day. We can’t bounce straight back into ‘the dating game’; our rules mean we don’t even enter the court to begin with. Muslims living in countries like Australia have such a small pool of eligible partners to choose from, and so to turn one down without a very serious reason can often strike people as sheer idiocy. ‘But he’s a nice guy/girl!’ is often the catchcry of parents, many of whom seem to see it as a personal failing if their child cannot find a partner. Parental pressure can sometimes result in people staying in iffy relationships, willing themselves to be happy and for things to pick up at some point. (Respect for parents is something so deeply ingrained in us as Muslims that some in fact delegate the process of selecting a partner at least in part to them, but that’s a post for another day.)

This may sound odd, but I think that the fact that Muslims don’t live together before marriage makes it in fact more difficult to leave. Because we have no chance to ‘try before you buy’, we are often prone to believing that an average relationship will somehow improve after marriage. It can happen. Sometimes deep physical and emotional intimacy really can  elevate a relationship from meh to magical. But sometimes it can’t, and that’s nobody’s fault. No relationship is  risk-free, whether you’ve lived with the person for ten years or have only known them for ten months. There is always going to be some element of chance; the question is whether to leave and take a chance on the next person, or to stay and take a chance on this one. The decision is both deeply personal and universal. We’ve all had to make a difficult decision, knowing that we may very well live to regret it. To stay, or to walk away? Only you know the answer.

The end of the road?

The end of the road?