The Breakup Coach

October 2, 2009 / 0 COMMENTS

Crazy-Ex-Syndrome: Step Away From the Goldfish Please!

The newswires, twitterverse, and yes, the blogosphere were all abuzz late this week over a bizarre incident which occurred a few days ago in Texas (news link here). Apparently an angry ex-girlfriend (common-law wife, technically) went to her ex's home, took the seven goldfish that had once belonged to both of them in happier times, fried them, and ate them (well, at least three of them anyway--I guess anger only took her so far).

Now firstly, this is just plain horrifying. Clearly this woman was very disturbed to do something so malicious and macabre to those innocent animals. (Though some have pointed out that this doesn't really qualify as animal cruelty since we as a society regularly kill and eat fish. I can respect that viewpoint. But at the very least the intent makes it cruel.)

In any case, the story has spread around the world like virtual wildfire. Clearly people are fascinated by the tale. Some are even amused, at least partly in spite of themselves, but whatever their reaction, people are talking about it, a lot.

It's not really surprising that the story has captured so much attention, given our culture's longstanding preoccupation with an archetype that this woman stands for: the volative, vindictive female ex. People will hear a story like this, nod, and intone something like that old standby, "Hell hath no fury like a women scorned" (William Congreve, 1697; a lot of people think another William (Shakepeare) said it, but it was Mr.C). Anyway, there's definitely an idea floating around in our collective unconscious that jilted female lovers are often crazy and dangerous, and it's reflected in many of our stories. They go back at least as far as the ancient greek goddess Hera, wife of Zeus, who would take out her jealous wrath on his lovers by turning them into various animals (though, apparently, not going so far as to cook and eat those animals). Speaking of cooking, the most iconic example of this crazy-female-ex syndrome is, of course, Glenn Close's role in the movie Fatal Attraction. A poor bunny rabbit was the victim of her wrath in that case (what is it with the cooking of pets, anyway?) There was a movie starring Beyonce out this year, Obsessed, which I think stayed in theaters for about 5 minutes, but it went along similar lines.

Clearly things like this do happen, as the true story out of texas demonstrates. Sometimes women go crazy during a breakup, and my last post discussed that at length. Sometimes, unfortunately, they were disturbed before the breakup and it comes out during or after a split. It's a real problem, and helping to minimize its impact is part of why I do what I do.

However, the story that happens far, far more often involves men stalking, harrassing, attacking and ultimately killing their former partners. Whether the relationship is heterosexual or same-sex, men are far more likely than women to act out in a way that is threatening or violent during a breakup or divorce. You can check out some statistics about gender and ex-intimate partner stalking here.

Not to say that it's in any way less scary or horrible when a man is the victim and the woman is the perpetrator. It's just awful and wrong, no matter who's doing it. I do find it interesting though how absorbed our culture is by the whole hell-hath-no-fury thing about women. Maybe hell doesn't, but according to those statistics I would say that men certainly do hath it, and more so than women. Maybe the fact that it's so unfortunately common, and therefore sad, is what keeps it from being as compelling a story?

Perhaps it would be a good idea to include in the new website I'm building a section on what to do about an ex who won't leave you alone? My focus so far has been on getting over your ex, but what about when they won't get over you and things have taken a dark turn? Serious food for thought there. I know one of the effects of being stalked is feeling isolated; I'd like to give support if I can. For now, here's at least one link with some info for stalking or potential stalking victims here.

In the meantime, if you're the one who's angry, talk to your friends about it, or a professional if needed. Get your aggression out at the gym or a serious cleaning frenzy. Get yourself somewhere private where you won't freak anyone out and scream your head off for a minute if you need to. Just leave the goldfish alone, please.

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