“LET’S GO FOR IT,” I said. “Why not? It’s probably the only way she’s gonna kiss me; she’s so dang sweet. It just seems like a dirty trick.” “Hey, will you knock it off?” I squawked. “It’ll be fun.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
He didn’t sound convinced. Hank was my best friend in high school.
He had been dating Kathy for over a month. It took him three weeks to work up to holding her hand. At that rate he might land a peck on her cheek by the turn of the century. So, I devised this delicious scheme.
“Okay, it’s settled,” I said. “We pretend both of us have been drafted into the army. And we’re taking the train to boot camp, right? You know she’s gotta kiss you at the train station.”
“It works in the movies,” Hank admitted sheepishly. “I just hope we don’t hurt . . .”
I cut him off; I didn’t want to hear another wimpy argument. I’ve always had a passion for the dramatic, and this idea was pure Hollywood. The plan was foolproof: a tearful goodbye, the fateful kiss, and some fancy footwork to get on and off the train without leaving the station. Afterwards, Hank and I would double back to Kathy’s house and sock her with a song and dance routine when she opened the front door. “Hey, we’re back, we’re back. It was only a joke. We must be the funniest guys on earth.”
I have wised up a little since then. I have learned that it is cruel to toy with someone’s emotions. It is equivalent to criminal fraud: intentional deception to gain control of another’s property. In this case, the property was Kathy’s emotions. Look around; emotional fraud is not far away. Here are a few examples that come to mind.
The Flirt. In the battle for social or psychological power, some women and men will use their sex appeal to arouse their conquest. When the victim responds to the overtures, the flirt screams, “Rape!” That is the flirt’s payoff. Other “punch lines” include: “What kind of woman do you think I am?” or “You are a horny devil, aren’t you?” or “All of you are the same one-track mind.” The victim is left feeling confused and somehow inexplicably ashamed.
The Comic. Once I visited a friend who told me that he had a new gun he wanted to show me.
“I’ll be right back,” he said, disappearing into his bedroom. A moment later, there was a gun blast, and he staggered into the room and collapsed on the living room floor. Before I could reach him, he leapt to his feet and struck a clownish pose. “It’s just a starter’s pistol,” he grinned. Why wasn’t I laughing?
The Coach. In both business and athletics, there are those who adopt the role of an angry coach, bellowing insults at their players with the intention of inflaming their passion to win. Such tactics are ineffectual for a number of reasons. People of any age do not respond positively to personal attack. Oh, they may wear a mask of compliance, but underneath they will create ways of sabotaging the coach’s goals. Equally important, players perform best when they are relaxed. The brain makes quick, targeted decisions; the body responds smoothly, instinctively, to the moves and countermoves of the opponent. When assaulted by a furious coach, that state of efficiency is replaced by mental and physical tension and, ultimately, a clumsy performance.
The Parent. Some adults choose to toy with the emotions of their children. A popular tactic is to say “Just wait until your father comes home, young man; you’re going to get it.” The kid doesn’t know what “it” is; he just knows he should be worried. When the father does come home, he may choose to ignore the crime. For the mother that is almost inconsequential; she’s already gained what she wanted. The child has been held emotional hostage for the entire day. These are just a few of the ways that people toy with the emotions of others. The list is far from complete. The point is that the ploy is cheap and dehumanizing. In the end it results in resentment and damaged relationships. I should know.
My scheme for Hank and Kathy did work. Kathy drove us to the train station. We stood around the terminal for a few minutes and looked at each other’s shoes. Finally, Hank put his arms around Kathy and kissed her full on the mouth. Then we talked her into leaving first because “saying goodbye was too painful to bear.”
I will never forget the look on Kathy’s face when we leveled with her. It was not exactly the look of contempt; it was more like grief, as though she had just lost a dear friend. And in a way she had. Hank never did get a second kiss.
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