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The "Psycho Girlfriend" Trope

(174 Posts)
HengshanRoad Mon 19-Sep-11 04:28:15

I've always been suspicious of people who talk about "psycho girlfriends" or ex-girlfriends. Most often, their behaviour seems to be a reaction to dickish men. And strangely, since it is more likely to be men that are truly "psycho" (and please note, this is not a word I ever use personally, due to its negative connotations for people with mental health issues), men seem to escape this label, no matter what sort of harm they cause to their girlfriends or wives.

The "psycho girlfriend" seems to be another unjust way of putting women down and making the whole gender seem unhinged. In my experience, it is almost exclusively due to men's lack of bravery when ending a relationship. The accusation was levelled at me on one occasion when I sent a couple of text messages to a guy who had suddenly and inexplicably cut contact. If he had simply had the guts to tell me he didn't want to see me again, I would have let it go.

And why is it that constant phonecalls, gifts, over-attention etc. are hallmarks of the "psycho girlfriend" but also of the romantic, attentive boyfriend?

Thumbwitch Mon 19-Sep-11 05:46:03

I'd always be wary of a man who said he had one "psycho" ex - if he claimed to have more than one, then it would be a massive red flag against him.

And yes, it seems that it is often the bloke's less-than-considerate behaviour that triggers "psychoism" - i.e. calling too often, turning up on the doorstep, chasing him down at work because he hasn't returned any calls or explained his absence - that's not "psychoism", that's "wanting to know what's going on".

Mind you - I had what I consider a "psycho" ex - he was a pathological liar and had severe neediness issues, as well as being borderline abusive. He scared me in the end.
I don't think men do escape the "psycho" label, tbh, especially the ones who go into stalker mode (often abusive exes who threaten to kill their partners if they ever leave).

NotADudeExactly Mon 19-Sep-11 05:58:00

Hmm, I've only ever met one guy with a psycho ex. I know the plural of anecdote isn't exactly data - but FWIW my anecdote supports your argument.

The reason why my very unpleasant ex had what he claimed was a completely unhinged former girlfriend was that, as far as the girlfriend was concerned, she was not exactly former. Unfortunately for me I only found out about that one later and to be fair from my perspective then, i.e. Without knowledge of the context, her constant calling, turning up on his and even my doorstep and yelling abuse etc. did seem a bit crazy.

Ex obviously pulled the same trick on me later. He even moved into my flat with his new GF while I was abroad for work. I had my stuff picked up and cancelled the tenancy agreement. She must have thought I was completely out of it to have him evicted. grin

ImDaveandsoismywife Mon 19-Sep-11 07:15:02

Hmm. Whilst I would agree on the whole that the needy, jealous, stalkery girlfriend is a standard stereotype (it's lovecat, btw, I've namechanged for a silly thread), my BIL did marry a "psycho". She wasn't jealous or possessive, she was just unhinged. A pathological liar and game-player who physically attacked him several times during their marriage.

I've also had a woman confess drunkenly to me that she'd followed her ex down from university, moved a street away, joined all the same local groups that he had, and wouldn't stop being there until 'he realises what he's done to me' (which, so far as I could tell, was to split up with her - I think she was expecting me to be 'you go, girl!' and got shirty when I was appalled) And I've seen women on Chat/Relationships here (not many, to be fair, but enough to make me notice) post things like "I've been texting him all day and night since our first date and he's only replied once, what does this mean?"

But anecdote is not the same as data (who said that on here? I like it!) and, having said that, I do tend to be slightly hmm if a man claims that his ex(es) was a "psycho", because I've seen what the OP describes in action many times and it's left me wondering 'well, what did you do?"

HengshanRoad Mon 19-Sep-11 08:25:26

Some women display "stalkerish" and "psycho" behaviour, that's for sure, but it just annoys me when men escape these labels.

ComradeJing Mon 19-Sep-11 08:34:16

I've seen a bit of everything tbh.

-Women who won't just slink off when she is ignored and want to know what happened.
-Women who really are a tad loony, know it but manage to hide it most of the time (one of my very good friends and probably me too. I was rubbish at playing it cool and always came on worryingly a bit strong blush)
-Women who are actually 100% insane and psychotic.

I've only met one guy describe his ex as a psycho and she honestly was. She was EA, 600 phone calls and texts to the new girlfriend, made false allegations about him, he had to involve the police to stop the harassment and he eventually left the country. It was horrible.

I think the most interesting point is your last one btw. Why is it that male romantic behaviour is the same as female "stalking?" I also worry about women being forced to accept behaviour as it is deemed romantic even though it is rather unpleasant. Just like Edward in Twilight really and lots of Mills & Boon.

TrillianAstra Mon 19-Sep-11 08:40:45

To have one psycho ex may be regarded as misfortune, to have two looks like carelessness.

TrillianAstra Mon 19-Sep-11 08:42:19

why is it that constant phonecalls, gifts, over-attention etc. are hallmarks of the "psycho girlfriend" but also of the romantic, attentive boyfriend?

That's not a male/female dichotomy but all about wanted/unwanted.

Romantic behaviour (from someone you desire) is often indistinguishable from call the police I have a stalker behaviour (from someone you do not desire).

ComradeJing Mon 19-Sep-11 08:42:35

I think (hope the weather is as lovely there as it is here btw) it's because we really are conditioned to believe that it is romantic behaviour when actually if it happened to one of your friends you would urge her to call the cops.

TrillianAstra Mon 19-Sep-11 08:52:38

Tv Tropes

HereBeBolloX Mon 19-Sep-11 09:06:16

I think it's useful to look at what women do, in order to to qualify for the term "psycho", versus what men do in order to qualify for the same term.

What women do: Text/ phone/ e-mail a lot. Turn up at flat unexpectedly. Cry. Shout, get angry. Ask for a straight answer as to what's going on.

What men do: All or any of the above only in conjuction with refusing to take no for an answer. Plus behaving in a way that means the police have to get involved, threatening to kill the object of his passion or using violence against her.

In other words, the stuff which gets women labelled as pscyho-loon is generally the stuff which gets men labelled as romantic and the label psycho kicks in at a much earlier stage of the behaviour continuum. Also most women don't get to the stage of not taking no for an answer, they're actually asking if the answer is no, so that they can be sure that they're not reading the wrong signals. Quite often, men who say that they'd dumped their ex and she wouldn't take no for an answer, hadn't actually dumped her - they'd said something along the lines of they still wanted to see her (because they're keeping their shag handy in case they don't get another one) but they need more space, man. Or some such drivel.

But yes I think a rule of thumb is that a man who claims that more than one of his exes is a psycho, is basically someone you should avoid. Life's too short and there are loads more men out there who aren't nutters.

TrillianAstra Mon 19-Sep-11 09:16:14

One psycho ex - maybe he did accidentally date someone who turned out to be not as he imagined. Can't blame someone for that.

More than one:
option A - he is drawn to people who are like that (best avoid him until he sorts himself out)
option B - he does something to drive people to behave in this manner (best avoid him)
option C - they did not behave unreasonably at all, he just labels women in this way and has no concept of a no-fault breakup (best avoid him)

nenevomito Mon 19-Sep-11 09:17:43

I've never thought of this as a feminist issue before. Certainly the only man I have met who ever described his ex as a psycho also now describes me and the woman who he went out with after me as psychos. What he actually means is "I'm a lying, cheating abusive arsehole and these are the women who dare to be upset that I've treated them badly."

The question is, I suppose, why would a man's view that a woman was in some way unhinged for not liking him or accepting his behaviour, be accepted as a reasonable excuse by others. Are we conditioned to believe that women are in some way more emotionally unhinged than men?

HereBeBolloX Mon 19-Sep-11 09:23:45

babyheave - my answer to that would be ... Yes!

The idea that women are more emotional, more hysterical, more irrational, than men is a very deep-seated idea in our culture (and in most cultures AFAIK).

We're always hearing that our hormones affect our moods (because men don't have any hormones apparently hmm), mansplainers constantly tell us how we're being irrational and illogical about stuff all the time, even when we're being perfectly rational. I've also witnessed countless incidences of women being told to "calm down" about stuff they're perfectly calm about but are simply talking with some animation about. Sometimes, it's not even meant to be a put-down, it's just a deep-seated assumption that women are more emotional than men and that when they express themselves with any animation at all, it must be because they're upset, emotional, losing focus etc.

KRITIQ Mon 19-Sep-11 10:47:39

Is part of it to do with the different ways men and women are socialised to accept or deny responsibility, particularly when relationships fail?

I seem to recall a quote from Suzanne Steinmetz, probably the best known academic advocate for battered men, admitting that men and women who have experienced abuse in relationships make sense of the experience in different ways. Women are more likely to feel partly responsible for the abuse that happened to them, wondering whether something they did or didn't do led him to behave as he did. Men, on the other hand, tend to locate responsibility for the abuse squarely with the female partner, often citing her mental instability, hormone imbalance or similar.

So, if a relationship ends, perhaps it follows that women might be more inclined to question their part in that ending, even if it was initiated by the man or precipitated by something he did (e.g. was unfaithful.) And, conversely, the man may be more inclined to look for explanations for the breakdown citing her responsibility, and perhaps embellishing her unreasonable behaviour to justify the ending of the relationship.

LRDTheFeministDragon Mon 19-Sep-11 12:56:00

There's the fact that some men will quite happily target women they know to be vulnerable, and one way to be vulnerable is to be mentally ill.

My ex, before me, dated a woman who had bipolar disorder and depression. I had just been diagnosed with depression when he started chatting me up (he'd known me vaguely before; he knew what was going on). When we split up, his new girlfriend was massively uphappy as she'd just come out of a long and nasty breakup, and was ... guess what? ... diagnosed with depression.

In one sense, it is true, he genuinely has ex's who were mentally not very well and certainly not very stable. And obviously I don't want to suggest that someone mentally ill is less loveable or shouldn't be in a relationship (!). But I do feel a wee bit suspicious, frankly!

LRDTheFeministDragon Mon 19-Sep-11 12:56:46

(Oh, and in each case the relationship broke down when we'd seemed to be getting better ... interesting, isn't it?)

Wamster Mon 19-Sep-11 13:12:08

I'm not necessarily suspicious when a man talks about psycho girlfriends, it could be that he deems all women to be psychos or it could just be that he had a psycho girlfriend.
To be honest, when somebody has dumped you, the proper thing to do is to respect their wishes. This applies to both sexes.
Texting somebody when they've dumped you is not respecting that other person's boundaries. Obviously, in a long-standing relationship, certain things like financial and legal matters have to be discussed, but, as a general rule, if a person dumps you, badgering them is pathetic and stalkery.

They've told you they don't want to be with you- just accept it, cry as much as you like, but don't hound them; hounding them is creepy regardless of gender.

LRDTheFeministDragon Mon 19-Sep-11 13:18:30

I think the term itself puts me on guard, tbh. It's a shite view of mental illness, isn't it?

garlicnutty Mon 19-Sep-11 13:27:11

I also think it's more of a relationship issue - although stereotyped expectations can colour the nature of the "psycho-ness".

I've been the psycho ex. He was a psychological/emotional abuser, a phenomenon I was unaware of at the time, and my upbringing led me to deal with communication issues by shouting and screaming. Net result: I felt unaccountably distressed and responded by acting "psycho".

My brother, who is emotionally peculiar, has a psycho ex in the standard model. I'm sure his quirks exacerbated her behaviour but, in truth, she is grasping, needy and manipulative. She believes a man should provide her every material desire in exchange for sex (and has taught her DDs the same angry )

I agree it's wise to be cautious of anyone with a history of "psycho" exes, but I'm one of them! I'm not especially psycho, I hope, but my background habituated me to abusive relationships. I've changed but would understand any potential partner's wariness.

Wamster Mon 19-Sep-11 13:28:22

People should perhaps be more sensitive about mental illness I agree with that. Perhaps if the 'psycho' were replaced with 'stalker girlfriend' it would be better, but I don't really see this as a feminist issue: this 'psycho' business. It's not as if society is slow to label men as being psychos.

Not taking no for an answer is bad regardless of gender and just because men do it, does not make it OK for females to do it.

Most of us- hopefully- realise that when a person cuts contact (in what I assume to be a non live-in relationship) with them it is because the person does not want to be in a relationship anymore. OK, bit of a cowardly way to end things, I admit, but, nonetheless people (of both gender) 'demanding' explanations is stalkery and entitled.

I mean demanding explanations is OK when you're a kid, but not in an adult human being.

garlicnutty Mon 19-Sep-11 13:33:44

I'm afraid I rather think we should pussyfoot less around mental illness.

I'm mentally ill.
My brother is emotionally mis-wired.
Both my exes are mentally mis-wired.
My father was an undiagnosed psychopath.
So was my last boss.

Better said than unsaid, imo.

HereBeBolloX Mon 19-Sep-11 13:50:59

I think it's easy to dismiss this as a feminist issue, if you don't acknowledge that in order to qualify as "psycho", a woman just has to do the things men do in order to qualify as "romantic".

No need to let that glaring double-standard influence any thoughts on this...

I agree with you garlic, 1 in 4 people in this country has some sort of mental illness at some point in their lives (depression being most common) and more openness about it would be good.

Wamster Mon 19-Sep-11 13:57:31

In the context of being dumped (as opposed to getting a date), anybody -be they male or female- who demands an explanation and pursues the person who is dumping them is displaying entitled and unhinged behaviour.

The macho male idea is to appear aloof and take a 'plenty more fish attitude' so any guy who chases the woman for an explanation is seen as being desperate and unhinged, which happens to be -by default I admit- the view of people who think that demanding explanations from an ex is not acceptable.

So I still think that 'demanding' explanations from somebody who has dumped a person, is a no-go in societal norms.

HereBeBolloX Mon 19-Sep-11 14:07:26

Yes I agree. But quite often, people haven't been dumped have they. On the whole, when people talk about "psycho exes", they aren't talking about that scenario, they're talking about having wound someone up and played them. All you need to do is ask a few questions and they give themselves away without realising they're doing so.

And there's a hell of a difference between sending someone a few more texts than is strictly dignified, and threatening to kill yourself or someone else, if those texts aren't answered. The definition of "psycho" is a little too wide, too subjective and too gender-differentiated, to button it down to everyone's satisfaction.

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