The Strange Ways We Claim People as Ours
Grace Weiss had it all. She lived in a beautiful city, had a perfect little apartment, a great job, a killer figure and – since the previous week – the man of her dreams. Grace had met Sebastian through his father. Having made an impression on the man Sebastian admired most in the world, she was certain of her position in Sebastian’s life, even if they’d only been seeing each other for two weeks.
Sebastian was a busy man and he had warned her about this, but Grace wasn’t like those other girls he had dated. The one he didn’t like to speak about with whom he’d been for two years, or the one after that who’d come and gone so fast she didn’t really count, or the one after that who hadn’t understood that he was busy and had made so many demands on his time she’d essentially driven him away.
No, Grace was nothing like Gina. Grace had a plan. She wouldn’t ask Sebastian for his time, she would simply be there. Her plan was slow but deliberate: a complete takeover of his life. First, she would ingratiate herself to his friends, listen to them, laugh at their jokes and encourage them in their endeavors. She would make herself a member of their group of her own accord. As a regular fixture among them and at their many parties, she’d secretly await Sebastian – she would never make a demand, simply happen to be there to cheer him on as he launched his new company or encourage him when things got rough. She would make their entanglement look effortless, like it made perfect sense. Like there was no better option.
Photo by Walt Stoneburner.
Yes, Grace Weiss had it all figured out. But as she sipped that last glass of wine sitting at her computer triumphantly -- having just returned to one of the many parties that would soon take over her social calendar to ensure she got to know Sebastian’s friends -- she logged on to Facebook to look at pictures of her future husband and saw a message on his wall from a woman she did not recognize. “So fun seeing you tonight!” the message said.
It looked innocent, but Grace could see it was anything but. It’d been posted at almost three that morning. Incensed, Grace put down her glass of wine, pulled up a Word document and decided that a change of plans was in order -- immediately. Putting on the voice she used when she approached partnerships for her company, she crafted a message explaining she and Sebastian were getting serious and that she, Grace Weiss, his new girlfriend, looked forward to getting to know all of his friends and building relationships that were as wonderful as the one she had with him.
She sent the woman that letter over Facebook and took a victorious sip of her wine. Not quite satisfied, she pulled up his friends list and began sending the e-mail to all the women in it. And then, finishing the wine bottle, she decided, what the hell? She sent it to all the men as well.
And so it was that Grace Weiss completely obliterated any chance of ever becoming serious with the man she thought would one day be her husband.
Many animal species are known to be territorial, marking and defending areas to secure resources, protect their young, and most notably, to ensure access to their mates. Maintaining territory lines usually involves displays, calls, scent marking behavior, and, occasionally, aggression.
Wolves urinate to mark their territory. Leopards rub up against things to mark theirs. Silverbacks tend to defend their groups rather than any specific location, using sounds, displays and charges to get their point across. And humans? Most of the time, we make fools of ourselves.
Mark, a man my friend Sophie dated, defended his mate by clocking any man who so much as looked at her. The problem was constant – it got to a point where Sophie felt they had nowhere else to go, they’d been thrown out of so many places due to his inability to refrain himself. The last straw came when her step-brother visited and Mark became convinced he was obsessed with Sophie. He effectively challenged him to a fighting match and soon after found himself locked out of Sophie’s apartment – and her life.
Sarah, another friend, ended a relationship with a man who couldn’t stop tagging her in photos on Facebook and posting on her Facebook wall. When she turned off comments to ensure she could preserve a professional environment on her profile, he started tweeting using her username and company hashtag. She explained that it wasn’t appropriate, and he became sullen, suggesting she was ashamed to share their relationship with colleagues. This wasn’t the case, but the situation had become so awkward after only a few months of dating that she ended things to prevent weirder issues down the line.
My friend John lived through another human attempt at establishing territory when a woman he was seeing began leaving her items at his apartment after spending the night with him. No matter how many times he neatly packaged them for her to take home the next time or scanned the place as she was leaving to ensure she had everything, he always found something later. A hairbrush, a toothbrush, a pair of earrings, stilettos, a watch that obviously could only belong to a woman – and once he even found a stocking under his pillow, particularly strange because it was summer and she was always bare-legged. “It was like she’d deliberately left it there to be found by another woman,” he seethed, irritated by both the assumption that he was a playboy and the sudden embargo she’d imposed on his life without his consent.
But for every hundred acts of badly executed territoriality, you have the one that is so flawless; the whole thing doesn’t look like such a silly vestige of our primal selves.
Lisa and Jack were housemates. Lisa had moved in after Jack had opened up the pool house to renters to save up on the mortgage. Lisa loved the set-up – it allowed her to live fabulously in the right zip code for the same amount she paid for her last apartment, while offering a pool and spa, and enough room for her dogs to play. Since she mostly worked from home except for the one day she had to go into the studio, when Jack was at the office she would lounge naked by the pool, working on her tan, reflecting on the good fortune of life in such a warm and wonderful city.
That is, until one day Jack’s girlfriend Cynthia came over during lunch and discovered her naked as Eve. Immediately, the lines were drawn. Lisa was invading Cynthia's territory and, even though Lisa and Jack had a platonic friendship at best, when Cynthia set eyes on Lisa’s long legs and flat abs, she realized her relationship with Jack was quite possibly at stake as well.
Not one to miss a beat, Lisa -- who’d already made herself useful around the house to Jack, by emptying out his pantry and fridge of expired products, restocking both, and occasionally making dinner for two when they were working overtime – made herself more useful that same afternoon, picking up his dry-cleaning, and planting an herb garden to make even tastier meals.
When Jack came home, he looked dejected. Lisa knew Cynthia had probably made a terrible fuss over finding her nude in the house. Before he could deliver the bad news that he would have to break their lease – which Lisa knew he didn’t want to do – she had handed him his dry-cleaning and told him to help himself to some ossobuco alla Milanese that she’d prepared.
It was a no-brainer. Even Lisa would have agreed it almost seemed unfair. But she also knew that wasn’t the end of it. She knew that as long as Cynthia was in the picture, the possibility of being expelled was real. Lisa became even more helpful around the house. In gratitude, Jack lowered the rent. When Cynthia found out, she hit the ceiling. The stress on her relationship with Jack was such that Jack started to confide in Lisa about it. Lisa, ever the conniver, pleaded on Cynthia’s behalf, a fact she was counting on Jack to bring up time and time again – adding a little more insult to injury.
Lisa dressed exceptionally conservatively when Jack was around and was supremely polite to Cynthia whenever Jack was looking. But when Jack was not around and especially if only Cynthia was present, Lisa would dress scandalously – if at all – and regard her with mocking smiles.
Cynthia who had long suspected that Lisa wanted Jack began to believe that there was something between them. She was driving Jack crazy and Lisa could tell, not only because Jack was confiding in her, but because his mental exhaustion was extending to his upkeep. Lisa started to help him with laundry and suggesting things for him to do with his friends, whom she had befriended by virtue of being present during Jack’s guys’ poker night in during which she’d made huge servings of food and mixed killer drinks for them.
Jack’s friends were losing patience with the way Cynthia was behaving. They couldn’t believe Jack had a perfect woman in his life and still allowed a crazy woman to dictate his behavior. When they started inviting Lisa to their gatherings and asking Jack to leave Cynthia at home, all of his friends seemed to be rooting for their relationship to take a turn for the romantic, but Lisa maintained her space. It was true that she found him attractive, but as long as Cynthia was in the picture, she wouldn’t overstep that line no matter how often she let her body language suggest the contrary when she was alone with Cynthia.
Meanwhile, Cynthia was going crazy, pressuring Jack to either let her move in or kick Lisa out. She started showing up on nights they had not planned to be together and picking fights, taking up his time and taxing his energy. Lisa would retire her plate and go to her room, listening to the fights go from bad to worse. Finally, one night, while Cynthia and Jack were fighting in the living room, Lisa decided to deal the death blow.
She went to her bedroom, took out a bottle of her favorite perfume and sneaked upstairs to Jack’s bedroom. Having never slept beside him, Lisa didn’t know which side was his, but knowing him fairly well by having spent so much time with him, she reasoned that he was probably one of those guys who slept on the side closest to the giant plasma television on the corner of the spacious bedroom.
She made her way to the opposite side, pulled back the comforter and sprayed the pillow with her perfume. She stood there for a moment, while the smell dissipated, placed the comforter back, then went downstairs again, pouring herself a glass of wine before heading back to her room.
Later that night, she was awakened by screams seemingly outside her door.
"NO, YOU CANNOT GO IN THERE AND SMELL HER PERFUMES, CYNTHIA, ARE YOU INSANE?"
Lisa put a pillow over her face in case Cynthia burst in so she wouldn’t see the giddy grin on her face. Like animals who smell another's scent on a tree, Cynthia was repelled by the smell of Lisa on her lover's bed.
And this is how Lisa Boyce got to keep her zip code. And how -- with a little more expert maneuvering afterward -- Ms. Lisa Boyce became Mrs. Jack Holt less than two years later.
What about you? Have you ever been witness to an attempt at establishing territory -- or staked your own?