Advice 5
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Rule Nine : Don't Be a Puppy Dog!

"Cow-Eyes", "Moon Face", "Puppy Dog", "Space Invaders", or just plain "Smothering" are terms women use to describe men who just can't seem to leave them alone despite a series of gentle hints followed by even stronger hints.  

Women hate this sort of behavior. For that matter so do men. Having an obsessive suitor is like getting a coffee stain on your favorite dress. You started the night with a smile, now you have an ugly attachment you just can't seem to get rid of. 

Unfortunately like body odor, Puppy Dog behavior is very awkward for people to deal with. Generally the Puppy Dog is someone who has a big crush on you. Although you may or may not be interested in this person romantically, you probably respect them enough to not want to hurt their feelings. 


Puppy Eyes in Action

Here is a good example of the problem. One evening during Practice Night I went over to the couch to talk with a young lady named Patricia. She was watching people dance. 

Patty was a student in one of my classes. She had emailed to ask to become a "Volunteer" and I needed to give her some information. Standing next to her was a young man named Hank who I could tell had a big crush on Patty. In class any time I would say, "get a partner", he would race across the room to get to Patty first. Now as Patty and I chatted, Hank stood guard just 5 feet away for the duration of our ten-minute talk. 

Poor Hank would have been mortified if he had known our entire conversation was about him. Patty was livid that he would not leave her side. There were several men she wanted to dance with, but they did not dare approach because Hank was acting so possessive. Patty bitched… yes, there is no better word for it… the entire ten minutes we talked. She was pretty upset to say the least!

After I left, I noticed from across the room as a young lady from Hank and Patty's class approached Hank. She appeared to ask him to dance. He hesitated… obviously not wanting to leave Patty's side in case she suddenly developed an urge to dance with him… but relented and took the lady out on the floor. The moment his back was turned, Patty suddenly stood up and in a flash she was gone! I knew exactly what was going on. 


Sure enough, the next day I received this email from Patty:

"Thanks for letting me "vent" last night. I know that in the overall scheme of things it is petty, but I've NEVER reacted well to being smothered by easily-dominated, under-confident men (....hmmm....the polar opposite of outwardly aggressive). Being able to skip beginning Twostep (which Hank is taking) was a lifesaver! I know you probably think that I'm over-reacting, but you should have seen the look on his face when I told him I would be taking Beginning Western Swing instead... someone would have thought that I had refused a marriage proposal instead of just changing to a dance class that he wasn't in!!

Anyway, I also thought that you might get a "kick" out of hearing about my "quick" get away from the studio last night. Some girl came over and asked Hank to dance. It was first time I was free of him the entire Practice Night. When his back was turned, I snuck out of the studio as fast as I could. I got out to my Honda only to discover that I couldn't find my keys!!! By the time I got my door unlocked and climbed inside, Hank was headed straight for me and was waving to get my attention. Oh geez. There was no way to avoid him, so I closed the door, started the car, and rolled down the window to hear him playfully tease me about not saying good-bye.

I fear he is much too nice to recognize the hint. He has asked me out three times. I tell him it is too soon since my divorce, but the truth is I have dated several men. I like Hank, I know he is very intelligent, and nice-looking too. But how on earth do I ever get the message across that smothering a woman is not the right way to approach me? I cringe at the thought of hurting his feelings, so I avoid telling him the truth, but frankly, I need a man, not a puppy dog."


A Bad Case of Cow Eyes!

The incident above reminds me clearly how I learned the dangers of obsessive smothering. I imagine others could benefit from my own sad experience, so I will share one of the most painful experiences of my entire life. 

As I have written in other stories on the SSQQ web site, the fall of 1973 was the single worst period of my entire life. I was a first-year graduate student in the Clinical Psychology program at Colorado State University. 

In December, not only did the Chairman of the Department threaten to throw me out of graduate school, but also I had the miserable misfortune of discovering the truth that I had been two-timed by the Chairman's beautiful blonde secretary at the same time. As I left for Houston at Christmas Break, I was hurting just about every way someone can hurt. 

Three weeks later when I returned to campus I was still devastated by my failure in love and by the "D" in my Interviewing class which practically guaranteed I would not be invited to continue in the Psych program the following year. My self-esteem was pretty much ruined. 


I asked my Advisor if he could think of anything that might salvage my chances of staying in the program. He suggested I go into counseling to cover some of the issues like "defensiveness" that Dr. Suinn had identified as reasons for failing me in his class. It seemed like a reasonable plan. I had previously met the man my Advisor recommended and liked him. I figured I had little to lose, so I gave Dr. Hinkle a call. 

Looking back, quite frankly it was an excellent move. Although it didn't save my neck - I was asked to leave the program at the end of the year - every minute I shared with Dr. Hinkle helped prepare me for life after graduate school. I learned a lot of valuable lessons from this man and I will always be grateful for his help. 

The truth is I have forgotten most of what Dr. Hinkle and I talked about, but there was one particular moment in his office that I will never forget as long as I live. Here is the story.


Debbie Sales was an attractive undergraduate majoring in Psychology. As you might guess, we met in a Psych class. As a graduate student, one of my duties was to conduct a study seminar twice a week to support the larger class taught by a professor. With a class of 300, it was pretty difficult to give the individual students much attention, so the thinking was grad students like myself could hold review seminars with smaller classes around 30 students. 

Debbie was the sharpest student in class. She asked the best questions and also gave the best answers to my questions. We began to chat sometimes after class. I realized I was beginning to like her, but had never gotten up the nerve to ask her out on a date. After my crushing experiences the previous semester with my two-timing beauty, I was pretty reluctant to risk any further rejection for a while. 

One day in late spring, Debbie asked me if I was going to the Psych convention down in Denver. It was a regional seminar where the professors from many campuses around Colorado met to hold professional meetings as well as conduct seminars for Psychology students. The truth was I hadn't planned on going, but when Debbie encouraged me to go with her, I quickly changed my mind. 

We planned to drive down to the hotel in Denver, a two-hour trip, with two other Psychology Department students. Debbie and I sat in the back seat. Despite plenty of room, I was pleased to notice Debbie sat as close to me as humanly possible. In fact, she was so close my arm was uncomfortable, so I decided it was easier just to put my arm around her shoulders. She smiled and snuggled even closer. For a guy whose feelings had been as bruised as mine, her smile and her presence were water to a man wandering the desert. My heart beat with joy!


Things Go Downhill Fast

To make a long story short, the trip down was the highlight of our romance. However, during the weekend at the convention, Debbie grew more and more distant despite my constant attention and cow eyed looks at her. I imagine you can guess where I am going with this. 

On the trip back, this time Debbie sat as far away from me as humanly possible. In fact, for a while it looked like she was considering climbing out the window. Instead she found a way to put a huge suitcase between us. I got the message.


The Confrontation

About three days later I was still pretty much down in the dumps over Debbie's rejection when I showed up for my regular appointment with Dr. Hinkle. Ordinarily I did most of the talking and Dr. Hinkle would simply comment from time to time, but the moment I sat in my chair Dr. Hinkle cleared his voice. 

"Rick, did you have a chain around your neck last weekend?" He stared right at me. There was actually a touch of anger in his voice!

"Dr. Hinkle, what do you mean?" I was genuinely confused at his question. 

"You may not have noticed, but I was at the Psych convention in Denver last weekend. Ordinarily I don't get a chance to observe any of my patients outside my office, but I noticed you were there so I took the opportunity to watch you interact a couple times. Every time I looked, it seemed like you were following the same girl around. Did she have a leash on you?"

I was speechless. In Psych jargon, this is called a "Confrontation". In fact, it was the most powerful slap in the face imaginable. I turned absolutely crimson with shame. My face actually began to burn as the meaning of his statement took effect. My words today cannot even begin to describe the intense frustration I felt as a storm of bitterness, helplessness, and futility welled up at once within me. I had gone from one goddamn miserable experience to another at this college and this was the match that lit the spark. Dr. Hinkle's slap in the face had brought an overwhelming anger to the surface. I will never forget how my face burned!  It was like fire. 

I almost started to cry; in fact I wish I had. I sure wanted to!! But instead I just breathed a while and let the rage subside. Dr. Hinkle sat there quietly for what must have been ten minutes. It had taken a lot of guts for Dr. Hinkle to hit me like that; however I wasn't mad at him at all. I was mad at myself. The moment I understood what he was getting at, I had realized he was absolutely right.

In fact, I was actually relived. His insight had helped clear up my mystery. For the past three days, I had been wondering what I had done to push Debbie away. You see, I was completely clueless. In Psychology, they talk about "blind spots" in your consciousness. Dr. Hinkle had forcefully ripped my blinders away. I instantly realized my smothering behavior had indeed been the cause of Debbie's withdrawal. How absolutely stupid of me!!


To his credit, after knocking me down with his opening statement, Dr. Hinkle was there to pick me back up too. We spent the entire hour talking about all the things he had noticed me doing that seemed inappropriate. 
I never once went to a workshop on my own. Wherever Debbie went, I went. 

I never once left her side to engage in a conversation with someone else. Instead I stood politely behind her and listened to the conversation. 

I never initiated anything. When she wanted to eat, I wanted to eat.

If she went to the restroom, she could count on my waiting for her outside. 

I did the same stupid stuff over and over again for two entire days. I even asked if I could sleep on her floor Saturday night in the hotel room with her two roommates. How pathetic. 

Frankly, it makes me sick in my stomach to tell this story again. I was a complete idiot!!

And what is worse - I didn't even realize what I was doing!! 

After I calmed down in Dr. Hinkle's office, I began to think about things. I have always been independent. I practically raised myself. During high school, I had an evening job that allowed me to buy my own car. I moved out of my mother's house during my senior year in high school to go live in my own apartment. I put myself through college. I got a scholarship to go to graduate school. What in the hell was wrong with me?? 

Debbie was cute, sure, but why on earth was I humiliating myself by following her around?? She already liked me. If I hadn't unwittingly staged my "master-slave" gambit, I am sure the relationship I hoped for would have followed naturally. But my bad habit of tagging along wherever she went had created just the opposite effect that I desired.

I vowed that no matter what happened for the rest of my life, I would never embarrass myself like this again. All the groveling in the world would have the opposite effect of what I wanted anyway, so what was the point of making a fool out of myself?  From now on, I would stand on my own two feet and act like a grown man with a mind of my own. 

And to my knowledge I have never repeated this mistake again. 

However if Dr. Hinkle hadn't hit me over the forehead with his observations, I would have probably continued to wander in the dark for a long time… 


Lesson Learned

And that is exactly why I have retold this story. After listening to Patty, I couldn't help but feel sorry for Hank. However since I barely knew the guy, I wasn't sure if I should tell him or not what he was doing wrong. I was certain he could benefit a great deal from the truth. So I decided to write this article.

Judging from the email story above, I would imagine there are other guys besides Hank and myself who have made similar mistakes. The question is, does everyone have to learn the hard way? 

As they say, 'Experience is a comb Life throws you after you have lost your hair'. 

Well, obviously I had to learn my lesson the hard way, but perhaps after reading this article a word to wise may spare others some hurt feelings.

When it comes to courting women, give them some breathing room. Do not be a puppy dog. 


2006 Footnote - Jerald Anthony

The gentleman named "Hank" I wrote about above was in actuality a man named Jerald Anthony. At the time I wrote the story, I didn't see what the point was in embarrassing Jerald whom I liked very much on a personal level so I used a pseudonym.

But now it is five years later. Jerald is happily married and is a proud father as well!  Although I don't know where he is these days, knowing him like I do, I bet he would be honored to know his own mistakes - and subsequent efforts to overcome them - make him an SSQQ Poster Boy for Personal Growth through Dance (which is of course what my "Advice to Men" articles are all about, yes?)


Most of the time I run the studio and get out of the way of the personal lives of my students. But in Jerald's case, back in 2001 I actually sat him down one evening and gave him some advice. Jerald had indeed been following a very cute lady around the studio all night long with a bad case of Cow Eye Disease.

If I didn't know any better, I would swear she had a leash around his neck. Indeed, she had actually sat me down on the couch to complain about his death grip on her.

Knowing from personal experience (the hard way, of course), I knew she was giving Jerald the cold shoulder because he was smothering her.

I also knew what I had to say was going to hurt Jerald's feelings. Reluctant to say anything, I debated for a while, then finally decided to do the right thing. I sat Jerald down and explained the dynamics of Puppy Dog behavior.

As I expected, my words did sting. Then a light bulb went on. Jerald exclaimed, "Maybe that's why she keeps disappearing the moment I take my eyes off of her!"  Maybe??  ;-)

Jerald handled my words with grace as I expected. Jerald was a really nice guy!  I had always sensed a kind, very decent man behind his quiet exterior and the way he reacted to my words in the months to come proved he was no dummy.

Things never worked out with the girl he had his crush on. Instead he turned his attention to dancing. A very weak natural dancer with a poor sense of rhythm, he worked hard at his dancing. Jerald practiced constantly!!

His hard work played off. Over the next six months, Jerald became a great dancer and his body language reflected it! Look at how confident he had become six months later when the 2001 Halloween Party picture was taken. Judging from the hand on his shoulder you can see that in six months Jerald had remade himself into the man in demand.

Not surprisingly, soon after a vivacious young lady named Stacey put Jerald directly in her bull's eye. Jerald was a handsome, intelligent guy who was just a little bit on the shy side. No problem, Stacey was outgoing enough for the two of them.

Stacey was one of my assistants. One night she pulled me aside to ask me what the inside scoop was on Jerald. I told him he was one of my favorite people. That was good enough for Stacey - she approached HIM and asked Jerald to dance!!

They hit it off immediately. It was very close to love at first sight.

This story has a great ending - I heard they recently gave birth to their first child. I am very happy for both of them.


Written by Rick Archer
January 2006

 

 

On the next page of Advice the Men, we wrap things up.
Click here for Page 6.

 
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