Semi stalking case studies
This is a scenario I have seen played out many times with the protagonist sometimes a young woman and sometimes a man.
Case Study 1 – Carol and John
A woman, let us call her Carol, was in a romantic relationship that lasted for a few months. She and the man she had been seeing, John, saw each other frequently at first. Then, not long after, there came a time when they professed love for each other. There were some hints of marriage. At least, Carol thought so. She was so caught up in this romance that she neglected her friends. Her family thought she had become distant.
After a time there were occasional small arguments, but nothing serious and nothing that struck either of them as unusual. Carol complained about John’s being messy, He complained about her being too tidy, “compulsive,” he said. But a more important argument grew up. John complained about Carol’s tendency to become possessive sometimes, and jealous. She called him when he was out with his friends. Then she annoyed him once by checking the messages on his phone. Carol understood that there was no particular reason to think that her boyfriend was cheating on her; but it was a thought that came to mind nevertheless. She tried not to seem jealous, but would question him about old girl friends, “for no particular reason,” she told him. It seemed to John that she was checking up on him. He complained about her being “controlling.” He hesitated to talk to old friends because she might get annoyed.
Partly to make the point that she too could be without him sometimes, Carol made occasional dates with her friends but was troubled, nevertheless, by wondering what John was doing during that time. She would call him then, sometimes repeatedly if he did not immediately pick up. More arguments ensued. On one occasion John stormed out of her apartment; and she came after him, driving from one place to another until she found him. John appeared to Carol to be falling out of love. And she felt there was nothing she could do about it.
Finally, John suggested that they “take a break” and not see each other for a while. Carol protested, “How can we work out our problems if we don’t see each other?” He was insistent, however. During the next week Carol behaved, repeatedly, in a way that she, herself, thought was self-destructive. She called John over and over again, and when he stopped answering her calls and texts, she came to his apartment. Sometimes she would park across the street. Sometimes, when he drove away, she would follow. She went out of her way to go to those bars where she knew he was likely to be. On occasion, she accosted him despite his being with another woman.
John went from being patient and soft-spoken to being angry. He was polite, but he was never friendly. He began to complain to his friends about her pestering him. He seemed to Carol to be further and further away. On those increasingly rare occasions when John did stop to talk to her, Carol found that she had nothing to say. Nevertheless, she was tormented by the urge to call him. When she was alone, she pictured him with other women. And, things continued in that way for months.
What distinguishes Carol, and those other women and men who act similarly, from those who become involved in stalking is their drawing back at the last moment from any violence, or the threat of violence. At the last moment, it seems, they recognize that they should not and cannot go further than they have already gone. In the end they let their lover say goodbye.
Case Study 2 – A Policeman Arrested
I have seen this strangely stereotyped drama play out repeatedly with different actors. At the point where I left off this story other things might happen. One man, who was a police officer, pursued the woman who was breaking up with him into another area of town and was arrested.
Case Study 3 – Someone Like Carol
Recently, someone like Carol asked me why she could not stop calling her boyfriend when she knew very well she was annoying him. It is a hard question to answer. I have not noticed over the years much similarity in the way semi-stalkers have grown up. Beyond the fact that they have been jealous in the past, I have not noticed any particular experience which they have in common and which would seem obviously to result in this painful behavior. The result is clear, however. They cannot see themselves apart from their relationship with their lover. They are so identified with their role in this relationship that they have nothing to fall back on if that relationship breaks apart. And so they hold on long past the point where there is nothing to hold on to.
Some men and women engaged in behavior that might not have been overtly violent but was frankly illegal nevertheless: throwing coffee over the clothes of the absent lover, keying or otherwise defacing his/her car, even writing graffiti on his/her garage door. When these incidents occur, it seems possible that they will worsen into overtly violent acts. An order of protection may be sought. Semi stalking may turn into real stalking, but usually not. Sometimes there are public scenes. Sometimes the police are called– but usually not. In the end, there is resignation and a calm after the storm.
A number of months later, the affair is remembered with some misgivings, but with no remaining terrible feelings. Sometimes those bad feelings go away only when a new lover has appeared. Not uncommonly, still later, Carol and the others like her who have become involved in semi stalking have trouble remembering just what it was that attracted them to their ex-lovers in the first place.
The Common Denominator
There seems to be a common denominator to these stories. The person destined to become a “semi-stalker” is not only jealous, but has a history of being jealous in previous relationships. He, or she, is also impulsive. Although many, even most, jilted lovers have from time to time felt an urge to call the absent lover, usually that urge can be successfully resisted. It is as if most people have a sense of pride that does not permit them to behave in ways that make them seem desperate. They try to pretend to a nonchalance they do not feel. These other semi-stalkers, however, seem not to get embarrassed; or if they do, they cannot stop embarrassing themselves. They end up destroying any chance of reconciliation. They assume an identity which is unattractive to any friends who have been watching; and they become repugnant to themselves.
But there is something else. Jealousy. Often, the relationship has gone bad in the first place because of an uncontrollable, unjustifiable and implacable jealousy. Jealousy is never a sign of love. It is a sign of a feeling of possession. Jealous persons feel that the man or woman who belongs to them is doing something behind their back. They feel that they are being made small by a lover laughing at them and making fools of them. This sense of ownership makes the eventual break-up of the relationship still less tolerable. Carol sees another woman in a bar holding onto John’s arm—onto her boyfriend’s arm. Even though she knows he is no longer her boyfriend.
Learning To Stop The Cycle Of Jealousy
It is not easy for a psychotherapist to prevent this behavior, or for friends or anyone else to stop it. The semi-stalker is in a headlong race to make something that is intolerable not happen—even after it has already happened. Such a person seems clinging and demanding and even childish. And may seem to others to be dangerous.
When I am caught up in the middle of this misadventure, I do what I can to persuade the jilted lover to refrain from making matters worse. It may be that John, or whoever the absent lover is, does not want to see her now—clearly does not want to see her—but neither she, nor he knows how he will feel months later. The possibility of his coming back to her is made more likely by her not behaving in the controlling, jealous way he objects to. Time does many things. Time allows him to remember what he loved about her. And it will, inevitably, change the way she feels too, so that the situation will surely become less painful.
But I am also concerned about pointing out the destructive nature of jealousy. There will be other relationships in the future. There will be other times when Carol will be tempted to check up on a new boyfriend. This sort of checking cannot prevent an infidelity; but it will undermine the new relationship as it did the old. Because jealousy is such a stubborn and unsought feeling, I tell jealous men and women that I do not think they can blot out the feeling by an effort of will. But they can—by an effort of will—not express those feelings. As is the case for other sorts of obsessions—about illness, or germs, or whatever—checking makes the underlying fears worse.
(c) Fredric Neuman