Dating a drama king
By Dalma Heyn
When Kim found out that Peter, her boyfriend of six months, was sleeping with another woman, she threw up. When she finally pulled herself together long enough to confront him, he looked at her quizzically, like her dog did when she gently pushed him off her pillow. He didn’t understand. “Like, did we ever promise we’d be faithful?” he asked. No, they’d never shaken on it, but their involvement had led her to assume an exclusivity that she now saw was one-sided. Hurled into a country song about a good-hearted woman in love with a good-time man, Kim realized that she’d opened herself up to someone who lacked a heart. She ushered him out of her home by saying, “You’re right. You never promised you’d be faithful. Now, let’s end this, OK?” With that same baffled-puppy look she once found endearing, he played dumb a second time. “But why?”
A New Kind of Guy
Peter is a Drama King. Drama Kings are perfectly attractive, often successful men who look like other guys — guys who want real relationships — but who routinely screw up relationships by being ambivalent (“I’m just not ready for a real relationship!”), hostile (“Why are you trying to put labels on us?!”), or passive (“I don’t like to plan ahead”). Unlike Drama Queens, who merely thrive on chaos and hysteria, these men cause chaos and hysteria, then walk away without a second thought.
I’ve had an ongoing dialogue with women since before my first book on women and sexual silence. In the past few years, I’ve begun hearing something new: High-achieving, strong women of all ages going out with men who seemed to want a relationship but who then… weren’t there. These disappointing men seemed to love their girlfriends’ strength, but then undermine it; to love their sexuality, but then shrink from it; to want a relationship, but then sabotage it. What was going on?
Drama Kings appear to be suitors, but they aren’t: Their issues with intimacy and attachment are so complicated, their ideas about commitment so mangled, that they cannot help but drain you dry, leaving you to sadly wonder how other people manage to find love. They’re throwbacks to a time when the world (and women) revolved around men’s needs—they are one-man shows who can’t share center stage with anyone. There are different types, but what Drama Kings have in common is that they will leave you feeling rejected and confused.
Types of Drama Kings
Peter is of the feeling-impaired variety of Drama King: Nothing emotional moves him. Another kind of Drama King I call The Visitor. The Visitor is only a guest in a relationship, no matter how long it goes on. He likes to check in and out at whim. He calls at the last minute; he never makes plans; he figures every other Tuesday or Wednesday is enough contact.
Hal, for example, viewed Jessica’s place as a bed and breakfast where he was welcome at any time and on however short notice. “Hey,” he’d say on a Friday afternoon, having not spoken to her for a week. “Whatcha up to? Shall I come over? We’ll have a bite and then maybe a movie? Or whatever?” His spontaneity was adorable for about two weeks. After a month, the exhaustion set in. Jessica began to get grumpy. “What man above age 17 acts as if every evening were a potential hookup? I’m 30. What about a real date?” But Visitors resent the commitment and effort required to really date. Jessica said, “Hal, when you want to go out for real, give me a call more than two days before you want to see me.” She never heard from him again. But her exhaustion went away.
Dethroning the Drama Kings
So how do you avoid a Drama King? It’s not a question of recognizing him from afar—evaluating a man always takes a little time, and a Drama King doesn’t look like he’s threatened by closeness or seem like someone who will vanish. But a Drama King may give immediate clues by stating up front that he doesn’t, say, like talking on the phone or want to get married again—even though you’re an optimistic dater, you must accept that he’s handing you the facts, not a challenge.
The key to identifying a Drama King is exhaustion. After a few encounters, you’ll have an overwhelming feeling of being, well, zapped. You’ll wonder, “Isn’t a relationship supposed to be fun—not a constant struggle to just see one another?” Yes.
Drama Kings can only damage you if you let them stick around and keep you in a holding pattern of unfulfillment. Many women make excuses for their Drama Kings or tell themselves they’re being needy when all they want is a little respect. It’s up to you to stay as strong as you know you are. It’s that old lesson of remembering a bad pattern, or a bad feeling, so that you don’t repeat it. So when you’re with someone who makes you feel as if you’re chasing your tail whenever you try to have a discussion, realize, A-ha—Drama King! and move on. Find another adorable guy who energizes you, longs to get closer to you, and doesn’t freak out when he does. He’s out there, and you don’t deserve anything less—no matter what the Drama Kings tell you.