“I know I can treat you better…” No, Shawn. No you don’t.

Northern Colorado radio stations just love this new song by Shawn Mendes:

I won’t lie to you
I know he’s just not right for you
And you can tell me if I’m off
But I see it on your face
When you say that he’s the one that you want
And you’re spending all your time
In this wrong situation
And anytime you want it to stop…

There’s nothing inherently problematic in this part, and I can appreciate the concern he’s showing for a girl in an uncomfortable situation. Do you ever notice, though, that “niceness” can reach an almost obsessive point that is very close to the controlling type Shawn is singing against?

I know I can treat you better than he can
And any girl like you deserves a gentleman
Tell me why are we wasting time
On all your wasted crying
When you should be with me instead?
I know I can treat you better
Better than he can

Yeah, I know it’s “just a song.” It doesn’t mean anything. And yet it perfectly describes this Nice Guy phenomenon I’ve noticed in certain men, also known as White Knight Syndrome. Some guys just seem magnetically attracted to hurting women. They want to be the ones to make it all “better,” to renew their trust in the goodness of the male species. And while there certainly are worse kinds of behavior out there – far more dangerous and damaging – it doesn’t change the fact that this “I know better than you do about what it is you need” attitude is really very annoying. Taken too far, it actually can be considered a form of abuse, if it involves robbing a woman of the agency to make her own choices.

Years ago, while still reeling from the unexpected end of an abusive relationship, I went on a summer retreat with my church in Estes Park, Colorado. I spent my days working at the YMCA and soon met a guy from a church plant in a different state. We became friends, but it was soon clear to everyone who knew us that the friendship was a little imbalanced. He wanted more…I didn’t. I wasn’t ready for it, but the real truth was also that I just wasn’t attracted to him that way (and how do you say that without hurting any feelings?).

This guy wasn’t having it, though. He’d tell me, in some form or another, “I know you’re not ready for another relationship right now, but I’m okay with waiting.” Implying that whenever I was ready, he’d be the one I chose. This was so aww-so-sweet-inducing from our mutual friends, all of whom thought we’d be so cute together, but the pressure it put on me was completely unnecessary. For one thing, it wasn’t his business to know that the last five years of my life were spent with a guy who abused me emotionally and physically, but at some point I felt it necessary to tell him just so he might be intimidated and leave me alone. If anything, it just made him more determined to win my heart and prove to me that good men still existed.

He showed up at my workplace. He bought me small gifts. He offered to buy me dinner (and considering how awful the food at the Y was, this offer was very tempting to accept). I told him to stop because I didn’t want to take advantage of his generosity, but it didn’t work. During one of my few moments of alone time (in retrospect, spending a summer living at the YMCA was a terrible life choice for an introvert), I decided to catch up on some of my TV shows online. The lobby was the only place with semi-reliable Wifi. This guy found me, offered to watch with me, and declined to leave me alone when I said I was in the middle of the season and it would just be too confusing to explain the plot to him (hint, hint). “Yeah, but it’s not good for you to be alone, after what you’ve been through,” was his response (if you’ve watched/read Gone Girl, the character Desi Collings is a spot-on depiction of this kind of behavior).

This continued all summer, and not once did I ever work up the courage to tell him to back off already. That wouldn’t have been very “nice” of me, to do that to the guy who saw worth in me that my ex never did. I asked myself what was wrong with me that he did all those “nice” things, and yet I still wasn’t interested. I felt selfish. I felt like a manipulative, horrible person for constantly rejecting him. “I’m just not into you” didn’t seem good enough of a reason.

Then I met my now-husband. Well, we’d known each other for years, but never when we were both single. And once we figured that out, things clicked pretty fast. For the first time in my life, I understood what it meant to feel a mutual attraction that didn’t require any effort; I didn’t have to convince myself to be with this guy. I genuinely wanted to, and that mattered.

But that still left me in the awkward position of having to tell Nice Guy, who returned to his home several states away, that there was somebody else. It seemed rude to have him find out via Facebook, as my ex did to me. So I called him, and…he hung up on me when I told him the news. Within a day, I had a book-length email in my inbox explaining how hurt he was; that I was a cold, nasty person for ‘leading him on’ and not being honest with him (okay, I’ll grant him that part, but in retrospect it should have been rather obvious already). A similar email was also sent to my mother (how he got her email address is still a mystery) telling her I was making a horrible mistake by not choosing him, and could she talk some sense into me?

We were both pretty horrified. And only then was it clear to me that I dodged another bullet: the pattern was repeating again, albeit without the physical and sexual abuse, but that didn’t make the friendship any more healthy. Any person who doesn’t respect your boundaries, sexual or otherwise, or your ability to make choices for yourself, is a toxic person. Good intentions don’t cancel out hurtful actions.

I wouldn’t say that Shawn Mendes song is a trigger, necessarily, but it does conjure up old memories of an experience I’d like to forget ever happened. And the message it sends to guys is one that shouldn’t be emulated.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
This entry was posted in Feminism, Social Issues and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to “I know I can treat you better…” No, Shawn. No you don’t.

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  3. AthenaC says:

    Thank you! Very much agree that song is annoying.

    And I also know what it’s like trying to peel the Nice Guy off of me. I’m on the tail end of that right now – not nearly as bad as yours, though, and significantly mitigated by the fact that the guy lives nowhere near me. Think it’s finally sinking in for him, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. cookiesnchem says:

    This is very interesting!

    Like

  5. I didn’t realize you had worked at the YMCA in Estes for a summer! I did that this past summer, and I agree with your assessment of the food and the not-the-best-place-for-introverts thing. And I also agree with your assessment of the song; I’m very uncomfortable when I hear it played, but I’ve had such a hard time articulating why. You’ve said it so well in this post! It’s so sad that this guy, who acted as though he was genuinely concerned about you and some of what you’d been through, was actually sort of using that as a way to tell himself he was somehow entitled to you. I hope he learned something from you! (Also, I never liked the line about “Any girl like you deserves a gentlemen.” Since when did only some girls “deserve” guys who treat them with respect?)

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Lydia Schoch says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. What a good post.

    Liked by 1 person

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